By Jim Shimabukuro
Two recent studies on the educational use of Web 2.0 tools shed light on cultural differences between students in Japan and South Korea, on the one hand, and the U.S., on the other. The first, “Cross-Cultural Collaboration Through a Virtual Community of Practice Using Video and Social Networking,” by Bert Kimura and Curtis P. Ho, from the University of Hawaii, and Mary Kimura and Kenichi Kubota, from Kansai University, Japan, was presented at Ed-Media 2011, June 27 to July 1, in Lisbon, Portugal. The second, “Comparison of Web 2.0 Technology Acceptance Level Based on Cultural Differences,” by Sun Joo Yoo and Wen-hao David Huang, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, appears in Educational Technology & Society, 14.4 (2011).
The Japan-U.S. study by Kimura et al. reports the following differences: Japanese students are nonconfrontational, consensus oriented, shy and modest. U.S. students are the opposite: direct, task oriented, and outgoing and assertive. In communication style, the Japanese students were “indirect,” e.g., they “suggested what they wanted to do” and “would not object if their ideas weren’t considered.” U.S. students were “more direct,” e.g., they “stated what they thought would be a good direction” and “would explain why and how to use their ideas” (italics added).
The Korea-U.S. study by Yoo and Huang looked at specific criteria to explain the differences: communication styles, level of power distance, and level of uncertainty avoidance. The authors found that Korean students’ communication style score was “very high” in collectivism while their U.S. counterparts’ was “very high” in individualism. This difference was further described in terms of high context vs. low context (249). This finding is similar to the consensus orientation of Japanese students reported in the Kimura et al. study.
The other two criteria, power distance and uncertainty avoidance, offer possible insights into the Kimura et al. findings that Japanese students were less direct and less assertive. For example, Korean students scored high in power distance level, and this indicates acceptance of unequal power relationships. For Korean students, Yoo and Huang suggest that Web 2.0 applications such as blogs “might be the better place … to articulate their opinions than other Web 2.0 applications because they do not need to worry about potential criticism by other participants who might be placed at a higher level of the power hierarchy” (249).
Yoo and Huang found that Korean students score high in uncertainty avoidance, which translates to hesitation in actively participating in “online social communities or online virtual communities” (249-250). These communities are considered informal and, thus, uncomfortable for students who function best in more formal environments. This need for a more controlled format for Web 2.0 discussions offers insights into the apparent confrontation avoidance and shyness of Japanese students reported in the Kimura et al. study.
Differences among students from different cultures impact performance in Web 2.0 environments, and these two studies confirm this generalization. However, it will be interesting to see if these differences will hold up in the coming years as web communications blur the geographical, cultural, and political boundaries that have traditionally separated nations. At an exponential pace, individuals from diverse cultures are interacting in social networks. Increasingly, cultural stereotypes are giving way to universal web personas.
The web has, for all practical purposes, turned the world into a village, and interacting in all phases of our lives, including education, with people from around the world has become commonplace. My guess is that, sooner rather than later, we’ll begin to see people interacting as individuals rather than representatives of specific cultures or nations. In fact, this is already happening, and the pace is blinding.
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