Additionally, a trainer also has to be capable of teaching international learners. Every trainer has to establish a connection, or preferably a relationship, with his learners to have a sustainable effect on them. This also applies for an online group with international learners. To establish a functional intercultural online environment, the online tutor has to consider the cultural backgrounds of the learners. When conceptualizing the online course, the communication and interaction requirements have to be acceptable for any culture. Also, the syllabus has to clearly state what kind of communication will be required by the learners, which kind of communication is acceptable and which is not. As part of the online course, there has to be room for the learners to introduce their cultures. The learners have to have the opportunity to interact with each other, discussing cultural differences and constraints to get them solved before the course starts working on content. This also gives the learners the chance to communicate their expectations towards the course, not only to the online tutor but also to each other. Additionally, the online tutor can include any intercultural topics that occur and implement them into the course.
The basic understanding of intercultural competence has already been discussed in TM2 Units 1 and 2. There, we agreed on the following definition of culture:
“…shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, and interpretations or meanings of significant events that result from common experiences of members of collectives that are transmitted across generations”.
Before engaging with any other culture, it is imperative to know one’s own culture. This also applies for trainers who want to teach online.
The cultural background will most definitely influence the trainer when designing the online course and also when working with it and the learners. It is inevitable that cultural influences will present themselves throughout the course to the learners. Hence, the trainer has to prepare for these occasions by reflecting on one’s own culture. When knowing about specific cultural aspects, which might come up during the course, it is best to address them directly and get resulting issues solved right away.
Also, to anticipate such effect of one’s own culture, the learners should be introduced into the trainer’s culture. By presenting the common aspects and by adding some relevant aspects, the learners will get a first grasp on this subject.
Constraints and stereotypes
Once the online tutor feels comfortable with his own culture, personal constraints and stereotypes towards other cultures have to be identified (Lee, 2005). Working with international learners will require open and objective communication. To fulfil those aspects, personal prior opinions of other cultures have to be validated or disregarded if proven false. Implementing opinions on other cultures based on personal, subjective experiences or reports of other people, will provide a weak foundation for intercultural communication and enhance misunderstandings as well as social difficulties.
This specific reflection will allow the trainer to communicate with the learners open-minded whilst providing an inviting course setting for any international learner who wants to participate in that online course. Simultaneously, this process will anticipate the establishment of stereotypes. Each learner and the online tutor will have individual stereotypes towards other cultures. Those have to be addressed and solved before working on content.
To work smoothly, the trainer has to set clear standards for an internationally mixed group. This does not only apply to communication, but also to behaviour and general interaction with each other. An ethical code has to be introduced which learners have to accept and follow. Having such an agreement before working on the content will allow the learners to settle in, since they are now aware of the framework regulations concerning their behaviour within the course (MacPherson, 2010).
These standards have to be repetitively re-implemented into the course to prevent learners of forgetting them.
As previously mentioned in Unit 2 “Communication”, learners should have room for free and flexible interaction with each other. Taking the topic “culture” will most likely serve as a solid first content to work, regardless of the main subject of the online course.
Presenting one’s own culture and learning about the other cultures represented in the online course, will give the learners a first chance to interact with each other. The online tutor should provide a general structure of what the learners have to present. Also, the first questions to activate the learners have to be prepared by the trainer. Once the discussion is rolling, the online tutor can function as a moderator to keep the momentum going, but also to guarantee that the interaction between the learners stays within the previously agreed upon communication and behavioural standards.
The results of those interactions and discussions should be summarized and made available for the learners to constantly review them. This entire process will generate a solid foundation for the online course itself.
Foreign educational institutions
In case the course takes place between specific partner institutions, the online tutor should get in touch with those foreign institutions and inquire their teaching standards for consideration. This will allow the online tutor to include the institutional guidelines of all participating institutions as well as the cultural differing regulations (Darabi et al., 2006). Once those elements have been implemented into the course design, affected international learners will feel more comfortable with the online course.
Intercultural competence in online tutoring is mandatory skill for the teacher and trainer. Since international learners will participate within the course, a well-developed intercultural competence has to be developed.
First of all, the online tutor needs to be aware of his own culture in detail. International learners will experience the trainer’s culture different than he himself. These effects have to be known by the trainer. Once this is accomplished, the teacher has to become aware of personal constraints and stereotypes towards other cultures and either validate them or prove them false. This will then give a good foundation to set communication and behaviour standards for the online course. These pre-defined standards can then be discussed with the learners and changed accordingly, if necessary.
The agreed upon standards will provide the learners with comfort and orientation, which will then ease the process of actively participating within the course.
To get the interaction within the course going, picking the topic “culture” as the first task, will give the learners the chance to present their own culture and also learn about the other represented culture. Completing this procedure will already establish a foundation for the community that has to be developed.