About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Being embarrased on LinkedIn: learning a new tool

As I mentioned in my previous posting, my students had an online conference last week which was totally student developed and student run. I gave them benchmarks and guidelines, then left the marketing strategy up to them. One of my students asked if I could post their message about the conference to groups I belonged to.

I have not used linkedin very much as I am still trying to get a feeling for how to use it. I do belong to some groups and follow their discussions, occasionally responding to requests. As many of you know, I like the interaction, but have found it difficult to engage in any real meaningful discussion so far on linkedin.

As I was posting the announcement to various groups I am part of, I questioned whether I should post the announcement to "discussion" or "news" as I did not want to just make the announcement, but also allow for any questions. I posted my student's announcement exactly as he had written it and wanted to be able to engage in any discussion about the project itself should anyone have a comment or question. So I posted it in the discussion area.

Well, for one group, obviously I posted it in the wrong section as I received the following message:

Virginia, please do not post announcements on the Discussion tab (you know what a discussion is, don't you?). Use the News tab for these.

I was mortified and extremely embarrassed. I felt like I was back in grade school when I spoke out of turn or made a mistake and was made to feel like a complete idiot. What was worse was this comment was written by someone who is an instructional designer. I can only hope that he does not interact directly with students. I asked which group he was part of so that I could withdraw from the group.

The fact is, even though I did not know this person, the lack of leeway he gave to someone that obviously is not active in the group makes me uncomfortable being part of the group. This is an important lesson for me that online groups who have rigid rules of conduct, should have detailed instructions/guidelines. Without the guidelines, facilitators should be open to any interaction, being careful in how they give feedback to help a "newbie" feel welcome, rather than embarrassing them because they did not understand the social norms of the community.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Web 3.0 or Neo-Web 1.0?

Lately, I have felt that the discussions have ended and I am no longer a part of a community online. With the advent of tools like twitter and even the changes to facebook, I feel that we have reverted back to "I'm going to give you sound bites and it is up to you to listen or not. I'm not really interested in your opinion."

I felt that when the new web tools first were established (blogs, myspace, etc...) that there was a renewed engagement between people in cyberspace. Suddenly those that never had a voice were given a voice to craft their message and engage in dialogue. Time was not as much of a factor. A deeper level of understanding between writers and readers was established.

However, I currently have three facebook accounts. One is actually my daughter's, the other is just for family and friends, and the last is for students and colleagues. I post, but there is always a resounding silence after. I am sure for many of my students, I my comments are hidden. With so many comments coming in, many of them just have very superficial conversations.

Now don't get me wrong. I see a valuable service in facebook and twitter, especially when you want to communicate information to a large group of people quickly. But there is no two way communication the way a blog or a ning or even the original design of facebook allowed. And what two way communication there is usually private, so there is not the same level of community. I also feel that the people that originally embraced the Web 2.0 to give themselves a voice they never had have been pushed aside for commercial and mainstream opinion leader's use. It is a bit like starting a conversation with someone in the popular group when you were in high school and having the rest of the popular group join in and push you out to the side because you aren't part of their group.

I hope we go back to the idea of community on the web and the feeling of belonging in an online community. But I'm not sure that can happen in today's battlefield over users (how many friends can YOU collect?). What do you think? (I have a feeling without tweeting this, there will just be a big resounding "silence." Oh, well).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Dissertation Process: Envy and motivation

First, I'd like to congratulate Karyn Romeis for getting her Masters. This week another classmate successfully defended her dissertation and 4 of my classmates that started the program after me also will be defending their dissertations within the month. It is a bit depressing as I finish up the analyzing the final data on the first few questions of my dissertation. Speaking to my dissertation chair, it looks like it will be another year before I can hope to complete my degree.

On the one hand, I get such a sinking feeling each time someone I know finishes their degree. It is a feeling of disappointment that after almost 8 years, I'm still not finished. On the other hand, it motivates me to keep working, even if I only have about half an hour a day of free time to do so, between raising 2 teenagers, teaching 3 university classes, and helping to take care of 3 elderly ailing relatives. I am lucky I have a husband who can help with the daily activities (he's currently at my son's Lacrosse game about 20 miles away).

But I know the feeling of achievement will be overwhelming when I do complete my dissertation. My last Masters degree only took 10 years to complete (between working overseas, moving back to the US, working two jobs..one full-time, one part-time and having a baby). So I know I can complete it. So this post is for all of you working on completing that Bachelor's, Masters, or PhD. Let the envy motivate you, rather than depress you that you haven't finished yet.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Student run online conference in International Business Education

As I mentioned in my last post, my students are running an online conference in International Business Education. Here is what they wrote for me to post:

On March 24, the Siena College Marketing class will host an online conference on International Business Education. It will link the study of business and working in the business world, differences in educational systems and goals that impact business education, international programs and exchange programs in business. To register click here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Using online conferences in student learning

This semester, my students in my international marketing class are putting together an online conference in International Business Education.

It has been a long road to 1) get students to understand what an online conference would look like, 2) get student groups to work together, 3) get students to think off campus (many have only been using the resources of the college, not even looking to local resources).

However, I think finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a bit late. Time is a factor my students always have trouble with. Surprisingly, they also are very myopic when it comes to the tools they know. For example, none of them were even considering using their networks on facebook, even though a number of them have friends studying abroad. In addition, trying to get them to use new technology such as delicious or a wiki has been a struggle.

I use these projects, however, as a learning tool for my students. In the end, the conference might not be that successful (I'm still holding out hope though). But learning things such as the amount of time something like this might take and how to use your network to market and gain access to information is more important. In a month, after the conference, students will be presenting in groups what they learned from the process of putting together and running the conference. This is when I will know if I have been successful or not.

Anyone interested in participating in the conference, I will be posting information as soon as my students email me what they have developed! Keep posted.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Defining culture

Perhaps one of the most difficult things in speaking of culture is determining what we mean by "culture." Depending on the discipline, culture can be a tool, a level of cognition that contains values, language, methods of communication, shared processes and understanding, and "world view" based on history, shared experience, and the environment, or a perception of the social structures within which people function (Anthrobase, Culture)
However, anyone who has crossed culture boundaries or lived within multi-tiered cultures, realize that "culture" is very difficult to put into words. Sometimes, it is easier to look at ways in which culture can be described, rather than describing what culture is.

The Problem of Sterotyping

One of the problems in using different ways to describe a culture is that people will rigidly categorize a person as belonging to a certain "culture" having predefined values. As humans, we have developed a natural instinct to interpret data about other people based on our experience. When we meet a person for the first time, instinctively we look for certain traits to identify if a person is a threat, a friend, or someone we can't define. This is natural survival instinct.

However, an individual may or may not fit the pattern of our experience, knowledge about other cultures, or our schema based on appearances. Therefore, it is important that we look at any stereotype or ways of categorizing culture as a tool to understanding an individual's action, trying to determine if actions can be explained because of an individual's culture, personal or group experience, education, or other reasons. I often tell my students that stereotypes in and of themselves are not bad, but rather the use of them, especially to pigeon hole or limit another's opportunities can be wrong.

In addition, many of the categories for a specific culture might become outdated as cultures are visceral and ever changing. Technology, changes in population and demographics, environmental changes, and even the interaction between specific cultures may change the nature of how a culture might be categorized.

There are three models of categorizing cultures that are commonly used in multiple disciplines: Florence Kluckholm's five orientations (Time, activity-free will, relations: individual vs. collective vs. communal, relationship between person and nature, and human nature: good, evil, mixed), Hall's high context/low context cultures, and Hofstedes cultural dimensions (Power Distance, Individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, tolerance of ambiguity, time orientation).

Kluckholm's Five Dimensions

Gallagher has a good comprehensive description of Kuckholm's orientations. Her work was based on an analysis of 5 different native American tribes in the 1950's. They include:

  • Time (Past, Present, Future orientations)
  • Activity (doing, being, becoming)
  • Relations (Individual, Hierarchical, community)
  • Person-Nature (Humans dominant over nature, humans in harmony with nature, Nature dominant over humans)
  • Human nature (basically good, basically evil, mixed or free will)

These dimensions are often used to understand how different societies place different values on environmental and societal factors. Often these dimensions are used to describe values for cultures and subcultures. For example, while mainstream US values are described as having a "doing" orientation, the hispanic subculture is identified as having a "being" orientation. This means that the majority of Americans would be expected to "do" things to be accepted as a viable member of society. This means active problem solving, constantly working (even if unemployed, a member of society would be expected to "do" something such as look for a job or volunteer as this is a value in our culture). However, in the hispanic culture, it is better just to accept the limitations of the situation as just "living" is an activity in and of itself. These differences in orientations would explain why one culture interprets (or misinterprets) the actions of another culture based on the dimensions of their personal culture. A "doing" culture might interpret lack of "doing" as laziness or other negative interpretations. A "being" culture might interpret constant activity as domineering or empty gestures. Thus, there would be a tension due to a lack of understanding between the two cultures.

Hall's Dimension

Edward T. Hall, in Beyond Culture, presented a continuum of high context and low context cultures. This was based on the methods of communication within a certain cultural environment. A high context culture requires a high level of contextual understanding of the situation and environment within which a message is delivered. There are many rules and multiple ways in which a message can be interpreted based on the context of the interaction.

For example, the Japanese culture is considered a High Context culture. There are subtle messages in a welcoming bow between two Japanese that someone who was not raised in the culture would be able to discern. The parameters of meaning with the bow is learned through experience as a Japanese child is raised and acculturated. A "foreigner" would not be expected to understand the subtle differences and a "native" would never be able to explain what the differences are.

On the other hand, a low context culture is one in which there are a few explicit rules to the culture which can never be broken. These are clearly articulated. However, outside of those rules, there is a lot of room for maneuvering. There is often the impression that those from a low context culture are rude and domineering, because they are used to being explicit. New Yorkers, for example, are low context and are perceived as lacking subtlety. There is also a greater level of explicit negotiation of meaning within low context cultures. However, if a rule of communication is broken, there is outward hostility.

High context and low context can also be applied to values and not just communication. High context cultures would assume a shared level of values that are not articulated, whereas low context cultures would have a few "core values" outside of which there is a great level of diversity. As a result, cultures with a high level of diversity tend to be Low Context, whereas homogeneous cultures tend to be high context. This makes it difficult for outsiders to be accepted into a High Context culture, even those born outside of the culture to parents who had been born and raised into that culture. For example, children of Asian parents raised in the US have difficulty connecting to their parents' culture in Asia.


Probably one of the most popular and misunderstood/misused model is Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions. Hofstede collected data on employee values in 70 countries. From the data, he established 4 categories, which was then extended to 5 recently. One of the short comings of the study was that the company he initially looked at was a multinational company, meaning that the study was biased towards people who might have had an international bias.

Because of this weakness in the study, there has been a good body of research over the last 40 years since the original study. As a result, there has also been a reinterpretation of many of Hofstede's dimensions that have deviated from his original intent. Rather that add to that confusion, I would suggest that you read his work directly.

The one area that Hofstede addresses that the other don't is the location of power within a culture and the impact that has on interpersonal relations, society, and roles. It also helps to explain the forces that allow a culture to develop and the direction of those cultural changes.

Over the next few months, I would like to look at the following issues:

Culture and Technology

Levels of Culture
Culture and Education
Cultural Change
Culture and Knowledge
Cross-cultural communication

Monday, March 1, 2010

A series on culture

This semester I'm teaching one of my favorite courses: international marketing. The one area that my students are really having a problem with is culture. As I began to gather new and updated materials on this topic, I began to have a new understanding of what culture is and how it impacts everything in our life.

With this in mind, I have decided to write a series of posts on culture, some of the theories, the impact on things such as learning, technology, and communication, and areas needed for future research.