Cross-cultural comparison: The introduction of new technology with postgraduate students in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom

Helen Boulton
Nottingham Trent University
Nottingham, the United Kingdom

Universities in the United Kingdom are developing collaborations with partners in the East, often resulting in academic staff, with little understanding of Eastern cultures, imposing Western designed virtual learning environments (VLEs) and lacking consideration of the learning styles and educational experiences of Eastern students.

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) delivers a professional doctorate course collaboratively with Hong Kong College of Technology (HKCT). As part of the delivery, NTU’s VLE is used and accessed by the students in Hong Kong. Initially, engagement with the VLE by HKCT students was almost non-existent. A recent visit to HKCT with the intention of engaging the students more thoroughly in the VLE revealed disengagement, not in the notion of using the VLE for learning but in the unconsciously ethno-centric bias of the design of course materials and use of the development of the VLE by academic staff. This paper presents interim findings of a research project to develop evidence-informed practice that will encourage HKCT students to engage more effectively with the material to enable a greater use of online learning, a deeper level of learning and a faster pace of progression.

A literature search revealed no specific guidance to academics in relation to this area of practice. Hofstede (1985) opened the debate and stimulated dialogue about cultural differences and the need for culture to be acknowledged in teaching and learning. Also, Carroll and Ryan (2005) assert that there is a need to be explicit about the purpose and structure of activities and assessment; and while this assertion is based on classroom-focused research, it has an impact on online learning. Brown (2004), drawing on Gestalt cognitive theory, states that the personal theories of learning and constructs of international students differ widely from the Western norm, which can hamper learning. Finally, Maclean and Ransome (2005) identify studying in a second language, adjusting to an unfamiliar educational context, and perceptions of workload, can impede international students.

Data are being collected over a one-year period by observations of the use of the VLE by HKCT students through metrics available via the VLE’s software. Interviews are also being conducted with students and analysed thematically. To date, the emerging themes are the design and presentation of online course materials, and the use of images, format and layout. The paper addresses how the research is affecting the design of the VLE; the successes and challenges faced by the teaching team; and how the changes made to the VLE are engaging the students.