PROBLEMATISING ‘CROSS-CULTURAL’ COLLABORATION: CRITICAL INCIDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION SETTINGS KATRIN KRAUS RONALD G. SULTANA Abstract – Many EU projects are premised on the assumption that collaboration between academics and students from different national contexts adds value to knowledge production and to learning. It is very rare to come across accounts of how challenging such cross-cultural collaboration can be, especially when the notion ‘culture’ is expanded to include both national and gendered identities, as well as cultures embedded in particular academic disciplines. This paper sets out to explore the ‘critical incidents’ that arose in the context of an Erasmus curriculum development project, showing how these ‘incidents’ open a window onto the complex and challenging processes that come into play in cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary settings.
his paper is one of the ‘products’ developed in the context of an Erasmus curriculum development project called CROSSLIFE, which focuses on crosscultural collaboration in the field of lifelong learning and vocational education. The project offers an 18 month-long learning pathway to students registered in MA or PhD programmes at the Danish University of Education, and the universities of London, Malta, Monash, Tampere and Zürich, with tutors from all six institutions involved in lecturing and mentoring through both virtual and faceto-face meetings1. The project therefore could be seen as a ‘higher education consortium’, as Beerkens & Derwende (2007) call this kind of international cooperation between institutions of higher learning. Students are clustered in home-groups, but interact with and across all groups via Skype telephony, videoconferencing, and workshops2. The course focuses on both content and process issues. The substantive focus is on Vocational Education and Training (VET) including, for instance, the issue of policy borrowing and lending in VET-related areas in both the EU and beyond. The process dimension examines the issues that arise when academics and students from different ‘cultures’ collaborate in their attempt to generate a deeper understanding of a particular area of research. In this paper, it is this second, process-oriented dimension that is foregrounded. Mediterranean Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 13(1), pp. 59-83, 2008
A key assumption underpinning many EU programmes in education and training is that research and learning can be enhanced through bringing together academics and students from different countries. It is however surprising to note that while content outcomes from such collaboration are given high visibility through publications, accounts of the process issues that arise in the production of that content are rarely to be seen3. This paper is an attempt to address that gap. The article is divided into two parts. The first part considers the general meaning of ‘culture’. The latter term is here defined broadly to include not only considerations of ‘national’ cultures, but also cultures that are linked to gendered ways of being, and to academic disciplines. These distinctions help us unpack the implications that cultural diversity can have for cross-cultural collaboration, especially between academics involved in researching, planning, studying and teaching together. They also provide us with a more nuanced way of considering ‘cross-cultural competence’, which often tends to be limited to the kinds of attitudes, values and skills that are required when people from different national cultures interact. The second part of the paper connects the theoretical reflections about ‘culture’ with ‘critical incidents’ that arose in the course of a three-day CROSSLIFE curriculum planning workshop held in Malta in March 2007, which brought together ten project members from four different countries4. These ‘incidents’ were ‘critical’ in the sense that, for individual workshop participants, they represented...
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