Lesson 4.3 Personal learning environments and diversity in networks
Come-IN is an experience with computer clubs in Germany that promotes the development of digital skills and facilitates community integration in neighbourhoods with a high percentage of immigrants. It usually works with computer rooms where they provide training in the use of software. However, it also functions as a space for communication between recent immigrants. The results show that Come-IN computer clubs contribute to social cohesion and integration in Germany.
Between 2012 and 2013 a Come-IN computer club was held in a refugee camp in Palestine. The programme was implemented as part of a development cooperation project with the collaboration of the promoters of this programme in Germany and Birzeit University (in Ramallah). A small group of students of the Palestinian university performed their practices as tutors and facilitators of computer clubs in the refugee camp.
In general, the programme worked in a similar way to its application in Germany. However, there were also some differences of interest. For instance, the refugee status of the participants and the difficult living conditions in the camp posed specific challenges during the implementation of the programme. On the other hand, a group of girls participated in the computer club. For them it was one of the first educational experiences in a context without gender segregation. Despite the difficulties this entailed, it created a learning experience, both for the participants and for the promoters of the intervention.
Read the complete case in: Aal, Yerousis, Schubert, Hornung, Stickel & Wulf (2014).
This is an example of acculturation in a context of international cooperation. Development cooperation programmes bring together diverse socio-cultural groups, which introduces changes in the context of interaction that forces the adaptation of both parties. Possibly, the Germans found themselves in a medium where group cohesion and consensus are more important than in previous applications of computer clubs. On the other hand, Palestinian participants experimented with an organisation of mixed gender groups to which they were not accustomed. As a result, both parties react, adapt and change in some way.
Acculturation consists precisely of changes in the behaviour or attitudes of individuals or groups experiencing a situation of prolonged intercultural contact. A similar case occurs with open educational resources, in which the elimination of access restrictions to participate put in contact a set of learners of different origin, with different subjective identity or with different national cultures. Before we describe a model about the different potential outcomes of acculturation, we would like you to watch this video by Pellegrino Riccardi about cross-cultural communication.
Acculturation among users and developers of OER
John Berry proposes a simple model with which to describe the strategies of acculturation adopted by individuals or groups. Specifically, it describes four basic strategies that depend on (a) the interest in maintaining or not maintaining one’s culture and (b) the interest in establishing relationships or not with the members of the other group:
- Assimilation: the individual abandons his or her own cultural practices, to be absorbed by a different cultural collective. It consists of assuming the new to the point of denying previous traditions, values and experiences. The individual assumes a personal cost to obtain new opportunities.
- Segregation: the individual maintains his own culture and rejects his involvement in the new one. It consists of an attitude of affirmation of one’s own and denial of the opportunities offered by the other collective. It is a fold in on itself, reaffirming its values and customs, and without interest in contact with people from another cultural context. This attitude closes the possibilities of socialisation and learning in the new context.
- Integration: The individual maintains some own cultural characteristics while actively participating in the other cultural context. Integration is conceived as a personal and creative synthesis of the two cultural spaces that come into contact. There is no single possible solution, but a space to deal with cultural contact in a positive way. The combination of both cultural experiences brings creativity and effort, but it usually gives good results, both from a psychological and social point of view.
- Marginalisation: A final possible result of contact between cultures is the confusion or lack of definition of the actors involved. The collective or the individual can lose their frame of reference, not knowing how to integrate new experiences into a meaningful discourse. A result that frequently appears associated with cases of exclusion.
Consider the following example:
A Mexican professor takes a one-year visiting fellowship as a professor in the United States. At his university, south of Mexico, he usually wears a jacket and tie, the students treat him in a formal way, and the administration and services staff treat him with great respect. In the classes, which are organised around his oral presentation, he has a preponderant role. When organising a research seminar, it is usual for academic authorities to open and close the meeting. When he arrives in the United States, he finds that the teachers dress in an informal manner, compared to what he is accustomed to in Mexico. Students treat him more closely, confidently, and more informally. Students are very active in class, ask questions and even question what the teacher says. In the seminars, a practical orientation is followed and the contents are entered without further delay.
In this example, the visiting fellowship in the United States poses for the Mexican professor a situation of intercultural contact that exposes him to a process of acculturation. He could follow a strategy of assimilation, segregation or others depending on his attitudes and the interaction that develops in the receiving context.
Similar cases occur with open digital practices. The use of open educational resources can result in situations of intercultural contact and, consequently, in processes of acculturation. For example, content reuse usually involves coming into contact with materials in another language, from another culture, or simply produced in a different institutional context, introducing an element of diversity. Participation in large-scale MOOCs often involves interacting with students from other countries. Accessing resources on the internet in other languages exposes us to a process of hybrid socialisation, between our immediate culture and the influences that come from other contexts. Distributing or using open data increases the likelihood of contacting international research teams, and so on.
Culture by comparison
What are the differences between the Dutch and the Jordanians? What are the differences between Jordanians and Moroccans? These questions can lead us to make a stereotyped description of each national group, and to assume that individuals belonging to each category are culturally homogeneous. On the one hand, we know that if we compare Dutch and Jordanians we will find differences in beliefs, values and customs. On the other hand, we know that these practices depend on material conditions of life, collective history and socio-economic aspects.
One of the advantages of the acculturation model is that it allows us to speak about cultural values and practices in relative terms. It does not consider cultural characteristics as an immovable property of groups or individuals. Rather, on the contrary, cultural practices are changing, they are constantly evolving and individual differences can be found within each group.
However, when aggregating comparisons of individuals from different communities, regions, or countries, they are often found to differ in their values, attitudes, and behaviours. In that case, we speak of ‘cultural distance’. This approach makes it possible to avoid an essentialist understanding of culture. Instead, it is proposed to empirically evaluate the patterns of behaviour of individuals and groups, describe the cultural distance between them and implement pragmatic strategies to facilitate intercultural communication.
The study of national cultures has shown that differences in values and customs are strongly related to socio-economic and development factors. However, they tend to be fairly stable over time, as different collectives change simultaneously. That is why it is useful to have an understanding of cultural distance, even if we consider that these characteristics are historically conditioned and that there is no cultural determination by belonging to a particular group.
Heterogeneous personal learning environments
A personal learning environment (PLE) is the set of resources, relationships and sources of information that an individual uses for personal learning. This concept aims to reflect that (a) each person has different elements in their environment, (b) to self-regulate their learning, in (c) a context in which informal learning has gained importance.
MOOCs, blogs or mailing lists are resources that each person integrates into their PL as sources of information, means to publish their reflections or channel their learning, and spaces of interaction with other people. Open educational resources provide opportunities to connect with diverse people and groups, and to customise the learning network.
Take the example of a Jordanian doctoral student who begins to publish her presentations in an open content repository such as Slideshare. Initially she sees this as a way of disseminating her research to other researchers in the area. However, it immediately becomes an opportunity for interaction and learning. Other researchers contact her, comment on her presentations or share similar studies they have done. The open nature of the content makes her connect with people outside her immediate social circle, from different countries and institutions, thereby increasing the diversity of her academic personal network. Thanks to this heterogeneous network, she gets different types of feedback that allow her to innovate her research.
Cultural distance and readiness to adopt OER
Immigrants in Australia
Australia is, along with the United States and Canada, one of the classic countries of immigration. It has a high percentage of population of foreign origin: at least one in four residents in Australia was born in another country. Since the eighteenth century, it received successive waves of foreign populations that joined the aborigines that inhabited the Australian territory. It is, therefore, an enormously diverse country, where situations of intercultural contact are frequent.
In this context, a group of Australian psychologists conducted a thorough analysis of individual differences in the process of psychological adjustment of immigrants. They evaluated the factors that predict (1) subjective psychological well-being, (2) material well-being, and (3) social integration with members of the receiving local society; and compared the predictors of each outcome.
The first thing they observed was that psychological adjustment in Australia was clearly related to the individual situation before the displacement. That is, the level of psychological, material and social well-being prior to emigration correlates with the corresponding level of adjustment after relocating in Australia. Second, they found specific predictors depending on each adaptation indicator:
- Immigrants who had previous cultural experience (for example, because they had migrated to another country before relocating to Australia) showed better emotional well-being and better material living conditions. Men showed comparatively greater subjective well-being than women did.
- Social integration with Australians was higher among younger immigrants. Second, assimilation in local communities was influenced by the cultural similarity between origin and destination. For example, those who came from a rural setting and from nuclear-oriented families were better accommodated, since in Australia they lived in agricultural areas where it was uncommon to live with members of the extended family. The immigrants who knew some Australians before arriving in Australia or who came from a country with a similar cultural background were also better adapted. For example, the British or the New Zealanders had fewer difficulties than the Chinese or the Indians.
Based in: Scott & Scott (1989).
The research we have summarised in the previous box shows that there are significant individual differences in the degree of predisposition for intercultural contact, which influence the outcomes of immigrant adaptation. People with previous intercultural experience and with less cultural distance from the receiving society, show better objective and subjective indicators of adaptation.
In MOOCs, international contact situations often occur. Let us suppose that Coursera offers a course on programming in which students from around the world can participate. Among other evaluation indicators, teachers evaluate the interaction of students in online forums. If we draw a parallel with research on international immigrants, we must assume that not all students are equally prepared to take advantage of the course. For example:
- Academic achievement in a MOOC is likely to show a positive correlation with the student’s prior academic performance, before participating in this type of course.
- Those students who have already participated in a digital distance course or who have previous experience with multicultural contexts of learning have a priori a comparative advantage that should facilitate their use of the MOOC.
- Young university students generally have a profile that facilitates social assimilation with students from other countries.
- Students who are familiar with the language and the university context of the course will find it less difficult to achieve adequate academic performance.
- If your home university has an intercultural background as well as international connections, it will be easier to adapt to a MOOC with an international audience.