Towards Transculturalism

Thoughts on Nelson, D. and Parchoma, G., Towards theorizing spatial-cultural ‘othering’ in networked learning and teaching practices.

in: Bajic, M., et. al. (Ed.) Proceedings if the 11th International conference on networked Learning 2018, p. 48 – 55.

Transulturalism and boundary crossing

Universities and colleges encounter more and more diversity among students and lecturers. International “land-locked” (p. 48) students in online courses, who remain in their countries during the courses, have different needs and bring new perspectives to the community. Cross-cultural collaboration is becoming increasingly important. This is evident in examples such as the climate crisis or the spread of the coronavirus. The globally networked world – the global village – requires the participation of everyone.

Nelson and Parchoma explore the challenges of increasing cultural diversities among students and the implications for the roles involved such as tutors and students. They pay particular attention to student vulnerabilities and instability and the opportunities that exist in the academic context to change the dialogues towards accepting and celebrating diversity. They also discuss the tensions that arise for all sides when borders are crossed. Points of exclusion and inclusion will be examined in particular, where it will be decided whose voice is heard, whose contributions are considered relevant and whose are not. Within their discussion of the complexity and tensions involved in crossing borders, they pay particular attention to the concepts of identification, coordination, reflection and transformation. With the concept of Third Space they introduce a spatial concept. I am particularly interested in this third space and the question of how the tensions and questions around identity and otherness can be addressed and overcome. The concept of ‘transculturalism’ seems appropriate. (p. 50f.)

What seems important to me at this point is the difference the authors make between multiculturalism and transculturalism. While multiculturalism just identifies the differences and propagates coexistence, transculturalism focuses on overcoming the boundaries of one’s own culture and thus actively engaging with the “other”. In a certain way, transculturalism wants to integrate the cultures present and create something new from the existing, which multiculturalism does not strive for in this way. This is why the ‘crossing boundaries’ is so important and so prominently discussed in this article. (p51)

In the concept of the Third Space the authors see “an in-between problematic space, a place of difference in race, gender, class, values, culture, discipline and so on.” (p. 53) It might be a site of conflict and antagonism, but also a space of dialogue and negotiation and collaboration.

In this context, collaboration seems to be of particular importance. Nelson and Parchoma write: “Collaboration with others, therefore is a critical factor in the development of global learning communities online. These online communities can facilitate rich cross-cultural collaboration.” (p. 49) Thus, this Third Space gives us the chance not only to accentuate the divide among different cultural groups (p. 50), but to recognize and respect group differences while encouraging integration, “the coming together of individuals to negotiate their differences, locate their commonalities, and arrive at something new. ” (ibid.) This starts with getting to know you-Sessions and lead through discussions of the “personal, psychosocial, academic, and future professional benefits of developing collaborative relationships” (p. 51) and practices, I would add. To do this, we have to cross boundaries, and often not only cultural boundaries, but also our very own personal inner boundaries. Nelson and Parchoma  cite Akkerman and Bakker (2011) who derive “four mechanisms of learning actualized at boundary crossings: identification, coordination, reflection and transformation.” (p. 52)

ONL- Open Networked Learning as an example for Third Space

In this context, a special online course comes to my mind, ONL – Open Networked Learning, which has been held twice a year for about 10 years. Currently, the ONL201 iteration hast just started one week ago and for 12 weeks it will be a virtual place of cooperation in PBL groups of about eight people from different countries. The participants are all employed in various functions at colleges and universities and are involved in online learning, openness, culture of sharing, collaboration on the web, and online course design.

The course was initiated by a group of Swedish educational developers and educators in the academic context to deliver an online course about online collaboration for scientific and educational staff in universities. Today there are about 15 institutions from Europe and overseas (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore and South Africa) participating, and so is mine from Zurich. There are ‘open learners’ as well, people from around the world participating without being backed by an institution. I’ve encountered participants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Brazil, the US. Therefore, it is not surprising that diversity and collaboration are constantly reflected and discussed in the groups.

ONL community

Source image: opennetworkedlearning.se

The core element of the course is a *PBL-group of about 8 participants with a facilitator and a co-facilitator. They meet twice a week for 1 hour by online-meeting (ZOOM) and discuss the topics starting from a “real-life” scenario (“the problem”). The participants all come from different institutions, countries and disciplines. I think I could say that those PBL-groups form a third space, where you constantly negotiate what to focus on, what to research and how to present it to the community. What is really important is that the groups are entirely self organized. They negotiate which topic out of the scenario they want to focus on and which aspects or issues they want to investigate. At the end of a topic (2 weeks) the group shares its process and their results in some sort of presentation. They choose the mode they present the results for the whole community. Some groups try to use different tools every time in order to get new experience with web based tools.

Online collaboration is always a very extensively discussed topic, because it is what the groups do. It is somehow the core topic. The groups normally spend a lot of time on that subject over their time together. As there participate people from around the world diversity is always discussed as well.

Although the course is entirely online, the groups meet in Zoom, a video-conferencing platform which is very easy to use. They also change in roles:  One member hast to lead the session and another one has to take minutes. They change either every meeting or every topic. It’s on them to decide how they work together, what to discuss and how to present their work to the community.

Besides the meetings they work individually on their personal blogs. As a third level there are Webinars and Tweetchats once fortnightly for all participants.

I think that ONL course is a kind of a third space. It is exactly a space (online, on some web based platforms like WordPress and Google Drive among others) where participants of several institutions meet to collaborate in a self organized way. I have been part of ONL for four iterations, as a participant first, as a facilitator and as a co-facilitator, and I was in charge of our Campus group of my institution. Every time we met in the groups we discussed diversity among us and our different ways of looking at the topics or learning and teaching in general extensively, and I really think we were able – more or less, depending on the group – to get to a higher level of collaboration over the time of those 12 weeks. All you need is a little luck with your teammates and – as always- time and space to discuss.

*PBL = Problem Based Learning

See opennetworkedlearning.se for further informations.

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