Learning on the Edge: Exploring Our Boundaries: Nov 10-30, 2008

International dimensions in education

International dimensions in education

by Laura Proctor -
Number of replies: 8
The "Exploring Our Boundaries" Panel discussion at ETUG Fall 2008 brought together three B.C. educators to discuss their experiences and approaches to education on the international dimension. The panelists and their presentations were:

Solvig Norman, Royal Roads University (presentation slides)

Lynette Jackson, University of Victoria (presentation slides)

Gina Bennett, College of the Rockies: (presentation slides)

Some of the "boundaries" mentioned in these presentations were:

Solvig noted that interacting with others in different cultures requires respect, patience and careful attention to our own actions to ensure that we are not imposing our cultural views on others. This can be very difficult especially in areas that we often may not think of as relative to culture rather than absolutes. Three of those dimensions are
  • Food: What are "appropriate" foods? Are deep-fried scorpions on your list of delicacies? What would you do if offered such a treat?
  • Language: How do you cope when you do not share a language with the people you are interacting with? Do translators do the whole job? What are the challenges to working in a foreign language?
  • Time: Is 9 to 5 the only standard for the work day? What does it mean to be "on time"?
Lynette described the ECDVU program designed to build capacity in Early Childhood Development on the African continent emphasizing the importance of careful consultation to set goals relevant to each student's country, ensuring that course activities contributed directly to achieving goals important to their country. Again, avoiding the imposition of goals from outside. Technology is used to support course delivery with careful attention to the challenges for some students who lived in areas with unreliable of electricity and/or limited access to internet connections. In spite of the challenges with technology, with appropriate accommodation and careful attention to personal communication and support, the ECDVU program has been very successful.

Gina spoke with passion about opening doors to education and information to all people. For me, with the following quote, she gives us an empowering perspective to contemplate with respect to (online) resources and education:

"When is it ethically justifiable to deny people access to and dissemination of potentially useful information?" Reinking, 2001

These are the thoughts I took away from that panel. Can you share a story, a comment, a reading that can help us expand boundaries in our thinking about education in the whole world?

Hope to hear from you. :-)
laura
In reply to Laura Proctor

Re: International dimensions in education

by Nancy Riffer -
Gina's example of the visiting colleague who wanted copies of the VHS tapes that would be relevant to nursing students in his country makes this question more concrete for me. Under current law, the library he was visiting could not copy the tapes for him. He would not have the money to purchase the tapes from legitimate sources; he could afford blank tapes on which to copy them.

Copyright law seems to focus on the holder's ownership of the work/product. In contrast, this example highlights the need for the information.

A parallel situation has arisen in Africa with the need for HIV/AIDS drugs. An accommodation has been made so that the drugs in that situation can be acquired for much less than in the "developed" world.

One difference between the library situation and the AIDS situation is that AIDS was solved at an institutional/international level. One decision resolved multi-country problems. The visiting colleague was trying to solve a problem that was more specific to the people whom he was working with (whether on institution or across institutions in one country). He sought an immediate solution to a pressing problem.

In this country, individuals resolve this in a variety of ways including violating copyright law. It would be interesting to know what the cultural expectations are in the colleague's culture. Is there a clash between the ownership that is paramount in the US and Canada and the possible communal ownership in his own country? Are we imposing standards by following our assumptions?
In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: International dimensions in education

by Sue Wolff -
How could you find out? Are you in a position in your institution to approach someone and discuss this issue? If not you, who would be in the appropriate role?
In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: International dimensions in education

by Gina Bennett -
Hi Nancy,

I'm glad you raised the example of the availability of generic, low-cost AIDS drugs for Africa. That example was also raised during our discussion at ETUG last week. I think it's an extremely pertinent example; in fact, you could argue that it is the same example. Because it's not exactly the availability of the drugs themselves that's so critical (the drugs I'm sure could be made in African laboratories too): it's the information about how to make them that's so critical. It's vital, essential medical information, & without it, people die.

You did suggest a difference between the AIDS drug problem & the problem of sharing other essential information. You suggested that the drug problem was solved at an institutional/international level. I will suggest that the AIDS drug problem was perhaps 'solved' a number of times informally, illegally, outside of the institutional/international level long before it reached global recognition.

Access to information is an essential part of access to education. I'm not saying that education is the total cure to everything -- hungry people need food first -- but education is the key to a sustainable improvement in quality of life. To my thinking, withholding information so that the rich can get richer while the poor get poorer is just plain wrong.

Gina
In reply to Laura Proctor

Re: International dimensions in education

by Sylvia Riessner -
"I believe that policies and laws that limit the openness of basic education resources are immoral and indefensible."
Gina Bennett

In terms of limiting openness for the sole purpose of protecting intellectual property for wealth creation, I (and many other educators) would agree with Gina wholeheartedly. And I believe that many educators share freely (despite the artificial barriers of copyright) But I think her statement (and the question she quotes from Reinking 2001) are only one aspect of the discussion.

I took an open course from David Wiley in 2007 (Introduction to Open Education) The first 4 weeks were a bit of a slog because he assigned several international reports on the open education movement and its history. Check it out if you're curious...the links are all still active as far as I can tell. Anyway, the reports contained some interesting insights into the unexpected impacts of the United Nations goal of providing universal education. They found that educating young children (especially girls) affected the way they were perceived by their local community (and not in a positive way). They found situations in which people accessed free information but then got stuck because we haven't developed a "translation" segment that helps people interpret materials that are given for free. Much of the educational content that was made available was developed to address a context or products, tools and technology, that were foreign to the people who accessed the materials. The content lost value because it didn't address local conditions and realities. In other words, it's not just "access" and "dissemination" we need to think about; adaptation or recreation of information is also important (which I noticed was addressed in the model described by UVic)

Another problem with sharing is that what we share may preempt the local culture from developing what the people in that culture value and need. Yes, they can modify what we share; but we may also stifle the natural creativity and resourcefulness they have. I watched a wonderful video about Cynthia Hunt (Magic Mountain) where she talked about disseminating information in the mountains around Ladakh by training local instructors and working with them to create educational "books" that promote basic health and hygience to mountain villages. Besides being an amazing woman, Cynthia seems to be a wonderful illustration of helping people to develop their own meaning from information that is new to their culture.

Having said that, I speak from what I've read and discussed with people who have visited and worked in other countries, not from direct knowledge as Gina is doing. But I've thought about these issues a lot and that's why I think we have to go beyond just providing access.

Sylvia


In reply to Sylvia Riessner

Re: International dimensions in education

by Gina Bennett -
Hi Sylvia

Thanks for responding & you raise an important point. You said, "it's not just "access" and "dissemination" we need to think about; adaptation or recreation of information is also important."

Allow me a little aside: are you familiar with the DIKW model? For the uninitiated, the model claims that there are 4 levels of material with which our brains can work: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. As we move up the levels, the material becomes more and more contextual. (Wikipedia describes DIKW in a so-so manner here.)

So while I believe in the open sharing of data (as do most scientists), & the open sharing of information at the very least as it pertains to information that supports basic, essential education, I believe that the sharing of contextualized knowledge is something that must be done more carefully & with an awareness of the 'other'. And I honestly don't think that wisdom can be 'pushed' across boundaries at all: one only benefits from the wisdom of another by free will.

Nevertheless, if another group needs the information or education or knowledge in order to meet basic human needs, I don't think we have any moral right to withhold it. Not even to protect what we consider 'cultural' reasons. If someone desperately needs medical information in order to save lives, what right do we have to say, 'just wait until we assess the cultural impact for you.' ??

I do appreciate (as I think you are cautioning) that if we impose our education, our constructed knowledge on other cultures, we are guilty of colonization. This is indeed a serious risk. That's why I think it's important to keep a focus on the free sharing of information while supporting & encouraging cultural adaptation so that the information becomes culturally appropriate, useful knowledge.

Gina
In reply to Gina Bennett

Data, information, knowledge, wisdom

by Sylvia Riessner -
Hi Gina,

I hadn't seen the DIKW model before but I've engaged in some fairly long-winded discussions in George Siemen's current course about Connectivism and the nature of knowledge and knowing. Some of participants explain the difference between information and knowledge in similar terms but I haven't seen it as clearly defined (probably missed it cuz it was a huge discussion - easy to get lost).
It seems to be a very useful way to consider information in context. I'm still not sure if I agree with the way they define wisdom - seems less than what I consider wisdom but then I think wisdom is rare.
I realize that you and the other educators who presented at the ETUG sessions are aware of the cultural implications of what you share but I think I was reacting to the story of the man who wanted to take nursing videotapes home to use in his schools. What I would wish we could do in a situation like that is sit down with him and find out what he really needs and perhaps give him the tools and assistance to create his own.
Sylvia
In reply to Sylvia Riessner

Re: International dimensions in education

by Laura Proctor -
Thank you and David Wiley for sharing the resources in his course on open education. I've only scanned the materials but I am looking forward to reading in more depth. This course seems to "be" open education as well as "about" it. The unlocked access to the content, some guiding questions for discussion and then sharing, through the use of blogs, of reflections and use in context.

I recently listened to CBC Ideas "Who Owns Ideas?" that I found a fascinating historical overview of copyright and related issues. Have a listen:
http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/features/who-owns-ideas/
In reply to Sylvia Riessner

Re: International dimensions in education

by Laura Proctor -
Everyone:

Would it be true to say that to be relevant, educational content must often be locally-authored or at least locally-edited? Is empowering individuals to create their own content not essential to developing good, grounded education everywhere?

There are many open software systems that support collaborative, distributed development of content as exemplified in WikiEducator:
http://www.wikieducator.org/Main_Page
The open software provides a big piece of the puzzle for decentralized groups to work together and for people around the world to collaborate - without the need to take the airplane trip that is so often an obstacle. Providing a basic set of tools, at no cost, would seem to be a first step in creating that local content.

I think the most important element will always be communication between individuals both within and across cultures. Finding the time and the willingness to share ones thoughts is difficult for many different reasons. But, it is that communication that creates context online through the effort of sharing reflections and making connections.

Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts here.

Laura