Intercultural Challenges in Networked Learning: Hard Technologies Meet Soft Skills

Mackie Chase, Leah Macfadyen, Kenneth Reeder, Jörg Roche


This paper gives an account of themes that emerged from a preliminary analysis of a large corpus of electronic communications in an online, mediated course for intercultural learners. The goals were to test assumptions that electronic communication is internationally standardized, to identify any problematic aspects of such communications, and to construct a framework for the analysis of electronic communications using constructs from intercultural communications theory. We found that cyberspace itself has a culture(s), and is not culture-free. Cultural gaps can exist between individuals, as well as between individuals and the dominant cyberculture, increasing the chances of miscommunication. The lack of elements inherent in face-to-face communication further problematizes intercultural communications online by limiting opportunities to give and save face, and to intuit meaning from non-verbal cues. We conclude that electronic communication across cultures presents distinctive challenges, as well as opportunities to course planners.

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