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Are we asking the right questions about the hegemony of Western learning cultures on the Internet?

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Marie-Noelle Lamy
13 November 2009

This topic is of interest to me as I prepare for a talk at the GloCALL conference next month (Global and Local Computer-Assisted Language Learning). Patrick McAndrew started the debate with the question "Are Open Educational Resources Cultural Colonisation?"(thank you Patrick!)  My question covers some of the same ground but isn't about OERs. It's about student groups learning together across geocultural divides.


The "OER" Cloud exchange seemed to be saying that the Western (aka "North-American") values underlying OERs do not create a danger of cultural colonisation so much as give their promoters a duty to communicate interculturally (since the unacceptable default position is monocultural).


I have a problem with this: 'communicating interculturally' is itself a notion within Western ideology. David Block calls it McCommunication, and he and Claire Kramsch have traced it back to efforts to make US business meetings run smoothly. Here are some of the questions I'm looking to answer:

  • Tools and the teaching designs that they support: we know they are value-laden. We also know that the hegemonous value in e-learning is socioconstructivist, in intention at least. How then should we look upon the principle of learner-centeredness, when working with learners who may instead value structural cognitivist learning? or informal family-based learning? or learning structured by religion (difficult though this one is for me to countenance, it does characterise much of the Arab world).
  • Social networks: much the same question arises here, but angled towards culturally-preferred ways of socialising or reasons for socialising (and again, "socialising" itself is a word that could do with interrogating culturally - no such term in my language, for example). 
  • Cultural appropriation of OERs/tutorial platforms for supporting local practices: Goodfellow and Lea point to an almost universal mismatch between the teaching experiments of enthusiastic evangelists of technology and the actual assessment cultures in institutions, the West included. In these conditions, how can cultural appropriation by non-Western learners and teachers be even envisaged?
  • All a bit polemical in tone, I know, but I have to get your attention somehow! :-)

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