Communication and cultural diversity in ODL: From a wired learner to a transnational citizen.

Domingo Sánchez-Mesa Martínez.
Dpt. Lingüística General y Teoría de la Literatura
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Campus "La Cartuja".
Universidad de Granada
Granada 18071. SPAIN.
tel./fax 34-958-243591

1. Introduction.

A series of profound cultural changes are taking place as the millennium fades away. The speed of communication and the ubiquity of media have introduced new modalities of cultural mobility to an already extraordinary mobile end of the century (mobility of professionals, communication, travellers, tourists, armies, goods, information, trends, financial waves, exiled and refugees, immigrants, etc.). Never before we have come so close to a global culture, never before the contradictions, benefits and threats of this globalization have become so evident, never before had our relationship with reality been so intensively and systematically mediated.

The real chances for Europe to become a political multicultural unit, once the economic and the monetary union are successfully achieved, rest considerably on the endeavour fostered in the educational field, where transnational experiences are progressively more common as European networks and projects proliferate. Cultural diversity and linguistic heterogeneity within the communities involved in these networks is a wealth which, although apparently celebrated as such by political decision makers, education and academic managers, teaching staff and students themselves , is nevertheless often seen as an "obstacle" to communication and collective co-operation among new members. I would like to offer an alternative approach here , convinced as I am of the urgent need to enlarge the time and space devoted in our academic syllabi to provide our students with the opportunities to access, reflect and comprehend the multifarious and hybrid genetics of both the past and the present of this historical reality called Europe. In the same vogue we need to raise the awareness of our future European professionals on how heavily our immediate future depend on a dialogical attitude to other cultures in other continents, an attitude to be gained only through a reflective and critical learning on a networked kind of knowledge, a knowledge more focused on linkages and relationships than on specific and very local mastery of data..

2. Communication management & cultural diversity in international academic virtual networks.

Drawing upon our previous experiences in a number of ODL projects (Humanities I & II, Virtue, Transcult, Euroliterature) I would like to sketch slightly more in depth what is the landscape we usually contemplate when coping with communication and diversity in virtual education.

Our first step will consist on a clarification of what do we mean by "culture" (a complex repertoire of behavioural and communicative models and the discursive practices drawn upon them) and "language" (as discourse, i.e., language as its actually used, charged with all the different social accents and their contradictory evaluations).

Stemming from such provisional interpretations of both concepts, and bearing in mind the impact of the new computer mediated communicative framework (the second media age with its increasing mobility) on those concepts and the practices incorporated to them, we will be in the position to avoid simplistic reduction of cross-cultural and linguistics designs in ODL to the rules prevailing in official geopolitical and linguistic maps. However, as it was mentioned above, it is not rare to observe a short-sighted philosophy on cultural and linguistic diversity on behalf of institutional agencies. The reasons for this are also to be discussed.

3. Why virtual transcultural instruction becomes so relevant in virtual society?

Among some other reasons we might mention as the most pertinent the following ones :

4. Recommendations

Although implicit in the previous sections, a set of possible recommendations are also provided within the conclusive part of this paper. These insights, addressed to the various level of agency involved in ODL networking, are all the time based in empirical evidence (the number of ODL projects mentioned above). In any case, there are powerful evidences to be satisfied of the increase of awareness and resources devoted to develop and maintain both research and educational programs dealing with intercultural and transcultural phenomenon or setting out transcultural and multilinguistic learning scenarios.


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JANSEN, P. & LAMBERT, J. (1995) "Language and/as intercultural strategy in Open Distance Learning", in Van den Branden, J, et al. Handbook in Cultural Factors in use of TLE. Heverlee, EuroPACE 2000 (EOUN-EuroPACE 2000), 27-90.

SANCHEZ-MESA, D. , LAMBERT, J., APOLLON, D. &VAN DEN BRANDEN, J. (1997) Crosscultural and Linguistic Perspectives on European Open and Distance Learning. Transcult I. Granada, Transcult/Univ. Granada.

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VAN DEN BRANDEN, J, & LAMBERT, J. (forthcoming) "Cultural and linguistic diversity : Threat or challenge for virtual instruction". In Feyten, C. (ed.) Virtual Instruction : International Perspectives on Theory and Practice of Computer Mediated Distance Learning.