The production of cultural difference and cultural sameness in online internationalised education

Doherty, Catherine Ann (2006) The production of cultural difference and cultural sameness in online internationalised education. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This research investigates the cultural politics of 'borderless' education. In Australia, online internationalised education has recently emerged as a market innovation borne from the intersection of two agendas in the higher education sector: an enthusiasm for technological means of delivery; and the quest for international full-fee paying enrolments. The empirical study analyses how both cultural difference and cultural sameness were produced in a case study of borderless education and were made to matter in both the design and the conduct of online interaction. A core MBA unit offered online by an Australian university was selected for the study because its enrolments included a group enrolled through a partner institution in Malaysia.

The study is framed in the broad context of the changing cultural processes of globalisation, and in educational markets where knowledge is business. In this more fluid and complicated cultural landscape, the technologies and social practices supporting online education were understood to offer new cultural resources for identity processes. Pedagogy, rather than providing an inert stage for cultural identities to interact, was understood to play an active role in invoking and legitimating possible orientations for student identities. The framework thus builds on a metaculture, or understandings of culture and cultural identity, more appropriate for the cultural conditions of globalising times.

The study was conducted as a virtual ethnography of the case study unit drawing on: the observation and recording of all virtual interaction in the unit's website; interviews and dialogues with the lecturer and designer involved; email interviews with some students; and the collection of course artefacts and related documentation. The methodological arguments and design addressed the complexity of grasping how culture is lived in globalised times, and how it is invoked, performed and marked in virtual interactions.

Using layered textual analyses synthesising Bernstein's theory of pedagogic discourse and Systemic Functional Linguistics, a description of the unit drew out contradictory aspects in its macrogenre design. On one hand, the design aimed for cultural saming in terms of delivering undifferentiated curriculum and pedagogy for the diverse cohort of students. On the other hand, it also aimed for cultural differencing in the 'student subsidy'of the curriculum. The analysis showed how cultural difference was thus produced as both a curricular asset, and as a series of pedagogical problems in the case study unit.

The 'student subsidy' design involved allocating students to purposefully mixed groups for assessable small group discussions in order to enrich the curricular treatment of cultural diversity as a topic of interest. This design invoked expressions of a range of cultural identities and knowledge claims about cultural differences. These claims were analysed with reference to how they were legitimated, and who invoked what culture on behalf of which groups.

Despite the design of an undifferentiated process, the conduct of the unit displayed a number of pedagogical problems or 'regulative flares' in which groups of students complained about being overly or insufficiently differentiated. The analysis focused on three such flares: troubles with naming protocols; troubles around genre expectations for assessment tasks; and trouble over 'local' markers for the Malaysia students. These were summarised as trouble with the unit's 'default settings' and presumptuous assumptions about whose cultural terms applied in this educational setting.

The study makes a contribution to the sociology of education, in particular with regard to internationalisation and online modes of delivery. The empirical study also contributes to the sociology of the cultural processes of globalisation. More practically, it is suggested that such programs could profitably embrace a version of culture more in line with the entangled routes and global flows that have brought the students and provider together, one that can accommodate and celebrate glocalised identities.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16302
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Singh, Parlo & Taylor, Sandra
Keywords: globalisation, internationalisation, pedagogy, pedagogic discourse, cultural difference, cultural identity, online education, ethnography
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Catherine Ann Doherty
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:00
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:46

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