Accounting for culture in social work distance education


Paper to be presented at #husITa16 in Seoul, Korea, 29 June 2016.


Rebecca Stotzer and Jing Guo (University of Hawaii, USA).


Distance education (DE) has been increasingly used as a means to provide education to diverse students across the globe. Despite this growth, there has been little discourse in the research literature on how to identify “culturally marked” educational practices, and how to address them in online environments. Instead, DE pedagogy has presented DE course design as though it is culturally neutral. However, emerging research suggests that many behaviors, practices, and approaches which may seem innocuous or self-explanatory may in fact be “culturally-marked,” meaning that the same behavior across different cultural contexts carries different meanings in the educational environment. Given the profession’s unique recognition of “person in environment” and a multicultural perspective, social work can take the lead in examining how to merge universal and localized principles of DE course design.

First, this paper identifies three domains of culturally-marked distance education educational practices, 1) the basic pedagogical approach to education and the classroom environment, 2) the ways that teachers and students communicate and the expectations they have for one another, and 3) communication and community-building practices.

Second, this paper proposes a set of strategies for beginning to develop culturally competent social work DE. These steps include 1) training for DE staff to be able to identify and consider culturally-marked practices, 2) understanding the cultural expectations around education in the intended class audience, 3) creating a DE model for the social work offerings that address tensions between adapting cultural practices within the DE classroom to student’s expectations and norms and providing explanations and explicit supports to transition students into the instructor’s/program’s norms. This second part of the paper will present on the type of scaffolding and preparation needed to support students and educators in a culturally competent DE-delivered social work class.


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