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ELEARNING,INTERCULTURALDIMENSIONANDDIFFERENCES

ELEARNING,INTERCULTURALDIMENSIONANDDIFFERENCES

byDoruAlexandruPLEEAZoltanKATO


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The 9th International Scientific Conference eLearning and software for Education Bucharest, April 25-26, 2013
10.12753/2066-026X-13-089

E-LEARNING, INTERCULTURAL DIMENSION AND DIFFERENCES


Zoltan KATO, Doru Alexandru PLESEA
Bucharest University of Economic Studies, 6, Piata Romana, 1st district, postal code: 010374, Bucharest, Romania kato_zoltan@yahooz.co.uk, pleseadoru@gmail.com

Abstract: All across Europe, schools and universities have been setting up new training methods in order for students to develop intercultural skills and competence. In multilingual societies the pedagogical assumptions of e-learning environments need to be made explicit. World Wide Web, with the rapid development of Information and Communication Technologies in Romania, has caused changes in the way teaching and learning is viewed, increasing the diversity of the beneficiary population. Romania is a country with a multicultural and multilingual society. In these societies the implicit pedagogical assumptions of e-learning environments need to be made explicit. Two different cultural dimensions of educational practices are more specifically concerned/targeted: the pedagogical culture and the values, beliefs, attitudes, theories and models involved; and the digital culture and the emerging transformations related to knowledge and pedagogical modelling. This article focuses on examining the various effects of cultural factors regarding the e-learning process in Romania. An elearning environment is one where the educational practices are based on information and communication technology. There can be a combination of online and offline, solitary and group learning. As Internet culture existing in cyberspace is not geographically tied, learning through elearning is no longer bound by location (school, training centre) or time, but is actually dependent on technology. Examining the relationship between culture and language we discover that they are closely linked to the issue of national identity. After the Dutchman Geert Hofstede, researcher of corporate culture, national culture is the software of the mind, specific and learned patterns of thought and behaviour, relatively clear limiting potential answers to basic questions of existence, sets the example, modus operandi for survival, and it is necessary for us to be successful persons Overviews of cultural considerations (linguistic, national and individual aspects) can help build and implement effective elearning. After examining the sociolinguistic distribution will explore the learning process in terms of culture-dependent characteristics, and possible ways of customization. The development of intercultural abilities can lead the way to an enhanced experience of learning. Considering that ensuring equal opportunities is important to know what to do with e-learning software - acquired abroad or produced locally - by introducing a limited market (the speakers of Hungarian / Rromani). Finally, the paper analyses the e-learning platforms offered by the major Romanian Universities and the way they respond to the needs of Hungarian and Rromani minorities, taking in account their cultural and pedagogical peculiarity. The aimed scope of this paper is to submit to the universities and to the Ministry of National Education some solutions to increase the access of Hungarian and Rromani minorities to on-line learning higher education. Keywords: interculturality, learning process, new training methods, information and communication technology, ensuring equal opportunities

I.

FACTORS THAT DIFFERENTIATE THE LEARNING PROCESS

The concept of e-learning appeared in the USA. This enjoy by the resounding success that the teaching material has been designed and developed for the needs of multinational companies (in the beginning the main "consumers" of those products). Widespread penetration becomes possible by using the Internet as a "new media".

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As Internet culture is not geographically linked, learning process by e-learning is no longer tied to a location or time, it depends only the technology. The Canadian philosopher Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911 - 1980), analysed the social impact of "new media" on our perception and transformation of our way of we thinking. He characterized the modern urban environment as a classroom without walls, where the explosive penetration of the Internet will produce major changes in the Gutenberg galaxy [1]. Statistics reveal that in the world on the Internet, English, Chinese and Spanish are the most commonly used languages. 27 per-cent of Internet users, almost 500 million people use the English language, followed by Chinese 23 per-cent that represent 408 million people and a third in a row, Spanish is used by 140 million people. Other top 10 languages (Portuguese Japanese, German, Arabic, French, Russian, Korean), do not get the 100 million persons [2]. The ten languages mentioned cover above 83 per-cents of Internet users. The study notes that for the speakers of several languages one language was considered. 1.1 Learning and Culture

Examining the relationship between culture and language are closely linked to the problem of national identity. After Dutchman Geert Hofstede, researcher of the corporate culture, national culture is a mental software" a specific mind-set and learned behaviour pattern, which limits relatively clear the potential answers to basic questions of existence. Establishes for example the modus operandi for survival, which is necessary in order to be successful persons. If we accept that we are strongly influenced by culture, namely who we are, how we think, how we behave, we can see, that learning habits are inevitable consequences of culture. According to the constructivist theory of learning, throughout the learning process the information are assimilate by students according to their intellectual schemes. As these systems and the existing relations are highly culture dependent, the culture is still influencing the new information. How can be interpreted the effect of homogenisation of Internet culture? Fons Trompenaars's intercultural research illustrates the cultural layers like an onion: outer cultural layers (objects, symbols, practices) are the most visible and easier to change, while the cultural assumptions, the conditionings and the rules are the hardest and hidden layers [4]. Geert Hofstede classified the cultural differences in four categories, which should be considered by e-learning experts, to takeover of foreign curriculum and recommends adapting their instead of translating word for word. The four examined variables are: distance toward power, individualism-collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity-femininity (precedence privacy vs. working). In individualistic cultures, the emphasis is on individual rights and performance, which plays an important role in personal autonomy and privacy. Towards these, in collectivist cultures, group performance has a greater appreciation and permits an easier identification with the team goals. In low power distance cultures, the relationship between superiors and subordinates is democratic, as well personal freedom of self-realization. In autocratic cultures, status inequalities provide space for individual self-realization. The students who grew up in cultures where the status inequalities are accepted feel the need to be leaded by teachers including in the e-learning courses. The teachers and students operation mode that came from the uncertainties avoidance cultures, are well provided with internal norms, they need clear measures and tolerate changes with difficulty. Instead, students from uncertainty tolerant culture like free classes, debates lessons, the questions to which they must respond. The fourth coordinate of cultural differences indicates that certain groups of people find important work vs. life (male or female values that they represent). Community members who are focused on work will make sacrifices for special recognition and success.

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To those from communities where the personal live prevails, is not advisable to give extra tasks outside the working hours, because they want to use the remaining time for other things in life [3]. 1.2 Learning Style

The efficiency of learning depends on many factors. There are students with lighter or darker threads, with different learning styles. In the Peter Honey-Alan Mumford's model, every phase of learning (planning, acquisition of knowledge, revising, and concluding), divides students into four groups with different needs in learning. After the learning style, are practical people, who like to see the practical usefulness of the curriculum, they like to ask questions, so thereof should be permitted to design their own learning process. Then there are those who have an active learning style, opened for any kind of accumulation of knowledge, but don't like to waste time with extra options. The contemplative temper students like to reflect on what they have learned, they like to explore and work alone, so they do not like to participate in working groups. The fourth type of students are those oriented to theories, which will agree the curriculum if they agree the theories and methods contained therein [5]. This individuality concerning the learning styles shows difficulties in developing relevant elearning materials. It has been easy for Americans to switch on e-learning because the basis of infrastructure was given, and students were using self-learning methods, they were used to personalize and / or working groups, so they were easily transferred from the classical environment to the e-learning process. At Japanese and Dutch the collaborative e-learning methods didn't work so well, because they usually are retained in unknown and uncertain situations. On takeover e-learning lesson packages, domain experts recommend careful examination of the national differences and well thought adaptation methods. Of course, it is not feasible to take into consideration every cultural difference. There must be found the inner layers of the Trompenaars onion, the reflexes that are difficult to change. These are the learning process stakes. 1.3 The customization degree of an educational program

In case of adapting a foreign language curriculum, should be seen where are needed modifications. Materials which ensure the transfer of technical knowledge (a software application course) will require localization and translation, with personalized examples. In order to adapt lessons which transmit complex knowledge, regulatory / financial, development of most of the business skills (project management, marketing strategy) is required modularization of material in individual units and these should be presented to students in a pre-set order. The courses which are designed to transmit more delicate skills, such as high complexity management skills (negotiation skills, motivation, and conflict management) need to have training materials most likely totally rewritten. For overcoming cultural differences the experts argue that an alternative curricular structure needs to be achieved in order to better meet cultural needs of the different nationalities students. The modularized programs can be customized to the specific needs of different nationalities students. In democratic German speaking countries the proximity to the power increases the efficiency of knowledge exchange, and develops to promote the dissemination of best practices. Taking into consideration the high level of individualism, it is important to provide universal access to miscellaneous e-learning opportunities. By contrast, for Frenchmen characterised by individualist authoritarian organization should be ensured individual support, led by teachers. In

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addition because they avoids the uncertainty, for increasing the efficiency at the beginning of learning is important the presentation of tools and techniques under tutor's supervision. At the Japanese, where the workplace plays an important role in everyday life, the experts recommend selecting a group responsible, to prevail and to draw the expertise of the members. [8]

II.

THE EAST-EUROPEAN CULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS

Eastern European features can be found in the research on "shortage economics" by Paul Marer. In his study the basis of cultural classifications of ex socialist countries, were the physical environment, the common belief systems, similar historical and social events, the society development level. He found that the functional mechanisms of the previous regime have living behaviors after the change of regime. People have lost confidence in the efficiency of the individual, because of arbitrary leadership style and as consumers they feel powerless due to the multitude of uncertainties. They were hardened and have a high tolerance to uncertainty. In this area live many pessimists who believe that the limits of personal actions no longer depend on them, that progress in personal dimensions has changed. These changes raise new questions and problems of education. The students are showing shortage of confidence and should be encouraged to learn more. This may require the teacher to actively encourage the student. Through a certain initial success, students can be easily motivated for further efforts. Another important factor, which among other things can influence our relationship with the instructor, is trust. The process efficiency is entirely dependent on feeling of trust of members. [6] Marer's research shows distrust between people in the region of South-East Europe. Lack of trust in leaders often has moved their driving style to an autocratic leadership. In Romania it is found that there are two approaches: purchasing commercial educational systems and developing local electronic educational material, especially for distance education departments [11]. At takeover of foreign technologies and methods a very careful analysis is required. In view of low level of trust, the tutor should be presented as reference field specialist and allowed enough time for students in order to process materials independently. Nevertheless the effect of the influence of education from the U.S. and Western European can be felt in our education system. While still a large part of Romanian society has an aversion to teamwork, through school and corporate practices we began to change our approach. A significant number of the Romanian population are working in companies with Western management style, where the workers are accustomed and adapted to the requirements, expectations and processes demanded by this style.

III.

MULTICULTURALISM OF THE ROMANIAN UNIVERSITIES

Formulation of a coherent strategy, the development and implementation of e-learning in Romania are based on the experience of equipping projects carried out in the recent years, with a solid theoretical basis, both at a technical, and especially at the pedagogical level [6 ]. Nowadays in Romania in the 24 university centers the students benefit from digital educational platforms, to provide online support for the didactic activities. These electronic platform called "e-learning centers" were often created by developing the very own open distance learning network, financed mostly by grants of various programs (Phare, financing or co-financing of EU money) or from own funds / through developed the Moodle (open source software). The study shows that in 24 university centers of the 105 universities in the study a number of 4 universities did not have webpage (all four had problems with accreditation), 41 universities were present with electronic information and online education platform for the didactic activities only in

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Romanian, 42 universities were present with electronic information and online education platform in two languages, 13 universities were present with electronic information and online education platform in three languages, five universities were present with electronic information and online education platform in four languages. The languages used for online electronic information and education platforms for the didactic activities, were Romanian at 101 platforms, English at 58 platforms, French at 13 platforms, Hungarian at 6 platforms, German at 4 platforms, Italian at 2 platform, and Rromany at 0 platform. Electronic information and online education platforms in foreign languages are used by universities in the languages used for the universitys didactic activities. Our study about "electronic information and online education platforms in foreign languages in Romanian universities" between December 2012 - February 2013 revealed the following features: at Western University "Vasile Goldis" of Arad the Italian is used only to offer public information on curriculum and it is not the language used in teaching, at the Air Force Academy "Henry Coanda" of Brasov the public information platform is in English but also French is used in teaching, at University "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" of Iasi and University of Pitesti the information platforms works only partially in English and French, at National Academy of Physical Education and Sports from Bucharest the information platform in English works only partially, at Technical University of Civil Engineering of Bucharest, Craiova University and the University "Kogalniceanu" of Iasi the information platforms in English and French does not work, at Andrei Saguna University of Constanta, University "Constantin Brancusi" from Tg-Jiu, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Banat and at Ioan Slavici University of Timisoara the information platform in English does not work, at Polytechnic University of Bucharest, "Danubius" University of Galati and at Wallachia University of Targoviste the information platform in French does not work, at Academy of Economic Studies of Bucharest the public information platform is in English but in teaching process are used English, French and German languages. Therefore by removing on those with different deficiencies 41 universities were present with electronic information and online education platform only in Romanian, 32 universities were present with electronic information and online education platform in two languages, four universities were present with electronic information and online education platform in three languages and, five universities were present with electronic information and online education platform in four languages which are the Academy of Economic Studies (English, French and German) and the Roman Catholic Theological Institute "St. Teresa " of Bucharest (English, French, Italian), Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj Napoca (Hungarian, German, English), Partium Christian University of Oradea (Hungarian, German, English), " Dimitrie Cantemir " University of Targu Mures (Hungarian, English, French).

Conclusions The information and e-learning platforms are available in the major international languages (English, French. German, Italian). Although at a declarative level Romanian higher education universities encourage the integration in the European space, the educational offer for the citizens of the European community (and not only), interested to study on-line in Romanian universities is relatively limited, many universities restricted only to provide the foreign languages information on web and very few have a genuine e-learning platform in the most common languages. This represents a handicap for Romanian universities that could take some European countries students affected by the economic crisis that can no longer pay their studies at universities in Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands.

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Many information platforms do not provide the same information as the ones in Romanian. There are two situations: either it does not exist a full translation of all pages or the Romanian information pages are partially translated in the foreign language Regarding the education in inhabiting minority languages, only Hungarian and German minority have information and e-learning platforms. The German minority has the advantage of using an international language. Instead Rroma minority has not even a pilot platform, although for the Rroma minority many of universities have distinct places under law. As a general conclusion, the Romanian universities are far from being an environment for online studies in foreign languages.

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