Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Hermann Kurthen,
Grand Valley State University,
Allendale, USA

Presentation (ppt)


Two concepts of cultural psychology, ‘ethnocentrism’ and ‘collectivism,’ have frequently been applied to the study of intercultural communication. With the global revolution in E-learning in recent years the question has been raised whether transnational student online collaboration results in a reduction of ethnocentric and collectivist attitudes (Brislin 1993).

Without much empirical proof the literature, however, often speculates that increased global connectivity of individuals through the Internet, and in particular, transnational online student collaboration, reduces ethnocentrism. A second assumption is that individualist learners are less likely to be ethnocentric compared to those with a more collectivist attitude.

The purpose of this presentation is to investigate the measurable effect of transnational online student collaboration on ethnocentrist attitudes (mediated by demographics such as age, gender, residence, religiosity, political attitudes, etc.), as well as the role of cultural factors, such as a person's degree of collectivism. This investigation employs two well-known instruments: Neuliep's/McCroskey's (1997) GENE ethnocentrism scale and the collectivism scale developed by Triandis (1995), derived from earlier attempts by Adorno et al. (1950).

Using a non-equivalent experimental group design, the responses of U.S. American college students from Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan and Polish students from Poznan University of Technology were collected and analyzed, beginning in Fall 2006. The experimental groups consisted of students (~N=20) who collaborated every semester for six weeks via a learning management system (first Blackboard, currently Sakai) to complete a joint project and presentation. Projects ranged from analyses of cultural contrasts in politics, energy, the job market (SVSU freshmen students) to the development of case studies on complex cultural issues such as immigration/emigration, workplace ethics, and systems of education (SVSU upperclass students). Students used email, virtual chats, discussion boards, wikis, and Skype internet phone (Boehm and Aniola-Jedrzejek, 2006). The questionnaires distributed to the experimental and control groups at the beginning and the end of the project contained demographic questions and the above mentioned ethnocentrism and collectivism scales.

The findings indicate that GENE ethnocentrism scores of the experimental American student samples (scoring low on collectivism) declined statistically after having participated in online collaboration. Results therefore confirmed the hypothesis that online interaction has an effect on ethnocentrism. However, no such effect was observed among Polish students (who also had scored higher on collectivism on average). In addition, we found through regression analysis that several demographic variables, such as gender, residence, or political attitudes, strongly correlated with the degree of ethnocentrism among both American and Polish students.

The presentation will offer possible psychological and sociological explanations for these results, with an emphasis on the effects of demographics and the role of national differences in the distribution of collectivist/individualist attitudes. The presentation will conclude with recommendations about how to refine and extend the research and will propose a re-conceptualization of the intercultural learning effects of transnational online student collaboration.

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