Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL): The effects of technology (technostress) on intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism in a computer supported collaborative learning environment
My research aims to reveal whether technostress affects intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism in a computer supported collaborative learning environment (CSCL). We’re in the process of completing a cross-cultural comparison of students taking courses in intercultural communication in Belgium and the northeastern United States who were assigned into one of ten groups doing an ethnographic study on a designated topic. Results will be analyzed in June 2016.
A landmark study titled ‘Internationalisation of Higher Education’ was recently commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education. The study was written by four experts on internationalisation: Hans de Wit and Fiona Hunter of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation; Laura Howard of the European Association for International Education; and Eva Egron-Polak of the International Association of Universities. Their findings stress that “more attention should be paid to the importance of “internationalisation at home”, integrating international and intercultural learning outcomes into the curriculum for all students,” (O’Malley, 2015).
Increasingly, international online interactions are becoming part of the job market and its demands. To obtain these skills, students can opt to study abroad, or take part in “internationalization at home” projects at their home university. Such projects can, for example, be facilitated by means of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL).
COIL, or Collaborative Online International Learning, is a computer-supported collaborative learning “methodology which provides innovative cost-effective internationalisation strategies. Such programs foster faculty and student interaction with peers abroad through co-taught multicultural online and blended learning environments emphasizing experiential student collaboration,” (Center for Collaborative Online International Learning, n.d.)
The incorporation of COIL courses into the curriculum is something that has been on the periphery of the educational landscape for a decade or more. While a smattering of dedicated faculty members have continued to incorporate international collaborations into their classes, COIL has not yet become a mainstream method for internationalisation at home efforts. With the publishing of ‘Internationalisation of Higher Education,’ a movement to incorporate COIL courses into the rest of the curriculum is essential. Globalisation in the business world, the movement of refugees across Europe and the world, and the pervasive nature of technology are but three reasons to ensure that the next generation is equipped with the tools to communicate across cultures.
In this research project, we focus on a CSCL project where teachers and students directly interact with each other. This use of technology has been proposed as successful to develop international skills, and suggestions have been made about useful exercises to integrate in such programs (Amant, 2002). Along with Amant’s (2002) suggestions, students’ main objectives in this project were to identify and compare differences between cultures by analyzing media messages and attitudes of people from both cultures towards global issues. These are suggestions for unidirectional exercises, which were translated to a bidirectional context, where students actively need to cooperate with each other by means of technology.
Of course, as Amant (2002) highlights in his work, cultural differences in the use of technology may arise, and it has been shown that cultural differences in the use of technology may impact relations and impressions of each other in an online learning context (Vatrapu, 2008). In a study with students from both individualistic and collectivistic backgrounds interacting with culturally similar or dissimilar others, Popov and colleagues (2014, p. 196) concluded that “all members of both culturally similar and dissimilar dyads complained about the absence of nonverbal, visual, and social context cues in the CSCL environment”. These authors therefore encourage those working with CSCL environments to foster social interaction. To achieve this we first of all followed Amant’s (2002) tips for bidirectional assignments. Students in this course have to create an online presence by introducing themselves in a private social media group (closed Facebook page), where fellow students can comment on these videos, and teachers of this course can give feedback as well. In addition, and throughout the entire project, students have to hold videoconferences on a regular basis, on top of any interactions they have by e-mail or social media that do not offer opportunities to share a lot of non-verbal or contextual information. Immediacy (verbal or nonverbal) is the idea that behaviors or messages are sent to increase closeness between communicators. McCroskey and colleagues (1996, pg. 200), said that “while verbal messages are generally thought to have their major impact on the cognitive aspects of communication, nonverbal messages are believed to be the stimuli which are primarily responsible for affective communication.” By uploading pictures of their videoconferencing to their formal reports, the teachers of this project can confirm the use of technology that (also) facilitates the exchange of visual and nonverbal information.
Research also shows that the extended and ongoing use of technology in everyday life may lead to so called “techno-stress” (Brod, 1984). This may influence any expected outcomes with regard to acquiring intercultural competences in the context of international online learning environments.
We are conducting a number of studies on students enrolled in courses which are computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) courses (otherwise known as COIL). We are researching how perceived technostress influences potential changes in intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism in the context of an interactive online learning environment.
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Popov, V., Noroozi, O., Barrett, J. B., Biemans, H. J., Teasley, S. D., Slof, B., & Mulder, M. (2014). Perceptions and experiences of, and outcomes for, university students in culturally diversified dyads in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 186-200.
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