Monday, September 27, 2010

Why am I so pessimistic about cultural competence in an online world.

I've been putting off writing this.

I'm usually pretty positive we can make the world a better place. Hey look at at title of this blog Brighter Futures.

About culturally competent online facilitation on a global scale, I'm feeling pretty pessimistic.

I think there are many, many difficulties.

When you go to live in new country you are immersed in a new culture. If you study or work in that new culture you learn the language and how things are done, you learn about the world view of the new culture. You also learn about your own culture.

You learn that that you have norms, expectations, values and assumptions that you had no idea that other cultures don't share.

You can come to understand this, and go meta on this because you are embedded in the new culture and you are an outsider. You also change the culture you are embedded in because you relate to people you encounter and form ongoing trusting relationships. You have to share you thoughts about with others in the form of models.

You say in effect, "Am I getting this right? In this culture when you say this and do that, you don't mean what we mean in my culture you mean something like this?"

The German poet Novalis (1772-1801) who first combined the following words said it well. "The strange becomes familiar and the familiar becomes strange".

Because you are embedded in a strange environment you come to see your assumptions and thoughtless biases and your habitual heuristics.

But when you stay home and interact across the world over the internet, you stay embedded in your environment and the members of your online community are embedded in theirs.

There are less chances to see the familiar as strange. We carry on and with our invisible assumptions. If we have more power than those we facilitate, they try to fit in as best they can.

We carry on in our culturally insensitive ways, blind to what were doing.

If our cultural biases were ever pointed out to us, we might be horrified or even hostile, possibly dismissive.

I'm not sure my pessimism about cultural competence is correct.

Am I justified in thinking this?

I wonder if anyone has researched this.

I found this article New Directions in Research into Learning Cultures in Online Education by Robin Goodfellow on Google that seems worth a read.

This posting was inspired by my fellow FO2100 students but Matt Blackstock's blog post on this topic, Cultural Competence in the Online Facilitation Environment "

In this post he writes "Be aware of your own assumptions"

I guess my thinking is that this is easier said than done.


  1. My difficulty with cultural competence in the online environment is my level of insight. It's little things that I do to perpetrate my own world view like...using photos that are Euro-centric on my blog postings...that I do not even think about....I'm not even aware I am doing.

    I would like us to have far more conversations about cultural competence is more than embedding an online translator on your blog.

  2. Living and working in a "foreign" and world's oldest culture I am unsure that as an outsider you can ever become cultural competent. At the most you can become culturally safe.

    And on the internet where there is no repercussion really even this basic undertanding and compassion need not be used


  3. Thanks Robbo. I agree a realistic aim might be just being culturally safe.

  4. Malcolm
    I too am somewhat overwhelmed by this notion.
    Laren Wilson looks at the language issues and of course language is simply the coverpage of attitudes, values and shared exepriences.
    As I understsand it Cultural Safety is my own issue- can I be OK in this environment. so how do we know that someone is OK in our online environment? is it to do with losing touch? or lurking?or becoming very very active?

  5. Hi Malcolm - I too have been pondering this concept and wonder if the word culture is too restrictive. Even within our own 'culture' there are biases; for example I use the word workshop to mean a mini learning environment and my carpenter husband builds things in his. Or is it that there are also cultural subsets within cultures?

    In Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication there is a distinction between 'consensual' and 'conventional' reality and a call to practice checking in what others are observing. I agree it is challenging to be always open to a different perspective and particularly tricky in an environment that relies heavily on the written word.

  6. Thanks for the comments. I'm not sure what you mean Willy, by "Cultural Safety is my own issue- can I be OK in this environment" for me cultural safety is key issue for the less powerful and privileged. One realization I've had that in world of online education where a punter (student) has so many choices, if a punter feels or has feel unsafe, they can and will go elsewhere and may never return.

    Karen I thank you for you point, even with in one culture there are many different sub-cultures, professional, ethnic, geographic.

    If they have a long history of contact and cooperation they tend to develop common knowledge and insight into each other.

    I'm not sure this happen in short online education courses. Perhaps it helps the if the educators have long experience with teaching and consulting with other cultures.

  7. I think I'm trying to suggest that cultural safety is not so much about something someone does or doesn't do, but what someone feels. So in that sense it does apply to the disempowered, who are most likely to feel unsafe in many settings, and also to the facilitator- a level of subtle awareness around being confident that they are behaving as best they can.

  8. Hello Malcolm

    I have just had a look at your blog and you have met the requirements for assignment 1. Once you have reflected on your event and written an evaluation, I'll be able to send you a certificate of completion.

    Thank you so much for your participation in FO2010. You have been an amazing support to me, and challenged my thinking, which I have really appreciated.

    All the best...hope to see you F2F when I am in Brisbane which is between 24th Jan. - 14th Feb.

    cheers Sarah