What are some cultural concerns in implementing an online program in terms of the student, the institution, and the faculty?
One of the benefits of distance education is that it transcends borders meaning students from all over the world can come together in the Virtual Classroom and participate in an online course. Indeed, online education is changing the way we educate today. However, in implementing an online program some cultural concerns in terms of students, the institutions and the faculty arise.
In some countries (Asian cultures in particular), students do not participate in class the way we are used to doing here in the United States. For example, Japanese students are taught to be quiet, and they are reluctant to enter into class discussions. As a result, they feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas, opinions and points of view, because they have learned in their cultures that this is simply not done in school. They are taught not to speak until spoken to, and never, never, never challenge what the professor has said in class! Also in Japan, students are considered collectively, and taught to conform to the group, while in the United States, individualism is stressed, and thus students are encouraged to develop their own opinions. This might prove difficult in an online environment where the key to the success of the program comes from the input of the participants involved.
Another cultural obstacle could result from humor online. Without face-to-face contact, a sense of humor is often difficult to understand online and it could be very difficult across cultures. Emoticons help- but not everyone knows what they mean ;)
Educational systems differ from culture to culture, and this can translate into difficulties online. For example, in the Italian university system, most exams are oral, and students, from the time they attend public school are taught to stand in front of class and be "interrogated" by the instructor (interrogare is the Italian word for oral exam). This has some positive points: students learn to articulate and verbalize what they have learned, but at the same time, many do not develop adequate writing skills. Since the virtual classroom is almost entirely supported by the written responses of the students involved, a lack of strong writing skills will prove to be a problem.
Finally, a cultural concern regarding the institution: What is going to happen to the campus life as we know it? "Going away to college" takes on a whole new dimension in the online environment. For college students in the United States, campus life is a large part of our culture, and for many, it is an integral part of their college education. When students are 18 years old, they are often still growing up, and a lot can be said for the social skills one learns when being in an environment where communication and socialization goes beyond the keyboard.
Teaching From a Hispanic Perspective - A Handbook for Non-Hispanic Adult Educators by AnneMarie Pajewski and Luis Enriquez
Applications of Cultural Information in Instruction, Curriculum, and Evaluation by National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education
Culture Traits and Generalizations by National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education