April 2000 Teaching in the Community Colleges (TCC) Online Conference
Writing Team on International Issues and New Technologies for Learning

Conference Chair Jim Shimabukuro indicated that "[t]he focus of this team will be to report on (1) the potential, via new technologies, for learning in two- and four-year colleges that's truly international and multicultural; (2) the major stages that will define the anticipated changes; and (3) the critical questions and problems that we need to address re the anticipated changes."

These questions proved to be as challenging as they are relevant. Any light shed on these issues would be of wide interest. A large number of conference participants expressed interest in joining this writing team. The sudden time frame or the main discussion platforms being a Web Board and Web Chat (across many time zones) may have limited their input, along with the difficulties inherent in the theme. Yet others, general conference participants, contributed to the dialogue during those online forums, so while the true authorship does not coincide with the team composition per se, it is clear that a substantive conference event did develop around this theme.

Team International generally dealt with East-West (that is, trans-Pacific) intercultural communication issues, and Dr. John Afele from Ghana gave compelling testimony to North-South issues relevant to education through the Internet. See the link to his full paper at the bottom of this page. Also along international lines, see the report of the Writing Team on the Former USSR & New Technologies, which brought Central Asian participants into the online conference dialogue.

Where the conference format worked well, papers or WebBoard posts were discussed in e-mail lists or synchronous Web chat sessions, and examples of dialogue moving across different media are cited here.

The following links were available on the Web before the conference as starting points compiled for discussion:

International and Multicultural Issues

CULTURAL LIBERATION: East-West Biculturalism for a New Century by Steve McCarty

University of Virginia Multicultural Pavilion International Project

Play as an integral part of learning culture by Yannis Karaliotas, Open University (UK) Project Report

Knowledge and Information Technology by Thomas Taaffe (U of Massachusetts)

A postmodernist critique of political power relations and current academic discourse, including distance education

Report of G8 Education Ministers' Meeting, Tokyo, April 1-2, 2000

Education Summit agrees to promote international distance learning lifelong via the Internet

Relevant 1996-2000 TCC Online Conference Presentations

See also What is an Online Conference? by Jim Shimabukuro, The Technology Source (2000)

TCC 1996

On-line Features in teaching International Communication by Dina Iordanova, U of Texas at Austin

TCC 1997

International Intercultural Communication through Keypals by Armeda C. Reitzel, Humboldt State U

On-line Teaching: Basic Issues at the University of the South Pacific by Richard Wah, USP, Fiji

TCC 1998

Voluntaristic Online Education and the Future with Japan Keynote Address by Steve McCarty

Issues in Internationalization of On-Line Course Content and Structure by Russell E. Brayley, Indiana U

Constructing a Learning Community in a Global Culture by Harumi Kawamura, Nanzan U, Japan

Online International Inservice Training by Mark Mankowski, Milwaukee Area Tech. Coll. and Luiz Villela, Brazil

The Global Voice: A World Wide Writing Website by Armeda C. Reitzel et al., Humboldt State U

TCC 1999

Creating and Repurposing Online Content for International Students by Palmer Agnew, Anne Kellerman, Binghamton U, & Bernardo Torres, Skidmore College

The Dilemma of Academic Freedom, Julia Keefer, New York U

TCC 2000

Problematizing the Borders of Academia by Michael Benton, Illinois State U

Hosting Live Global Literary Sessions at DU MOO by Gloria McMillan, Pima CC

Helping Teachers to Develop as Online Facilitators by Nick Noakes, Hong Kong U of Sci. & Tech.

Teaching Japanese On-line by Satoru Shinagawa, Kapiolani CC

Conference Discussion Threads

In a post to the Team International folder at the Writing Teams WebBoard, this author attempted to address the questions specifically posed to this team (see Introduction above), but in reverse order. Excerpts and responses:

Steve McCarty: To start from the critical questions and problems, there is a default context to much discourse over the Internet that reflects many taken for granted assumptions unconsciously carried over from an era of provincial communications... The very concept of "international" often implies the blessings of the U.S. radiating outward to a passive audience in "other" countries... Internet culture is conflated with American culture and reified into a democratizing force, whereas the outcome depends on the true purpose for which technology is utilized. Why, for example, are many administrators attracted to standardized courseware?

The default way of thinking has arisen basically because military and economic power have translated into a dominant political power structure. To show how pervasive this structure or default context is, Westerners are called "people" while less wealthy and powerful non-Westerners are often called "tribes" and so forth. Economically powerful mother tongues are called "languages" whereas the less powerful speak "dialects" and so forth. Western societies are treated by sociology, non-Western societies by anthropology.

The intercultural communication dimension is therefore not just a concept to plug into a two-dimensional chart of factors affecting distance education outcomes. It is rather a long road paved by intercultural sensitivity and a gradually widened outlook that begins to contemplate what true globalism would involve. It is a movement from monolingualism and monoculturalism to multilingualism and multicultural at the individual and societal levels. See "Cultural Liberation: East-West Biculturalism for a New Century" at URL: http://curry.edschool.virginia.edu/go/multicultural/papers/mccarty.html

The above paper speaks to Jim Shimabukuro's second question of the "major stages that will define the anticipated changes" ... turning to Jim's first question of "the potential, via new technologies, for learning in two- and four-year colleges that's truly international and multicultural," fortunately it is now possible, even without changing the curriculum, for each subject to be embedded in a larger context via the Internet. Nowadays people can live in two worlds for the cost of little more than one. To a considerable extend the f2f world is geographically constrained to the local context, but the cyber world is where students and educators in each field can join a larger community of scholars and practitioners, accelerating the evolution of knowledge. Less clear in outcome is the negotiation of ethics online, the contention of purposes, between the world community of scholars and other sectors with more economic might. Educators have proven to be good learners and have generally upheld the higher ethics in their communities. Now the necessity of lifelong daily learning may work to the advantage of scholars, who have a worldwide community that can finally be connected, and readily organized through shared ethics and standards such as the scientific method.

As Academia is reconstituted in cyberspace, it will be helpful for the curriculum to include new subjects as well, aimed at more knowledgeable enculturation of learners into the cyber world where people will increasingly work, play, and interact globally. The default context of Internet discourse should thus be the world that includes all humanity.

Gloria McMillan: People do seem to want to have intercultural literary sessions, but even the fact that these must be mostly carried out in English is not exactly a mid-point for most of the other countries' participants. On the other hand, we DID learn some Japanese and the session taught things about haiku that the US poets present had never heard (i.e., "kigo words"). I think we have to start somewhere and a more mid-point on language can be achieved in classes where second languages are being taught.

Francois Lachance: "foreign languages"... might better be rendered by a phrase like "languages other than English" ... English is spoken by more people as a second language. I worry that questioning the status of English as a lingua franca doesn't lead to enshrining bilateral synchronous exchange... This is not to say that monolingualism should be de rigueur in synchronous exchange. It is to say that efforts already now capitalizing on multilingual connections made through a lingua franca will exert their influence on the vocabulary of the lingua franca itself and the "foreign" will not be "alien" but simply "other". And that will certainly contribute to the social factors that have an impact on language learning.

Excerpt from an asynchronous dialogue among Team International members:

Gloria McMillan: Have any of you attempted to re-shape an existing course to include a global component?

Thomas Danford: I have tried to get students to become aware of global microbiology events... outbreaks of infectious disease and the like. Often these events are wonderful "teaching to the moment" situations. It can also lead to a discussion of cultural aspects since behavior and customs influence disease transmission and impact.

Discussion initiated on the WebBoard continued during the Web chat. Excerpts, slightly edited for clarity:

<KeikoS> Steve sensei, you broght up a point I have never thought about... Internet and Americanism... I guess I have been Americanized too.

<Steve> As an expatriate I can gain some objectivity about the US. Keiko, Japanese people who speak out in English are rare ... and desperately needed.

<KeikoS> What happened to my humble Japanese with my English?

<Steve> My Japanese speaking is more polite than my English. And yes, I bow, even on the telephone because the gestures and attitudes accompany the language... Like fish seeing the water, it is hard to see the default context.

<KeikoS> Where there is communication, there is communication style... Which could be different in cultures. Or is it that Internet culture is different altogether?

<Steve> Between the US and Japan you can see how greatly communication styles can differ.

<Danford> do you think that it interferes with or deters communication? that styles are different?

<KeikoS> Sometimes things don't get across as intended.

<Danford> I don't see much difference between the internet and physical/real life ... except that the Internet can much more easily be multicultural.

<KeikoS> I feel internet is a different mode of communication... I write like a Web page these days: header here, bullets there, reference to URL.

<Danford> well, i certainly write differently for MOO versus a Web page.

<Steve> I feel very at home in cyberspace after all these years and can be myself<sorry!>

<Danford> I feel at home in cyberspace too!

<KeikoS> Comfortable in cyberculture... Shinagawa sensei brought up how we teach culture online in langauge classes.

<Steve> There is overlap, yes, with the Language Team.

Dialogue among Team International members took place on other conference forums as well, such as the e-mail discussion list following up the presentation by Mauri Collins and Zane Berge. Excerpts:

Steve McCarty: Another example of convergence to divergence is the situation where technologies that support global collaboration are still used by faculty and students within commuting distance of the campus, when each educator, student and institution could be anywhere in the world... Why not have, say, area studies taught from the area, with Asian studies taught from Asia, and so forth, like foreign correspondents? The various logistical and social barriers to this evolution could make an interesting discussion or research theme...

Where there is convergence there is all the more urgency to recognize divergence, to practice intercultural sensitivity and appreciate, for example, the accomodation made by non-native users of English in giving us a lingua franca.

Gloria McMillan: ...what a cognitive and affective leap having hosts in the country whose literature (or other coposition-related topic) we are studying... several steps precede "getting it" for people, especially bureaucrats who are mainly concerned with the bottom line and lack of disruption to existing courses and delivery mechanisms already in place. If we see the goals, they probably instantly think of the barriers.

Some folks here suggest a web page of Global Literary Finds. This could be aspects that only the new format highlights, that students would never get in the typical 2nd hand or 3rd hand exposure to global cultures that they get in community colleges from anthologies and teachers who--by and large--have never been near the place whose literature (or whatever) they are studying. We found something unique about haiku that even published poets who were at our session didn't know.

John Afele: I share with the you the optimism for creating a world in which people and their own cultures are integrated without losing their own sense of belonging. That the advances in convergent communication technologies would allow us to touch each other. The process of defining a Global Village/Community would rely on how successfully the academic community employs the modern tools to impact knowledge, through virtuality while being relevant to local communities: Global knowledge, local impact.

Technologies, as proven, can measure their progress in tangible formats, whereas orchestrating a unifying social philosophy is more subtle. Yet, in my ability to interact with you, to learn what distance education can achieve in creating a knowledgeable global society, I am optimistic that we would grow to know and understand each other more; to provide solutions to some of the chronic ailments of humanity - rural poverty, particularly in the South... the likelihood of some families not eating anything at the end of the day, and that is most likely going to occur in Africa.

John Afele [In response to questions]: For a predominantly formally illiterate rural population, such tools [as discussed in the Collins & Berge keynote] would be relevant, and in areas where telecom infrastructure is poor. Therefore, wirelessness and simplicity would be keys in the community access mechanisms.

...As for the secondary schools in Ghana, they are very grammar school type. The goal is to reach the university and a number of students fall out at two stages (GCE O, and A Levels - British system). The basic and secondary school structures in Ghana have recently changed but I wonder if the new system would actually learn what the majority of Ghanaians do and why - philosophy of existence and the TOOLs and Processes of livelihoods.

At the end of the day, even the most socially just society must be translated into FOOD. The question would be asked: Our new school system in Ghana, wherever else in Africa, does it bring food? The tools and processes relevant to the immediate community would best be developed in community colleges...

Writing Team Contributor Profiles

John Afele

Gloria McMillan

Thomas R. Danford

Steve McCarty

Writing Team Chair, Summary Report for the Web

Continue to the full paper accompanying this summary report:

"Towards an African Knowledge Bank," by Dr. John Afele.

Return to online publications