Re-conceptualising culture in Virtual Learning Environments: from an 'essentialist' to a 'negotiated' perspective

Goodfellow, Robin and Hewling, Anne (2005). Re-conceptualising culture in Virtual Learning Environments: from an 'essentialist' to a 'negotiated' perspective. E-Learning and Digital Media, 2(4) pp. 355–367.



The notion of 'culture' as an essential attribute of individuals and groups, owed to national or ethnic background, is critiqued in this article as unhelpful to the project of understanding how diverse participants in virtual learning environments (VLEs) individually and jointly construct a culture of interaction. An alternative conceptualisation of culture in VLEs is proposed, which views online discussion as just one of the sites in which the culture of a VLE is negotiated. Other sites are to be found in institutional practices of teaching and learning at a distance, and in the wider cultural narratives of the Internet. Examples from two online masters courses in online and distance education are used to contextualise this concept of culture, exploring the differences in patterns of participation that are produced by contrasting institutional cultures, even though such participation is explicitly valorised as the means and the subject of the learning that goes on in both these courses. Some implications for the understanding and management of student diversity in these environments are considered, in particular the need for emerging cultural narratives around VLEs to reflect all aspects of student engagement in distance education, not just those which relate to online interaction.

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