Cultural diversity is prominent in many settings, including higher education classrooms. Over the past decade, online classes have become more popular than ever. It is important for higher education professionals to address cultural diversity including the impact it has in an online environment. It is important to define first cultural diversity before understanding can take place. According to UNESCO, culture referred to “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group (including) not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life (…) value systems, traditions, and beliefs” (UNESCO, module one, slide four).
Some cultural diversity that could be present includes those with disabilities, language barriers, and different schedules and time zones. It is imperative that online educators take into consideration that some cultural differences could bring up different challenges within the classroom. It is the instructor’s job to help minimize and mediate any of issues that arise because of cultural diversity.
Some students who have disabilities may choose to complete their courses online because they feel more comfortable, which could influence how they complete their assignments. Students from different countries may have sensitivity to certain gestures and may not always understand idioms and metaphors. According to UNESCO, “Dialogue with the populations concerned, taking their culture into account and respecting their human rights –particularly their cultural rights – are essential to the success of all projects, programs, or policies. Furthermore, the exchanges help to diversify approaches and development models” (UNESCO, module one, slide 10). Language barriers within e-learning and global culture can affect the growth in a student’s ability to reason, acquire knowledge, and think critically about knowledge within the online class and must be addressed by the instructor and institutions. Online students may live in very different parts of the country, or even the world. Although online courses are flexible because there is no set time to log in, it can be challenging for teams to come together with projects. While many cultural diversities can produce conflict, it is an opportunity for instructors and facilitators to help mitigate potential problems and enhance student experience.
Awareness of cultural diversity is the first step for educators
According to Education Abroad (2010) cultural intelligence is the ability to cope with, make sense of, and integrate oneself into unfamiliar cultures, be they national, ethnic, corporate, vocational, etc. With this awareness, instructors must develop a plan to address the issues to minimize conflict and promote productivity. An appropriate pedagogical foundation should address inclusion of diverse cultural needs and approaches to learning. It should focus on a worldview as opposed to any cultural view. “Learning is situated and contextualized in action and everyday situations” – cultural responsiveness mandates that designers and instructors understand that everyday situations vary greatly within and across cultures (Edmonson, 2007, p. 225). Preparation for global diversity is a tool and skill that most facilitators do not automatically possess. The opportunity through e-learning to engage with others bridges the gap and allows others to learn from one another’s diversities. Educators can present material in a global way and also set up expectations for students. There are benefits to confronting diversity within the classroom, most are unpredictable, but ensure growth, and learning opportunities for others to grow and challenge themselves within an uncomfortable situation. Being mindful of cultural diversity and addressing the subject early should help the student’s experience.
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Culture Comparison: The Importance of Cultural Diversity in Higher Education