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Intercultural Sensibility in Online Teaching and Learning Processes

Torras, E & Bellot, A. (2017). Intercultural Sensibility in Online Teaching and Learning Processes. Proceedings of 11th Multi Conference on  Computer Science  and Information Systems 2017, Lisboa, Portugal, 20-22 July, 2017.


Online higher education institutions should attend perceived cultural distance emerges as an outstanding concept related to the management of interculturality. Attention to cultural diversity is a necessity at online higher education in management. Beamer (2004) postulated the Model of Intercultural Sensitivity for conceptualizing the dimensions of intercultural competence that can be develop. Complementary, Intercultural Learning Model (Beamer, 2016) emphasizes the importance that students are able to encode and decode the differences in messages emitted by people of various cultures. The aim of this research is to analyze the verbalization of intercultural content in the online students participation and in their learning products at a online master in human resources direction. The content of participation and the learning products of 108 participants based on the system of categories proposed by the Model of Intercultural Sensitivity and enriched by Intercultural Learning Model it has been analyzed. The most frequent category found is adaptation, so cultural difference is the state in which the experience of another culture yields perception and behavior appropriate to that culture.


Online Teaching and Learning, Higher Education, Management, Intercultural, Higher Education Institutions, Content Analysis.


As Zhu, Handford and Johnstone Young (2016) noticed, culture and interculturality is framed in on-line promotional discourse at higher education programs. "There have been paradigm shifts and theoretical debates within the field of study of intercultural communication with regard to what culture is" (Zhu, Handford and Johnstone, 2016, pp. 3). Interculturality is used as an umbrella term covering a plethora of terms referring to cultural diversity, for example, cultural differences, hybridity, cultural identity and even multiculturalism, that is a term which has a distinct connotation. Nonetheless, two theoretical frameworks stand out for their acceptance for the analysis of interculturality.

Bennett (1986; 1993; 2016) and Bennett & Bennett (2003; 2004) highlight the importance of being more intercultural competent. Move from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism seems to be very relevant for intercultural competence and the major change in the quality of the cultural experience. Bennett (2004) postulated a framework for conceptualizing dimensions of intercultural competence in its development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). The DMIS constitutes a progression of worldview with orientations toward cultural difference that understand the potential of increasingly more complete experiences cross-culturally. Three ethnocentric orientations, where culture is a central experience in reality (denial, defense, minimization) and three etnorelatives orientations, where culture is considered an experience (acceptance, adaptation and integration) are postulated.

Intercultural Learning Model (Beamer, 1992, 2004) emphasizes the importance that participants are able to encode and decode the differences in messages emitted by people of different cultures. The model proposes a spiral learning which is characterized by the ability of students to go deeper into cultural differences. Building knowledge from this model involves going repeatedly on the same issues to structure increasingly complex and complex mental representations. The assimilation and accommodation of new concepts is part of this learning process. The construction of new meanings around the diverse cultures appears like fundamental. This construction implies that students are competent to generate other culture messages, analyze communication, challenge stereotypes, pose questions and understand the diversity. Cultural values and practices influence at business communication. Beamer (2004) analyze the relationships among the cultural environments of firms and the structure of these firms. They examine how companies and individuals communicate, and concentrate on the underlying cultural reasons for behavior.

Complementary, Hofstede (1984, 2005) proposes four dimensions to simplify the analysis of the intercultural fact. These dimensions have been commonly used in the analysis from a management perspective. Every person carries him or herself patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting that were learned throughout their lifetime. "Culture consists of the unwritten rules of the social game. It is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishing the members of a group or category of people from others" (Hofstede, 1984, p.3). These dimensions are first the power distance index. The power distance index measuring the degree of inequality in society power distance can be defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that. Secondly, individualism and collectivism which measuring the degree of individualism in society, individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose and  collectivism as its opposite pertains to societies in which people from birth onward are integrated into strong and cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetimes continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. Third, the role stereotypes which are key differences between feminine and masculine societies and general norm and family. Finally, the uncertainty avoidance that is the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations.

The aim of this research is to analyze the verbalization of intercultural content in the online students’ participation and in their learning products at an Online Master in Human Resources Management.


2.1 Procedure

The nature of the aim leads us to use a qualitative methodology based on observations. This methodological option has been selected because the subject of the study involves attitudes for which experimental manipulation and strict control is difficult for various theoretical reasons. We needed to consider attitudes in their context, and this process required a limited period. We needed to obtain data on the interaction between participants. Finally, this complex process was too lengthy to be reduced to a mere set of variables. The units of analysis were related to the categories of previously established dimensions, in accordance with the level of analysis proposed.  

2.2 Participants

The contributions and learning products of 108 participants, 82 women and 26 men, from OBS Business School's online master in human resources direction have been analyzed. The nationalities of students are Spain (26.68%), Colombia (21.6%), Ecuador (34.56%), Mexico (7.56%), Peru (5.4), El Salvador (1.08%), Nicaragua (1.08%), Nicaragua (1.08%), Nicaragua (1.08%), Argentina (2.16%), Equatorial Guinea (1.08%), Albania (1.08%), Bolivia (1.08%) and Uruguay (1.08%). The participants are students enrolled in the subject The new role of the human resources director. This subject reflect on the role that the HR Director should play at the company of the future and move towards a new vision of the human resources management role. This new role implies the director as an the strategic partner, promoter of organizational transformations, discoverer of talent and facilitator of effective competency trainings. The didactic sequence analyzed involves a month of student work.

2.3 Analysis

This analysis will focus on the methodology of analyzing online interaction. As dialogue and interaction are seen as important drivers of interculturality, researchers often want to analyze the interactive processes. Thus, a holistic approach is needed, allowing researchers to analyze the whole process of interaction and online discussion.

Although the course will take quantitative content analysis of transcripts of asynchronous discussions (discussion boards/for a) as a starting point. The data to course which could open up the discussion of content analyses of other types of interaction (online wiki work, interaction in video data, etc.) will be analyzed. The main purpose of this analysis is to provide categories of how to analyze student-student interactions and products in order to made evidence denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation, integration, power distance, individualism-collectivism, role stereotypes and ambiguous or unknown situations. The content analysis was carried out in a total of 314 verbalizations and 108 learning products.


The results show that ethnorelativism values have been verbalized in 12% of student contributions. The category that appears most in the verbalization of the participants is integration (51%) followed by  adaptation (40%) and acceptance (9%).This analysis will focus on the methodology of analyzing the learning products. This are the results after analysis the learning products based on model of intercultural sensitivity categories. Highlights the 51% at integration. So, students show the approach of the participants and their configuration as a cohesive working group.

Adaptation is the second category that emerge more often. Adaptation means the verbalizations show accommodation or adjustment to the companions of other nationalities. The adjustment is adequate and works for the benefit of the teaching-learning process. No fragment appears in the text of the students that can be categorized as entrocentric. So, there are no denial, no defense, no minimization.

after analysis the learning products based on Intercultural Learning Model. Highlights the 76% at level 5 consisting of ability to generate other culture messages. Level 1 is the next category more frequent, so thats the abitily to acknoledge diversity.

Results based on Hofstede Model. Highlights the 57% at Individualism and collectivism that is the degree of individualism in society, individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose and  collectivism as its opposite pertains to societies in which people from birth onward are integrated into strong and cohesive in-groups. Power distance index which is the degree of inequality in society power distance can be defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that has been identified at 42%.


The results show that awareness of cultural differences and willingness to integrate participants from other cultures emerges in online education. In spite of this, it is necessary that the institutions of higher education in line promote interculturality to reach levels closer to cultural integration. Even in the contents in which the cultural sensitivity is necessary for the understanding of the same, the interculturality does not appear unless it is approached explicitly in the classrooms. At the era of global information, ethnorelativism values are relevant for the understanding of the manager's work.


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This paper has been written in the framework of the research supported financially by OBServatory. International Observatory on Online Higher Education in Management by OBS Business School.


Torras, E & Bellot, A. (2017). Intercultural Sensibility in Online Teaching and Learning Processes. Proceedings of 11th Multi Conference on Computer Science and Information Systems 2017, Lisboa, Portugal, 20-22 July, 2017.

Intercultural Sensibility in Online Teaching and Learning Processes

Eulalia Torras, OBServatory, OBS Business School, Barcelona (Spain) Andreu Bellot, OBServatory, OBS Business School, Barcelona (Spain)

24 July 2017