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Title: Problems of communication, collaboration and cooperation in multicultural groups engaged in e-learning through synchronous text-based communication
Author: Katakalos, George
ISNI:       0000 0004 2742 5092
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2012
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Research Aim: This PhD thesis is focused on investigating whether culture can pose conflicts to the communication, collaboration and/or cooperation of multicultural groups comprised by students coming from South East Europe (SEE) and studying in Greece, by using synchronous text-based chat. Thus, this PhD attempts to answer the following research question: "Are there problems of communication, collaboration and cooperation in multicultural groups engaged in eLearning activities by using synchronous text-based communication?" Methodology: In order to investigate the existence of cultural conflicts, the research design for the study adopted logical positivism as an epistemology through the use of quasi-experiments. More specifically the research is based on two components: questionnaires to re-evaluate Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory and provide an initial expectation of the interaction behavior between the students from the cultures participating; and quasi-experiments to explore multicultural communication conflicts in the context of a meaningful learning activity. The students, who participated on this research, were undergraduate students from Computer Science and Business Administration and Economics departments of CITY Liberal Studies. The students who volunteered to participate were fourteen Greeks, fourteen FYROMs (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), four Serbians, four Albanians, and four Bulgarians were selected. Students were allocated to four monocultural (control) or to four multicultural groups (experimental). In particular, the students were split into four control groups (two groups with five (5) students each from FYROM and two groups with five (5) students each from Greece) and four (4) multicultural groups (having one student from each nationality). At the first stage, Hofstede's questionnaires were used in order to provide a better understanding of the cultural backgrounds of each participant. The dramatic changes that SEE region faced during the recent years have made the replication of Hofstede's questionnaires and the re-calculation of new values for each dimension a necessity. At the second stage, quasi-experiments were performed in order to explore areas of multicultural communication conflicts. After the identification of the conflicting multicultural communication areas, through the analysis of logs of communication during a purposely-designed activity, one-to-one interviews were employed in order to clarify and further explain the identified communication conflicts that resulted from the log analysis and their relation to culture. Research Findings: The outcome of the analysis process showed that although group communication was interrupted due to cultural misperception, misinterpretation and misunderstanding it never broke down and the groups were all able to fulfil the goals of the activity more or less. A summary of the behaviours identified in this PhD thesis (see section 7.3.3) is described in the next two paragraphs. Control groups, for instance, groups consisted from students from the same culture, tend to face less communication problems and develop mechanisms in order to trigger the involvement of silent members and control the structure of the conversation. Moreover, control groups showed the tendency to develop the "joyful mood" behaviour that led the discussion to become informal, causing the disturbance of the group and the failure of reaching the goal on the given time. Multicultural groups made the discussion more open in order to include all the different opinions presented in the discussion formulating a general answer. This behaviour of "generalizing the answer" exhibited in the multicultural groups led to the development of communication conflicts by students that were not satisfied by the generalized answers triggering behaviours like "vitiation of different opinion" having as a result the disturbance of the group communication for some turns or behaviours like "abrupt end" having as a result an immediate and coercive agreement of the group members. Conclusions: By examining the interaction of students in a synchronous eLearning activity, this PhD concludes that culture influences communication, collaboration and/or cooperation, even if the cultures of the participants are close. The initial expectations of the potentially conflicting areas provided from the questionnaire analysis were confirmed in the group interaction of the participants. Although, communication of the participants in the activity never broke down, multicultural conflicting areas were identified, in which the participants demonstrated a delay in providing an answer. These identified rnulticultural conflicting areas can provide the basis for an analytic tool for assessing and analysing cross-cultural communication conflicts. The communication experience, and the collaboration/cooperation of the users of eLearning environments can be enhanced, by tackling the identified conflicting areas. Research Limitations: The research was limited in terms of resources and time, which are the typical characteristics of a PhD study. Limitations in time did not allow the researcher to test potential solutions on re-runs of the experiments and replicate the experiment on different institutions and/or different cultures, allowing the results to be used outside this country's context. Moreover, the small numbers of the participants used in this research can add further to the problem of generalizing outside the study's context. Finally, the results could potentially be different if students were participating in actual eLearning courses from different places such as their home. Originality and contribution to current research: This PhD study is one of the few that examines cultural communication problems between students coming from close cultures with common history and background. On this premise, the findings that although cannot be generalised can contribute to current research by adding the consideration of students' cultural backgrounds into the communication elements offered in e-Learning environments. This PhD provided a first attempt into highlighting the importance of this consideration even from close/similar cultures. Moreover, the identified multicultural communication conflicts can be used to identify, prevent and manage miscommunication in multicultural group discussion. Finally, educational vendors in their existing e-Learning environments can use the identified conflicting areas in order to minimise the occurrence of cross-cultural conflicts.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available