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Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace: Participation Patterns and Problematics Reeder, Kenneth; Macfadyen, Leah P.; Roche, Jörg; Chase, M 2004-08-09

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Language Learning & Technologyhttp://llt.msu.edu/vol8num2/reeder/May 2004, Volume 8, Number 2pp. 88-105Copyright ? 2004, ISSN 1094-3501 88NEGOTIATING CULTURES IN CYBERSPACE: PARTICIPATIONPATTERNS AND PROBLEMATICS1Kenneth Reeder and Leah P. MacfadyenThe University of British ColumbiaJoerg RocheLudwig Maximilians Universit?t, M?nchen, GermanyMackie ChaseThe University of British ColumbiaABSTRACTIn this paper we report findings of a multidisciplinary study of online participation by culturallydiverse participants in a distance adult education course offered in Canada and examine in detailthree of the study's findings. First, we explore both the historical and cultural origins of"cyberculture values" as manifested in our findings, using the notions of explicit and implicitenforcement of those values and challenging the assumption that cyberspace is a culture freezone. Second, we examine the notion of cultural gaps between participants in the course and thepotential consequences for online communication successes and difficulties. Third, the analysisdescribes variations in participation frequency as a function of broad cultural groupings in ourdata. We identify the need for additional research, primarily in the form of larger scalecomparisons across cultural groups of patterns of participation and interaction, but also in theform of case studies that can be submitted to microanalyses of the form as well as the content ofcommunicator's participation and interaction online.INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUNDThe preconditions of cyberculture usually involve the linguistic and communication norms ofAnglo-American societies in which the aggressive, competitive individual is enshrined. (Jordan,2001, p. 13)Intercultural communication is always a challenge, but even more so when it happens online in theabsence of visual and oral cues or well-developed relationships. In computer-mediated courses,participants are involved in building learning communities. Culturally diverse individuals may holdwidely different expectations of how to establish credibility, exchange information, motivate others, giveand receive feedback, or critique or evaluate information.In our recent study (Chase, Macfadyen, Reeder, & Roche, 2002), we began to explore the impact ofcultural differences upon participation in a computer-mediated course offered by the University of BritishColumbia to a culturally diverse group of learners across Canada. The overall goal of the study was to testcritically the widely held assumption that the use of standardized communications technology,implemented with competent professional pedagogy, will constitute sufficient conditions for successfulcommunications and learning for culturally diverse cohorts participating in a distance learning program.Ascertaining the preconditions for successful online learning has potential significance for both policyand practice in distance learning. Recent studies of second language learning have begun to delineate insome detail the critical role of intercultural variables in mediated learning exchanges. Thorne (2003) forexample develops the notions of medium as cultural artifact and electronic cultures-of-use, both of whichwe make extensive use of in our problematization of ostensibly culturally neutral e-learning tools in thisstudy.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 89Phase One of our analysis, reported in Chase et al. (2002), described the differing ways in which culturalexperiences, values, and influences were revealed in the online postings of the study's participants. Theanalysis also provided evidence of differing communication patterns and instances of miscommunicationin online exchanges between culturally diverse learners and online facilitators. In addition, we constructeda taxonomy of nine major themes or clusters of communication difficulties encountered by ourparticipants. Foremost in that taxonomy was the revelation that cyberspace itself came to constitute acultural space in the course, so that cultural gaps could emerge not only between individuals but alsobetween individuals and the dominant cyberculture inherent in the course.In Phase Two, we now report on an exploratory case study of a single online course that investigates threemain observations. First, we discuss both the historical and intercultural background for the emergence ofcyberculture values as a social construct, introducing the theoretical notions of explicit and implicitenforcement of those values to describe potential mechanisms underlying patterns of communication.Second, we examine the idea of "cultural gap" between participants in our course in terms of theconsequences for online communication successes and difficulties, in the light of Gudykunst's (1995)theory of the correlation between communication anxiety and perceived differences betweencommunication partners. Third, we offer descriptive statistics suggesting that participation frequencydiffers as a function of cultural group, broadly defined. We consider these participation patterns in thelight of current thought in a variety of social sciences that deal with issues in language, culture, andcommunication. Finally, after we identify some of the limitations of the present case study's approach, weurge further study of the patterns we describe, given the implications for future design, policy, andimplementation of online distance learning courses for culturally diverse clientele who increasinglycomprise the global educational mainstream (Cummins & Cameron, 1994).For the purposes of the study a definition of culture was used that moves beyond "essentialist" views ofculture as values, beliefs, and patterns of behaviour that are learned through our experience andenvironment (Hofstede, 1980; Hall & Hall, 1990). Rather, we tend toward the social constructivist viewespoused by Scollon & Wong-Scollon (1995) in which culture is viewed as "shared ways of symbolicmeaning making among members of a social community." We treat the nexus of cultural production asdiscourse, in the present case, the online discussions amongst participants in an emerging onlinecommunity. We further suggest that in online communications, as in face-to-face communications,culture is negotiated, not given.It appears in our study that the complexity and dynamism of such cultural negotiation can place learnersat considerable odds with the best plans and unexamined communicative assumptions of online distancecourse developers. The sorts of cultural assumptions about effective communication held by designers ofonline discourse platforms, course assignments, and threaded discussions might match poorly with thoseof the adult learners that they target. In a stunning display of na?vet? and smugness, Canada's leadingagency for the promotion of e-learning stated recently,Our position as a bilingual and multicultural country, as a Pacific nation with a neighbour's viewof the American experience, makes it easier for our post-secondary institutions to develop onlinecourse offerings with appeal to learners in the United States, Europe and Asia. Canada also has anexcellent reputation for high-quality, culturally neutral content. (Industry Canada, 2003)Our study contests the notion that culturally neutral content is even conceivable, let alone attainable inonline settings.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 90METHODSSettingAn introductory course for a university certificate program in Intercultural Studies was offered in a mixedmode consisting of 2 days of face to face meetings followed by 6 weeks of facilitated online assignmentsand discussion. WebCT served as the software platform for the online component. The face-to-facecomponent of the course was delivered in parallel meetings held in Toronto and in Vancouver. The twocohorts were then blended for the online introductions, assignments, and discussions that comprised theremainder of the course proceedings.For the purposes of the present case study, we decided to employ an intact group despite its lack ofrepresentativeness of some larger populations. We believe that the authenticity of an intact group locatedin the field and our case study method offset, to some extent, the limitations upon our ability to generalizefindings to a broader universe of online courses in an unambiguous and immediate manner. We thereforedecided against constructing an experimental sample for study under laboratory conditions. Nonetheless,on the basis of the authors' widespread collective experience as adult educators, we judged that membersof a certificate program in intercultural communications would bring reasonably well developed skills andpositive dispositions toward effective interpersonal communication. This self-selection provided us with adegree of control over basic interpersonal communicative skill level, offering us the advantage of beingable to reduce its potentially confounding effect upon our examination of the respective roles of computermediation and cultural group, in a case fairly representative of those in which "hard technology meets softskills" (Macfadyen, Chase, Reeder, & Roche, 2003).ParticipantsThe community of 24 participants that embarked upon this course included 17 students, 5 coursefacilitators, and 2 moderators. Three learners failed to complete all the requirements of the course. In ourdescriptions below, both facilitators and moderators will be described for convenience as "Facilitators"despite their somewhat differing roles in the leadership of the course. There were 17 female and 7 maleparticipants, ranging in age from 25 to 55 years, and participants in this course appeared to berepresentative socially of the population normally recruited for the certificate program, includingindividuals with high school, college, university, and post-graduate education. In the initial personalintroductions posted online, participants used the following categories to identify their cultural heritages:Canadian, British Columbia First Nations (aboriginal), Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, SouthernEuropean, German, African, South Asian, Italian, Chinese, and UK South Asian. Nine of the 24participants were born and educated outside of Canada.Table 1 divides participants into three broad groups that we compared for purposes of descriptive analysisof participation. While the cultural diversity of this cohort did not allow us to categorize it into easilyidentifiable ethno-cultural groups, we believed that this demographic grouping, employing participants'Canadian citizenship status, is relevant from the perspective of the participant's exposure to mainstreamNorth American cultural values in early life and education. As first suggested by Tannen (1984) inresearch among North American populations, men and women can be socialized linguistically quitedifferently, which will be reflected in contrasting male and female communication patterns. For a recentsocial constructivist reanalysis of that observation, see Cameron (2003). We therefore also comparedonline course participation of male and female participants. Because the course was carried out inEnglish, we conducted a preliminary survey of the full corpus to determine whether there was anyevidence of differential written English proficiency across these three broad groupings. We found noevidence of systematic errors, and only normal performance slips found in the population at large. Theseerrors were distributed roughly evenly across all groups. Moreover, a survey of educational backgroundsrevealed that the three aboriginal participants had attended, as expected, and succeeded in, English-K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 91medium schools and postsecondary institutions, and were clearly native speakers of English. This allowedus to eliminate differential written English proficiency as a potential confounding variable in oursubsequent discourse analyses.ProceduresOur data set consisted of printed transcripts of all 453 online contributions to the WebCT public bulletinboard tool over the 6-week facilitated online component. All messages were arranged in order of date sentand superficially reformatted (e.g., extraneous headings reduced) for ease of analysis. However, withineach electronic message all the original formatting, spelling, use of alternative characters, emoticons, andso forth, were left as written by the course participant. Pseudonyms were assigned to participants toprotect confidentiality and to mask cultural membership prior to the analysis of the printed transcripts ofthe online contributions to the bulletin boards. After reading through the postings individually, the fourinvestigators came together and, using a variant of grounded theory research methodology (Strauss &Corbin, 1998) exchanged observations relating to categories of postings, text, frequency, style,interactions, and patterns, with the aim of identifying themes that emerged in the data. Descriptivestatistical techniques were applied to the corpus in order to identify patterns of participation by group, butbecause of the case study method we employed, no inferential, hypothesis-testing statistics wereappropriate.Preliminary descriptions of the corpus of postings revealed the broad dimensions of the course'scommunicative component. Table 1 summarizes the distribution of postings by group, role in the course,and gender.Table 1. Total Number of Postings by Citizenship Group, Role, and GenderRoleLearners Facilitatorsmale female male female TotalGroup M,SDAboriginal Canadians 12 (2)* 9 (1) 0 (0) 0 (0) 21 (3) 7.03.5Adult immigrants to Canada 27 (2) 61 (3) 28 (2) 106 (3) 222 (10) 22.26.9Non-aboriginal Canadians 0 (1) 153 (8) 0 (0) 57 (2) 210 (11) 19.111.7Total 39 (5) 223 (12) 28 (2) 163 (5) 453 (24) 18.9*Total number of postings is indicated; number of individuals is indicated in parentheses.RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONObservation One: The Internet Has a CultureOur first observation, and perhaps the observation with the most wide-reaching implications for thesuccess of electronic intercultural communications, is that the communicative space or platform createdby the Internet is not a culturally neutral or value-free space in which culturally diverse individualscommunicate with equal ease. Like all technologies, the Internet was and is socially produced -- and allsocial productions are informed by the cultural values of their producers (Castells, 2001).The creators of the Internet were predominantly Anglo-American engineers and scientists "seeking quickand open access to others like themselves" (Anderson, 1995, p. 13). Their ethnic and professional culturesvalue aggressive/competitive individualistic behaviours. In addition, these cultures value communicationsK. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 92characterized by speed, reach, openness, quick response, questions/debate and informality. Schein (1992)attributes similar values to the information technology community in general.We observed that these communicative cultural values are embedded in the design of WebCT and similarInternet-based communications platforms. Layered over this foundational but "invisible" culture of theInternet, the culture of the online modular courses under study here is similarly the product of its creators,all of whom were known to (and in several cases, colleagues of) the researchers: predominantlyuniversity-educated Canadians, who are Western, English-speaking, and female. Within the courseenvironment, communicative cultural values are enforced both explicitly and implicitly. Implicitenforcement is due to features such as the technical infrastructure of the course (a discussion board whichrequires public postings and responses), and by unspoken assumptions and expectations about howcommunications should proceed. Meanwhile, the communicative culture of cyberspace and of this onlinecourse is explicitly enforced through overt statements, instructions and requests made by coursefacilitators and by some of the learners (Table 2).Table 2. Explicit and Implicit Enforcement of Cyberculture ValuesCyberspaceValuesImplicit Enforcement Explicit Enforcementspeedquick responseCourse design requires a minimum numberof learner postings per assignment,including responses to each others work,made on time."I found also that I was anxiouslyawaiting a facilitator reply ?. Irealize the facilitators have othercommitments and obligations, but itwould be of greater benefit to me if Iwere able to see a response at anearlier time." (Learner)"This online course really works whenpostings come in on time and allow usall to get involved in the discussion."(Facilitator)debate / questions The underlying objective of requiringlearners to respond to each other is topromote debate and discussion betweenmultiple participants."We continue the conversations, evenwhen it's difficult for us ? We acceptthe questions others ask us -- askingquestions is okay." (Facilitator)informality The current version of WebCT has nospell-checking facility.There is a limited capacity to includespecial message formatting (which mightindicate a formal communication) inpostings unless participants have anextensive knowledge of html.Course guidelines make norecommendations regarding structure ofpostings, and no assessment is made ofposting format, spelling, style orpresentation.Course design includes a "Caf?" intendedto promote social and informal participantinteraction."hey you all ? I hope you are doingwell ? it seems as though you havehad a wonderful time, you have gottento know each other better -- at leastyou have an idea of each other's faces? but not mine (oh yeah, I have an"image" in cyberspace"? check meon my website ? Anyway, my nameis Michal chilion ? I look forward tolearning with you in this track of thejourney. take care, Michal (oh, Iforgot, I am the mother of twoteenagers -- a challenge)" (Facilitator)K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 93reachopennessDiscussion board platform makes allpostings "public.""feel free to share thoughts andfeelings openly" (Facilitator)Observation Two: The Greater the Cultural Gap Between Online Participants, the Greater thePossibility for MiscommunicationUnderstanding that there exists a real and enforced Internet culture, and that this culture embodiescommunicative values drawn from North American, English-speaking, and academic cultures, one mightexpect that participants from certain (formally educated, Western, English-speaking) cultures to have theleast difficulty in communicating successfully in greatest affinity with the online course environment,whereas individuals from cultures with very different communicative values and strategies might be lesssuccessful communicators according to cyberculture standards. We find that this prediction is supportedby our analysis of participation patterns. In our study group, non-aboriginal Canadians (individuals bornand educated in Canada, within the predominantly English-speaking Euro-Canadian culture) posted asignificantly higher number of messages than, for example, aboriginal Canadian participants (Table 1). Itappears then, that one important cultural "gap," which may function as a predictor of onlinecommunicative success, is the gap between the communicative culture of an individual and thecommunication culture of the Internet itself.Cultural gaps can also exist between individual communicators from different backgrounds, and we findevidence of these cultural gaps in the communications of our online course participants. For example, weobserve in participants' "self-introduction" postings some large differences in their approaches to onlineself-revelation, and, indeed, in their notions of how identity is established.One South Asian Canadian learner wrote,This is Sara Nitzan from Montr?al, Quebec. I have lived here since 1971, but was born and raisedin Bombay, India. My family comes from the former Portuguese colony of Goa in India. I ammarried with 2 children who are now young adults.Sara identified herself primarily by membership in a national/cultural group, and in relation to her family.In response to the same request for self-introduction, a non-aboriginal English-speaking Canadian-bornCanadian contributed a more individual focused introduction:My name is Batsheva Carmela ?. My job is Program Coordinator of the International programsOffice in the Faculty of commerce at [a Canadian University]. We run training programs forgovernment officials, managers, administrative personnel, etc. from (mostly) China, take care ofvisiting scholars who come to study for shorter periods of time, help organize summer programsto other countries for undergraduate students ?. On a personal side, I have a degree in History(Business minor) from ? University.This learner identified herself primarily by her professional role and experience, and by her academicqualifications and achievements. We noted that such an option was available equally to Sara, who wasalso an experienced professional with significant educational attainment.2Why might such divergent perceptions of personal culture, role, and identity contribute to communicativechallenges in an online setting? We suggest that Gudykunst's Anxiety/Uncertainty Management Theory(1995) may be useful here. Gudykunst suggests that all communicators (including online communicators)encounter each other as strangers -- and the wider the cultural gap that exists between them, the greaterthe degree of uncertainty and anxiety. As anxiety increases, the potential for miscommunication increases.Anxiety must be "managed" in order for successful communication to take place.Individuals from different cultural backgrounds will employ different anxiety management strategies,with varying degrees of success. For example, in the self-introduction exchanges above, individuals areK. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 94giving information about themselves in ways that reflect their experience, the influences of theireducational and group cultural "programming." The likelihood is, however, that neither is providing theother with the kind of culturally-expected and familiar personal information that would serve to reduceanxiety and promote better communications. The door is opened to hasty assumptions on both sides aboutthe others' cultures.There is a second perspective that we found useful in accounting for the very different responses to therequest to introduce themselves to the rest of the online group. Sara chose to outline her heritage in atraditional manner as member of national and family groups, while Batsheva delivers her professionalresum? or CV, in what we would argue is an equally traditional manner of communicating. Genre theory(Gee, 1999; Halliday, 1994; Halliday & Martin, 1993) shows that cultures apprentice their members inpreferred genres of realizing everyday communicative acts (introductions, apologies, jokes, and the like).The contrast between Sara's and Batsheva's chosen genres (genealogy and resum?, respectively) forintroducing themselves may create anything from very minor irritation to outright misunderstandingsamongst members of a group if they expect their own preferred genres to express importantcommunicative acts. Equally unfortunate would be negative evaluations from instructors who, on thebasis of their cultural expectations and professional training, might not be prepared to accept a job resum?or a traditional genealogy as an adequate approach to performing a personal introduction.Genre seems to play a somewhat similar role in another instance of communicative shortfall we found inthe online discourse. In this case, a participant is discussing some rather difficult experiences of humandifference and personal acceptance, going quite a long way in revealing his/her individual beliefs:It is not an easy thing to accept people and things that are different from us, and it is a day to daystruggle to just relate in a personal, professional, and social level. It is human nature to questionwhat you don't know or understand, but in questioning we might be able to learn and accept whatwe perceive as "not normal or right."One course facilitator replies, rather oddly in our view, with an effort at a Shakespearean quotation:"Aye and there's the rub" (some quote left over from my schoolhood days -- roughfully [sic]translated - yes, that's it.) It is human nature to question what we don't know or understand. Thebiggest challenge in building respectful and productive relationships across cultures isrecognizing when we think we know and we actually don't.The communication gaps illustrated here can also be illuminated by studies of second languageacquisition. Cummins (1984) found that the (heavily contextualized) speech genre Basic InterpersonalCommunicative Skill (BICS) was acquired earlier, and more quickly by young immigrant learners thanthe less contextually-supported Cognitive Academic Language Performance (CALP) which tookimmigrant students up to a further 5 years to acquire to a native-like degree. It could well be that our datareveal something more than an ability gap: As noted earlier, all of our participants could have beenexpected by virtue of their professional and academic backgrounds to possess good levels of basiccommunication skills. Rather, these participants, regardless of their first or second-language learnerstatus, may have experienced confusion or doubts as to whether basic interpersonal communication,academic language, or perhaps something in between was expected in the online situation. What are therules of the game, from a genre standpoint, for effective online participation?Finally, the linguistic distinction from literacy theory (Olson, 1994; Ong, 1982; Reeder, Shapiro, Watson,& Goelman, 1996; Scribner & Cole, 1981) between oral and literate uses of language could prove a richsource of understanding of online communication corpora such as the present material, and raises thefundamental question of whether online participation of the sort we have considered here is a variant oforal language, or of literate language, or a new hybrid of the two. This question has given rise to a spateof investigations and fruitful theoretical work. For instance, Dudfield (1999) agrees that students areK. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 95increasingly engaging in what she calls "hybrid forms of literate behaviour." Gibbs (2000) extends this tosuggest that new forms of communication are actually constructing "new forms of thinking, perceivingand recording" (p. 25). Essays in Gibson & Oviedo's (2000) anthology offer a range of perspectives onthe ways in which literacy is shifting in relation to new technologies. Thurstun (2000) examines"perceptual difficulties posed by the new technology" (p. 62) and, together with Harpold (2000) discusseschallenges of reading electronic texts. Kramarae (1999) similarly discusses the new "visual literacy"required of Internet communicators, while Williams & Meredith (1996) attempt to track development ofelectronic literacy in new Internet users. Discourse studies of online communications such as Crystal(2001) lend weight to the conclusion that corpora such as ours represent some intermediate stage betweenoral and written discourse. We might speculate however that our corpus and others like it represent a newgenre, neither spoken nor written, yet drawing upon conventions of both. In any case, distance educatorsneed to be cognizant of the relative "fit" between their participants' origins in oral or literate cultures andthe distinct genre requirements of online communication in e-learning.Observation Three: Patterns of Online Participation Differ Amongst GroupsWe observed differences amongst communication patterns of participants from the different groupsdescribed in this study -- evidence, we believe, of the different patterns of communicative exchangeswhich cultural groups may employ. These differences coalesced around two general questions:1)  Who posts contributions to the bulletin board?2)  Who responds to whom?The evidence for variation in contribution as a function of cultural group is summarized in Figure 1.These descriptive findings are worth validating with larger scale studies in order to determine whether ourpreliminary findings in one course could begin to be generalized to multicultural members of online adulteducation courses more broadly conceived.zFigure 1. Online discussion participation rates, by citizenship and gender groups.Who Posts? Most apparent is the finding that the average number of postings made by our sample ofaboriginal Canadians was disproportionately lower than that of either the Canadian-born Canadian group,or the adult immigrants to Canada. On average, individuals received about the same number of responsesfrom about the same number of people, when comparing these sub-groupings. What this does tell us isthat in spite of receiving the same number of postings from a similar array of people, certain subgroups ofK. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 96participants were more likely to interact (or re-post beyond the required minimum) than others. Putanother way, we could argue that certain groups were more likely to continue an online conversation.Another interesting contrast is between the proportion of responses in relation to the aboriginalCanadians' postings compared to proportions of responses to postings of all other groups in the sample.Only the aboriginal Canadian group got more responses on average than they produced postings. Thisdifference should be interpreted with caution given the smaller number of postings (averages perparticipant as well as in absolute numbers) this group contributed to the course compared to those of theother two cultural groups.Moreover, we observed that aboriginal learners never directly addressed facilitators (the "teachers"),while members of other groups did. We also noticed an apparent "drop-off" in participation by aboriginallearners over time, and aboriginal Canadians posted fewer long messages than members of other groups.Male participants posted significantly fewer messages than female participants, consistent with findingsof a larger study of gender-related patterns of online communication by Sussman & Tyson (2000), andcontrary to their earlier prediction that as in spoken communications, male communicators would display"power behaviours" by posting more frequently. Further analysis will be necessary to determine whetheror not, as in that study, our male participants offset this low frequency of posting by contributing longeror perhaps what Sussman & Tyson termed "more opinionated" messages than female participants.The discovery of differential participation rates across cultural groups in this case study can be interpretedagainst the background of work in the ethnography of communication (e.g., Hymes, 1972). Onedimension of the ethnography of speaking is quantity: How much talking is expected of members of agiven cultural group? Such a predisposition could begin to explain why some groups, for exampleaboriginal Canadian and male groups in our study, were not as inclined to participate in extended andfrequent postings to the same degree as the other groups, although we argue for a finer-grained analysis ofour findings below. Further, length of turns might also be influenced by cultural predispositions, and ananalysis of mean length of postings (using valid and probably multiple measures of this seemingly simplebut actually complex construct) could determine whether such cultural factors are at work in thatdimension of our corpus of online communications as well.It was instructive for us to examine these participation findings in the light of detailed comparative studiesof talk in discourse communities. Scollon & Wong-Scollon (1990) found contrasting communicativestyles in two very distinct but neighboring cultures, North American speakers of English and NorthAmerican speakers of the aboriginal language Athabaskan. Some of the things English speakers reportedabout their conversational experiences with Athabaskan speakers included,They do not speak.They avoid situations of talking.They only want to talk to close acquaintances.They deny planning.They avoid direct questions.They never start a conversation.They talk off the topic.They are slow to take a turn in talking.They ask questions in unusual places.They just leave without saying anything.Conversely, Scollon & Wong-Scollon found that things Athabaskan speakers reported about Englishspeakers included,They talk too much.They always talk first.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 97They talk to strangers or people they don't know.They always talk about what's going to happen later.They ask too many questions.They always interrupt.They only talk about what they are interested in.They don't give others a chance to talk.Such comments might well express an aboriginal learner's views vis-?-vis their instructors or peers in e-learning contexts. Like many cultures, the Athabaskan communicative culture has been predominantlyoral. E-learning and Internet communication by contrast are largely literate inventions. They are alsolargely realized by public spaces, whereas oral cultures tend to be structured by private communication(Roche, 2001). Therefore, publicity as it is often explicitly required or implicitly expected in e-learning(the "they avoid situation of talking" attitude) runs counter to students' cultural and educationalexpectations and traditions ("they talk to strangers"). And the same is probably true for Western values ofefficiency and goal-orientedness of online education ("they deny planning/they are slow" vs. "they alwaystalk about what's going to happen later"). Given that one of our course's aboriginal members dropped thecourse unannounced, the expression of bewilderment "they just leave without saying anything" mayreflect our member's relatively low value placed on officially sanctioned credit or certificates compared toEuropean heritage members of the course.Who Responds to Whom? With respect to our second question about participation patterns, whoresponds to whom, similar between-group differences were evident in the descriptive analyses of ourfindings. We constructed an interaction matrix to help us detect patterns in postings of responses withinthe group, and to determine whether some participants were more likely than others to continue acommunicative exchange (Figure 2). By reading down each column we can see how many participantsresponded to an individual, and who the responders were. By reading along each row, we can see howmany different people an individual responded to (if any), and how often. In addition, by comparing thenumber of responses made by an individual to their total number of postings, conclusions can be drawnabout the degree to which each individual simply posted messages and the degree to which theyresponded to others.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 98MESSAGE POSTERFACILITATORS LEARNERSAP CP KG MC NA SB SP BC CM HN EK GB GG GH IL LT MZ NL RD RU SN SR TY VMAP 15 ??????????CP 37 ? ? ? ?? ?? ? ? ?? ?? ????????KG 34 ? ? ???? ?? ????? ?????? ?? ?????????MC 7 ????NA ?? ? 47 ? ????????? ? ???????? ?? ?? ? ???????????? ??? ?? ????SB 23 ? ????? ? ?? ? ????FACILITATORSSP 14 ?? ? ? ?????BC ????? ?? ? ????? ??? 38 ?? ?????? ?? ? ?? ??CM ?? 14 ?? ?? ?? ? ??DN 4EK ?? 19 ?GB ? ??? 14 ? ?? ? ? ?? ? ?GG 2GH ?? 24 ? ? ?? ? ?? ?IL ? ? ?? ? 14 ? ? ?LT ?? ?? ? 10 ? ? ? ?MZ ? ? ?? ???? ??? ? 21 ?NL ? ?? ? ? 12 ? ??RD ?? ? ? 9RU ? ? ? ?? 9 ?SN ???????? ? ? ? ? 15SR ????? ? ? ? ? ?? 16 ?TY ? 6RESPONDERLEARNERSVM ???? ? ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? 19NOTE: Individuals are identified by initials; ? represents a posted response message; numbers on thediagonal indicate total postings (initial messages + responses to others) made by each individual;"participation status" differentiates between course facilitators/moderators (FM) and learners.Figure 2. Response and interaction patterns between learners and facilitators.The frequency of interactions back and forward between two individuals can be assessed by comparingthe mirror-image "poster" and "responder" scores. By sorting participants according to their course role --K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 99learner or facilitator/moderator -- it is clear that by far the most frequent response postings were fromcourse facilitators/moderators to learners (shaded in grey). We have previously (Chase et al., 2002)identified cultural differences in learner expectations of, and attitudes towards, facilitators (whom theymay view as "teachers") as a key thematic area of miscommunication or "mismatch" in online learningenvironments. Our observation here that facilitators are the most frequent respondents, even within acourse carefully designed and structured to require learners to initiate communications with peers andwith facilitators highlights the possibility that culturally-shaped perceptions of teacher-learner powerdynamics influence learner interactions online.The next most frequent group of responses was from learners responding to facilitators/moderators. Leastfrequent were responses between learners. Two learners never responded to any of their peers, and severalmore responded fewer than five times to others throughout the 6-week period. At first glance, this findingmay seem to run contrary to the "euphoric" (Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2002) early responses byresearchers and educators to the potential for computer-mediated learning environments to facilitateonline student collaboration. Our data agree, however, with other studies that have highlighted lowparticipation rates, and "varying degrees of disappointing collaboration" in online learning environments(Hallet & Cummings, 1997; Heath, 1998). Similarly, while Enstrom & Fedderson (1995) agree thatasynchronous discussion forums can allow greater student expression, they, too, note that manycontributions to online discussions are actually ignored, and they question the popular notion thatcyberspace discussion is "truly dialogic." Simple volume of postings may not necessarily imply thateffective learner-learner interaction is occurring. As Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems (2002) point out, inonline learning environments, group interaction is often assumed, but not facilitated.A communicative style account of such patterns of differential participation as these runs the risk ofmasking additional, potentially relevant cultural factors that bear upon our working question about whoresponds to whom. This has been shown in the work of the sociolinguist Susan Philips (1972) in herstudies of what she termed "participant structures" or contexts for verbal participation, and participationof aboriginal students in classroom instruction in the western USA. Philips discovered that it was not ageneral lack of inclination to communicate that explained aboriginal students' sustained silences inclassrooms. In fact, Philips discovered that there were several classroom arrangements in whichaboriginal learners communicated more, and more efficiently, than European-American students.Aboriginal American students participated better than Euro-American students in small, student-ledgroups, and in private conferences with their teacher. They participated least when asked to speak in frontof the whole class, for example, answering the teacher's questions.It could well be the case that the lower overall rate of participation as a group by our study's threeaboriginal Canadian participants is explained by the context or structure of the online communicationsthat were set up by the course planners, essentially writing personal messages in front of an audience of24 relative strangers. For them, it might have been more culturally appropriate to have been discussingtheir own culture and values, and their work, with a small group (a chat group?) or privately with anindividual teacher (private mail?). However, our finding that no aboriginal participant ever addressed afacilitator online during the course cannot be explained merely by the public context of the onlineparticipant structure (they did, after all, post to their peers), or by a general ability or cultural preferenceaccount, because Philips (1972) demonstrated aboriginal Americans' ability and ample willingness toconfer with teachers privately. Rather, we propose that the interaction of communicative style with statusand power relations in our course resulted in our aboriginal participants' unwillingness to conferspecifically with authorities online because of the discussion forums' public nature. Although the WebCTcourse in our particular case study did not use the private mail or defined chat rooms that are available inthat particular course management system, the more private structure of those online options would bewell worth studying comparatively in the light of our findings.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 100CONCLUSIONSome researchers in the field of distance learning have argued that the socially constructed issuesunderlying the findings that we have just described are not subject to empirical enquiry, and hence are notexplainable (Bates, 2001). We disagree, and take the position here that the real challenge in the study ofonline intercultural communication resides not in empirical methodology as much as in the need foradequate theoretical frameworks.At the outset, we indicated that our work tries to problematize the notion of culture in the context ofcomputer-mediated communication (CMC) and claimed that a less essentialist and more dynamic,discourse-based understanding of culture was needed for the sorts of analyses we wished to conduct. Ess(1998) argues that the lack of an adequate theory of culture prevents the analysis of the complexities ofvirtual cultures and virtual communities. Ess (1998) recognizes that theories of culture elaborated byHofstede, Hall, Geertz (1973; see especially, Abdelnour-Nocera, 1998, 2002), and Carey (1989) are usedfrequently by intercultural educators, but asks,Do these various definitions, enumerations, and observations give us an understanding of culturewhich is adequate for examining, much less predicting ? the complex interactions betweenculture and technology? ? Can we have an adequate theory about "culture" and CMC withoutconsidering religiously-shaped components of culture and worldview? ? Do CMC technologiesnecessarily result in the importation of specific cultural values (the issue of technologicaldeterminism)? ? Does the meaning of "embodiment" ? need elaboration if our theories are tobe more complete? ? Are postmodern frames of reference, informed by McLuhan, Ong, etc. incommunication theory ? fully adequate for understanding the interplay between culture andCMC? (pp. 12-14.)Based upon our descriptive observations in the present study, we propose that an adequate theoreticalmodel of online intercultural communication must include at least the following elements. These areexpressed in Figure 3 as preconditions to be satisfied in order for online communication to meet withsuccess.[Communicative Style] (Am I predisposed to participate in communicating?)X[Participant Structure] (Is this an appropriate context in which to participate?)X[Genre] (Is this an acceptable genre for me to employ?)?[Degree of Communicative Success]Figure 3. A model of components and relations contributing to the success of online communicationThis would suggest that the kind of e-tools for communication and education such as bulletin boards,which cater to publicity, and learning platforms such as WebCT, which are based on the notion ofWestern-style efficiency, are not necessarily appropriate tools for international groups of learners, eventhough one of the main driving forces of Internet-based learning is internationalization of education.In addition, some of our e-communication tools either miss crucial elements or fit poorly into traditionalparameters of communication. Chat, for instance, carries the label and many features of a distinctly oralgenre but it lacks important features of orality as well, and is largely founded in literacy. Missingelements in electronically mediated communication include: context perception, parallel visual channels,direct eye contact, gestural information, side talk, dynamic real-time repair mechanisms, avoidancemechanisms, and in general the flexibility we normally expect to obtain or emerge betweenconversational partners. It therefore remains to be shown whether and how the new media tools andgenres are used by different groups of learners.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 101Even some of the most basic assumptions about electronically mediated communication and learning stillhave to be examined in the context of intercultural encounters. This, in turn, means that moreconsideration needs to be given to1)  micro-studies of intercultural communication features (including encounters of closely relatedcommunication cultures) (length of exchanges, depth, topics and taboo topics, initiation of talkand communicative roles, power distribution), as well as to2)  the problems of generic course designs.With respect to the first concern, we intend to follow up the descriptive data we have developed in thisphase of our study with microanalyses conducted with larger samples of participants from systematicallyvaried cultural backgrounds. Parameters of interest in such microanalyses of online interactions wouldinclude interaction depth (as exemplified by depth of hierarchies in discussion threads), length as well asintercultural distribution of postings and exchanges, and textual coherence within exchanges. A fruitfulproposal along somewhat similar lines is offered by Belz (2003) who outlines a Hallidayan approach tosuch microanalyses of online discourse, and argues that more detailed understanding of process ratherthan means is needed in the field of intercultural learning as it bears upon language learning.Further, we are beginning a small set of case studies, not of individual participants in our sample, but ofthose participants in interaction with one another, employing as its unit of analysis what we term the"electronic exchange." An electronic exchange, like its counterpart in face to face discourse analysis(Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) consists of a stretch of contiguous turns produced by a cluster of two ormore members and bounded by a common topic of discussion, for instance "late assignments" or"balancing study with family responsibilities." A useful, early theoretical exploration of potential units ofanalysis for online communication research is found in December (1996), while a recent exemplar of theuse of case study methods in the field of second language learning is found in Thorne (2003).Our study has suggested that there are many more factors inherent in intercultural communication that canenhance or adversely affect the success of e-learning courses or programs. Those factors are not limited tointer-technical features such as different power supplies, varying keyboards or non-matching plugs. Theytouch on the very essence of the way we construct our worlds.NOTES1. Parts of this paper were presented at the Networked Learning Conference 2002, Berlin, 1-4 May(subsequently published as Chase, Macfadyen, Reeder, & Roche, 2002) and at the UNESCO Conferenceon International and Intercultural Education, Jyvaskyla, Finland, June 2003 (subsequently published inthat conference's Proceedings as Macfadyen, Chase, Reeder, & Roche, 2003).2. At a later point in the course's corpus, Sara wrote, "I have a master's degree in Human SystemsIntervention from [?] University in [?]. I am also a certified Family Life Educator. I work presently asTraining Coordinator at the Black Community Resource Centre."ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThe authors wish to acknowledge the support of a research grant from The University of British ColumbiaHampton Fund to Kenneth Reeder and Mackie Chase.K. Reeder, L. P. Macfadyen, J. Roche, & M. Chase Negotiating Cultures in Cyberspace?Language Learning & Technology 102ABOUT THE AUTHORSKenneth Reeder is Professor in the Department of Language & Literacy Education at the University ofBritish Columbia. An applied linguist, his research interests include linguistic pragmatic development inyoung children, immersion education, and appropriate uses of technology in language learning. He alsoplays acoustic guitar in a local band.E-mail: kenneth.reeder@ubc.caLeah P. Macfadyen is a Research Associate at the University of British Columbia's Centre forIntercultural Communication and at the UBC Centre for Managing and Planning Learning Environments(MAPLE). Her research interests include the impact of culture on electronic communications and the usesof internet and communications technologies in international education.E-mail: Leah.Macfadyen@ubc.ca J?rg Roche is Professor of German as a Foreign Language and Director of the Multimedia Research andDevelopment Lab in the Department of Languages and Communication at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit?t M?nchen, Germany. He works in the areas of intercultural communication, second languageacquisition, and second language didactics.E-mail: roche@daf.uni-muenchen.deMackie Chase is Director of the Centre for Intercultural Communication at the University of BritishColumbia, where she coordinates a wide range of training programs for domestic and internationalorganizations. Her research interests focus on skills transfer across cultures and languages.E-mail: mackie.chase@ubc.caREFERENCESAbdelnour-Nocera, J. (1998). 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