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«Student subsidy of the internationalised curriculum: knowing, voicing and producing the Other Catherine Doherty* Faculty of Education, Queensland ...»

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Pedagogy, Culture & Society

Vol. 16, No. 3, October 2008, 269–288

Student subsidy of the internationalised curriculum: knowing, voicing

and producing the Other

Catherine Doherty*

Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Australia




2008 & Francis

Original Article 2008

1468-1366 Francis

Pedagogy, (print)/1747-5104



Taylor and Culture and Society

This paper explores cultural production in online internationalised education. The analysis samples interactions in a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) unit offered online by an Australian university to a student group including enrolments through a Malaysian institution. Part of the curricular content was a consideration of how different cultural contexts shape management practices. The analysis highlights moments where ethnic/national cultures or cultural differences were invoked in texts to enrich this curriculum by design. In this case study, such ‘student subsidy’ was actively encouraged as a vicarious asset made possible with the internationalised student group.

To this end, small mixed groups for assessable online discussion were allocated to precipitate such cultural interchange. The analysis displays who voiced what claims about whose culture, the grounds for legitimating such claims, and the kinds of cultural categories thus produced. The discussion then reflects on the degrees of insulation typically produced between cultural categories and how this failed to reflect or engage with the students’ interconnected worlds within the enterprise of online internationalised education.

Keywords: internationalisation; online pedagogy; curriculum; cultural difference;

globalisation Introduction This paper is concerned with how cultural identities and cultural difference were produced in the design and conduct of a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) unit offered online to an internationalised student body, and the implications of this for the enterprise of online internationalised higher education. The focus here is on episodes in the conduct of the unit in which cultural identities and difference emerged in the instructional discourse, in other words, where cultural difference was invoked and treated as a curricular topic, as opposed to episodes of interactive trouble where cultural differencing arose as a pedagogical problem. There is a popular hope, often promoted in the marketing of online internationalised courses, that culturally diverse student groups will make a rich value-added learning environment in which students can contribute their personal knowledge of diverse settings. This paper uses Bernstein’s (1990, 2000) theory of pedagogic discourse and concepts from systemic functional linguistics to analyse what kinds of cultural claims were produced through an explicit design to harvest such ‘student subsidy’ of the curriculum.

The unit was offered by a public Australian university as a core semester-long unit in a 12-unit MBA programme in online mode using a popular courseware product, with no *Email: c.doherty@qut.edu.au ISSN 1468-1366 print/ISSN 1747-5104 online © 2008 Pedagogy, Culture & Society DOI: 10.1080/14681360802346655 http://www.informaworld.com 270 C. Doherty on-campus requirements. As well as 107 local and expatriate Australian-nationals (of whom 83 completed), 37 international students (of whom 29 completed) were enrolled in the unit through a partnership agreement with a parallel Malaysian institution. These students were not necessarily Malaysian citizens, but were located in Malaysia at the time of the unit.

‘Online’ delivery meant that the lecturer communicated with all students in this unit only through the web-based courseware in the many-to-many mode of ‘discussion threads’, or in one-to-one mode through the courseware email function. To enrol, students were required to have an undergraduate degree, plus relevant work experience in a managerial role. The unit was formally staged over 13 weeks with a mid-semester break of one week. However, interaction continued regardless, and the unit’s website was ‘alive’ and busy over a period of nineteen weeks in total.

This particular unit introduced theoretical approaches to the management of organisational behaviour. The curriculum was structured in six modular topics, with particular discussion space devoted to each topic or a combination thereof. Part of the curricular content was a consideration of how different cultural contexts might impact on management practices. The pedagogical design of the case study unit, as outlined by the lecturer in interviews, generally promoted ongoing student subsidy of the curriculum through the sharing of personal experiences and insights wherever possible to exemplify, enrich or problematise theorisations offered in the curricular material. The lecturer was enthusiastic about the pedagogic value of online interaction and this was a prominent and overt aspect of his design, as proclaimed in his first announcement to the student body: ‘In this course I emphasise the value of interaction via online discussion. We all have much to learn from each other … By sharing experiences and views we can enhance our own understanding’. The unit’s resources offered a variety of instructional sources and learning activities with which to engage. These included a textbook published in the USA, a compilation of other readings, module guides, online interaction tools with discussion ‘zones’ and, via these tools, the expertise of the lecturer and other students.

The assessment for this unit similarly reflected the value placed on the ‘student subsidy’ design. Students had to submit three assignments over the unit: a case study of problematic behaviour in a workplace; a hypothetical case study of managing a change programme in their organisation; and a self-reflection reviewing the student’s own management behaviour across a number of dimensions. Before submission, the first two case-study tasks had to be shared and developed through small-group online discussions. Students were allocated to small groups that purposefully mixed domestic students with international students. Ten per cent of the student’s final grade was a peer-assessment of their contribution to such smallgroup discussions. This paper selects textual moments from the small-group discussions around the second assessment task. In particular, it focuses on where this ‘student subsidy’ design precipitated a variety of exchanges about how different management theories and practices applied in different cultural settings. For example, the following extracts illustrate the type of exchange facilitated by this design (names have been changed), and how cultural

insights could arise:

Hi Chen

Thanks! I agree – it all centres around communication. I think the management team needs to decide what the goals and vision are for the firm, and then document and advise all employees.

From this the organisational chart can be developed, people can then see where they fit in, improving motivation and a sense of belonging – part of the team.

–  –  –

Hello Alex, Agreed, understanding the firm goals or vision are very important in order to success. In Malaysia, we usually put a big banner or any sign board to convey the firm goals or vision in order to alert all the employees. For instance, QUALITY POLICY ‘DELIVER GOODS IN EXCELLENCE PERFORMANCE’ and etc.

cheers, Chen

The second comment offers insight into how a management practice is ‘usually’ enacted in the Malaysian context. Such statements are treated here as knowledge propositions constructing cultural categories to enrich the curriculum.

The research was conducted as a critical ethnography (Carspecken 1996) adapted to virtual interactions (Hine 2000). Following Hine’s argument that virtual interaction can also be analysed as text, this paper uses the grammatical tools of systemic functional linguistics (SFL). SFL offers a grammar that explains not what language is ‘correct’ but rather, how language is used, examining what choices are made from the available network of linguistic alternatives to convey meaning and to negotiate relationships in particular contexts. Where Tomlinson (1999, 159) summarises the ‘mediated interaction’ of online communication as a restricted medium with ‘a characteristically narrower range of symbolic cues than is possible in face-to-face interaction’, SFL allows any linguistic text, online included, to reveal its intricacies and carefully nuanced tailoring to purpose, audience, communicative mode and context, that is, to reveal the relation between ‘social and semiotic’ (Macken-Horarik 2004, 5). Thus what seems a one-dimensional medium can be appreciated as a multi-dimensional relay of interpersonal, experiential and textual meanings via the available communicative means. Elsewhere SFL has informed critical discourse methodologies, and is particularly pertinent to environments that exist only through their linguistic manifestations. SFL has also been recognised as highly compatible with Bernstein’s theory of pedagogy, each body of theory articulating with and illuminating the other (Hasan 1999). Following Carspecken (1996), the empirically available evidence of the online text is supplemented at times with the dialogic data of interview accounts, whereby the social actors could explain their dilemmas, reasons, and choices in their own terms.

This paper is presented in six sections. Firstly, the macro context of cultural processes of globalisation is reviewed, to frame the theoretical focus on the production of cultural difference. Online internationalised education could be understood as both symptomatic of and contributing to such cultural processes. Secondly, a language of analytical description for boundaries, categories, pedagogical interaction and its legitimation, is built using a series of Bernsteinian concepts operationalised through the SFL concepts of modality and mood. Then processes for data selection and sorting by a typology of knowledge claims by their modes of legitimation are outlined. The findings are then reported under these four types of knowledge claim, with both typical patterns and aberrant claims described. The final section reflects on the typical kinds of cultural claims precipitated by the design, and the potential evident in the aberrant messages to inform better resourcing of internationalised curricula more in line with the globalised, entangled lifeworlds of all the students.

Cultural differencing under conditions of globalisation Globalisation is popularly understood as the dissolution of boundaries between localities, and the de-anchoring of their previously nested cultures. Global flows of finance, 272 C. Doherty ideologies, people, knowledge and technologies are thought to render geo-political boundaries more permeable, cultural categories less clear and less separable, and any cultural stabilities/fixity more precarious. However, the international arena has amply demonstrated that despite these new more fluid conditions (Bauman 2000), cultural and political identities are equally being forged in newly imagined purities and recovered fundamentalist forms to be powerfully brandished and mobilised. This more complicated palette of cultural identity has replaced earlier relatively inert ‘ascribed’ categories with more highly charged, contingent and volatile allegiances (Bhabha 1996). Thus, as boundaries are dismantled, their materials (such as language, religion, lifestyle choices and ideologies) are often redeployed to construct new boundaries, reconstruct old ones, or meld new hybrid alliances (Holton 2000). Globalisation is therefore as much about the construction and maintenance of boundaries and categories as it is about their dissolution. Any continuity of cultural categories when deterritorialised across time and space is achieved through their reinvention and expression under new conditions. In other words, the same category and its attendant meanings are realised through different processes.

In the empirical conditions of accelerating globalisation and its ‘altogether new condition of neighbourliness’ (Appadurai 1990, 3), there is a heightened awareness and valorisation of difference as individuals, societies and locales are ‘relativised’ (Robertson 1992) in a self-conscious process of coming to know ‘us’ through comparison with ‘them’. The notional difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ becomes a necessary if imagined condition in the relational process of do-it-yourself identity: ‘Identity, as it were, defines one’s own difference from others, but such a self-definition inevitably entails the definition of differences that distinguish and separate others from the self-defining agent’ (Bauman, quoted in Gane 2004, 35).

Knowledge of the ‘Other’, like a photographic negative, acts as the necessary premise for knowledge and construction of the collective ‘self’ image. Geertz (1986, 114), while documenting the ‘paler’ nature of cultural difference and its fracturing in current times, emphasises the continued usefulness of the rubric of difference per se, regardless of its content. Said’s (1978) work on the power/knowledge nexus and regime of truth realised in the discourse of Orientalism highlights the self-interested cultural politics behind representations of the cultural Other. Other writers highlight the semiotic and discursive work that fixed, objectified difference does through the device of timeless essentialised stereotypes, that ‘impute a fundamental, basic, absolutely necessary constitutive quality to a person, social category, ethnic group, religious community, or nation’ (Werbner 1997, 228). Hall’s (1996) description of newly minted ethnicities demonstrates that it is not any ‘natural’ attribute of the category that constitutes it, but rather its relation of opposition to an Other.

‘The marking of “difference” is thus the basis of that symbolic order which we call culture’ (Hall 1997, 236). This relational notion of ‘differencing’ as a process will be used here to capture the way essentialising difference is produced to distinguish ‘self’ in relation to ‘Other’.

While the move to essentialise the Other or Self erases differences within a category, it also works to suppress any exploration of convergence and interrelation between categories.

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