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Exploring Strategies That Foster Collaborations Across Diverse Populations

by Anthony Bishop


 Abstract: This article examines strategies that address teaching diverse populations in higher education today. The article centers on Professor Geert Hofstede's dimensions of a national cultural model and explores how the components of this model can be applied by instructors in the modern day college classroom.


            The modern day college classroom is filled with students from all walks of racial, gender, social, cultural and economic life. For instructors to be truly effective in this setting, courses must be designed in a way that speaks to the diversity of the classroom. Instructors must take into account how the diverse cultural background of each student can influence their overall learning. As Parrish and Linder-Vaberschot (2010) states, “Instructional providers should examine the assumptions they hold about how learners will and should respond, keeping an open mind for potentially unexpected responses. Moreover, they must balance the need to help students adapt to specific professional, academic, and mainstream cultures (which instructors, by proxy, represent) and the need to embrace the culture in which the student is embedded” (p. 2-3). There has been research conducted around cultural influences in learning. Professor Geert Hofstede created a dimensions of national culture model which identifies dominant aspects of global culture and how it influences individual behavior. Prof. Hofstede’s model can be applied to the design of courses in higher education both online and f2f to enhance the overall quality of the course and overall student engagement.


            Prof. Hofstede’s model classifies cultural diversity along five dimensions. Those dimensions include power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint. Each of these dimensions can be used by instructors in the design of courses to assist with promoting student engagement and community building in the classroom whether it be virtual or f2f.


Power Distance


            One of the first dimensions in Hofstede’s model is power distance. Power distance is defined as, "the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally" (Azer and Sherbini, 2011, p. 12). This dimension provides an important cultural narrative for the instructor to factor in when developing a course. Understanding that some students will enter into the classroom with this built-in ideology is important when considering how to foster strong student engagement in the classroom. Individuals who accept that power is distributed unequally can be hindered in learning because of a lack of trust of authority or authoritative figures.


            One way that instructors can counter this dimension is through transparency. Explaining the objectives and expectations of the course along with what the instructor expects from the student and what the student can expect from the instructor will allow trust to be established from the beginning. This will also allow the lines of communication to strengthen between instructor and student and student-to-student which will strengthen student engagement in the classroom and allow open dialogues about cultural diversity to be introduced.


Individualism v. Collectivism


            Another dimension in Hofstede’s model is individualism v. collectivism. This model, “Acknowledges the fact that in individualistic cultures, people are supposed to look after themselves and their family only," while in collectivistic cultures, "people belong to in-groups or collectivities which are supposed to look after them in exchange for loyalty” (Azer and Sherbini, 2011, p. 12). These are two cultural dynamics that instructors must account for in the classroom to foster cultural inclusion of all students. This dimension is an important component to consider when factoring in developing group activities. Identifying students who subscribe to individualism and those that subscribe to collectivism are important traits to consider when partnering individuals into teams. There needs to be a healthy balance of students that subscribe to both dimensions to make sure that each group can operate effectively. Group activities can be a creative and effective tool the instructor can use to foster collaboration between students that fall under both these cultural dimensions.


Uncertainty Avoidance and Masculinity vs. Femininity


            The next two dimensions center on the personality make-up of individuals but requires equal attention to inclusion as the previous dimensions stated. The cultural dimension of uncertainty avoidance is defined as, “uncertainty avoidance as the extent to which people in a society or culture are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Members of societies with high uncertainty avoidance are often anxious in unstructured situations and either avoid or develop strategies to combat them” (Selvarajah et al, 2018, p. 95). To create an environment where students who subscribe to this cultural dimension exist, instructors must design activities and assignments that are well designed, explained and implemented. This will allow students to feel comfortable with the structure of the class and feel more comfortable to participate in discussions and activities to enhance the class culture of learning.


            The other dimension, masculinity vs. feminity, is defined as this, “Masculinity stands for a society in which social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life. Femininity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap: Both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life” (Azer and Sherbini, 2011, p. 12). This dimension is particularly important in terms of cultural classroom inclusion because this dimension can prevent a student from engaging in the class completely based on how they view the opposite sex. To offset this hurdle, instructors can design “icebreaker” exercises that allow students to speak openly and safely about gender biases. Having this honest dialogue will establish a comfortable setting for all students to feel equal and inclusive. 


Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. Restraint


            The final two cultural dimension models address the issue of participation and inclusion. Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation is defined as the following, “The long- versus short-term orientation refers to whether a society exhibits a pragmatic future-oriented perspective or a conventional historic point of view. A long-term orientation fosters virtue directed toward the future—in particular, perseverance and thrift and ordering relationships by status. A short-term orientation fosters virtue related to the past and present—in particular, respect for tradition, preservation of "face," and personal steadiness and stability” (Hofstede 2011). To incorporate these two dimensions to foster cultural diversity in the classroom it is important for instructors to qualify themselves and their level of expertise to their students. In the first day of class introduction instructors should make it clear to list their academic and professional credentials to allow students to know why they are the instructor for that particular course. This will assist with gaining respect of the students in terms of how they view the instructor and no matter which dimension they fall under (long-term or short-term) they will reach both cultural dimensions by doing this.


            The indulgence vs. restraint dimension is defined as, “Indulgence as a cultural value also tends towards a perception of personal life control, while restraint as a cultural value tends towards a perception of helplessness and that what happens in one's life is beyond his/her own control” (Hofstede 2011). This is perhaps the most challenging cultural dimension of them all. Students enter into classrooms with a lot of “isms” racisms, classisms, sexisms etc… and indulgence vs. restraint plays into the isms. Instructors have to design activities that require students to enter into a social learning model and share their culture images and perceptions. The “Think-Pair-Share” model which breaks students into groups, allows them to work with one another outside of the instructor’s presence. This model will allow those who are under the indulgence or restraint dimension to share their ideas with their peers or people that they see as equals. This creates a healthy dialogue that can help change or reshape some cultural ideas that could be detrimental to student learning in the class.


Conclusion


            Hofstede’s cultural dimension are a great tool for educators to use to foster cultural inclusion into their respective classrooms whether it be f2f or online learning. These models are important because they speak to the individual, not a group. It requires instructors to see each individual student as a separate entity that they must account for when developing, implementing and assessing their course. Hofstede’s cultural dimension model is a strong tool that every instructor should incorporate.


References


Azer, M. A., & El-Sherbini, A. M. (2011). Cultural Challenges in Developing E-Learning Content. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 6(1), 11–14. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.3991/ijet.v6i1.1467


Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionaling cultures: The Hofstede model in context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2 (1). Retrieved from dx.doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1014.


Parrish, P., & Linder-VanBerschot, J. A. (2010). Cultural Dimensions of Learning: Addressing the Challenges of Multicultural Instruction. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 11(2), 1–19. Retrieved from http://proxy1.ncu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=51212332&site=eds-live


Selvarajah, C., Meyer, D., de Waal, A., & Van der Heijden, B. (2018). Dutch Managerial Leadership Strategies: Managing Uncertainty Avoidance, Feminine-Related Social Roles, Organisation Prosperity Focus, and Work Orientation within A Polder Framework. Contemporary Management Research, 14(2), 87–119. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.7903/cmr.18279


Shimoni, R., Barrington, G., Wilde, R., & Henwood, S. (2013). Addressing the Needs of Diverse Distributed Students. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 14(3), 134–156. Retrieved from http://proxy1.ncu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=89237256&site=eds-live


Copyright 2019 by Anthony Bishop.


About the author:


Anthony Bishop is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Design in the library department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), CUNY, in New York City.