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  4. Interpreting Cultural Differences Challenge of Intercultural Communication

Although none of the actors discussed here explicitly refers to intercultural , they clearly imply the necessity of such knowledge and skills through references to the multidisciplinary, international, dynamic, and global nature of the engineering setting. However, engineering schools with their predominance of men from similar backgrounds Ouimet, may not provide an ideal setting for developing such competence. This awareness has prompted engineering educators to develop, implement, and report on a variety of educational interventions. The current study provides a critical analysis of the linguistic descriptions of such interventions, arguing that change is needed in engineering education.

It was conducted by an interdisciplinary team involving researchers with disciplinary backgrounds in engineering, intercultural communication, and applied linguistics from universities in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, and Japan; this combination of skills and perspectives allows us to examine how culture is operationalized in engineering education and to discuss possible reasons for and implications of the findings.

We argue that although these are crucial issues for 21st century engineering because the ability to successfully navigate and leverage intercultural situations can facilitate successful outcomes in the real world, many current educational approaches do not develop such abilities. We demonstrate the value of explicit theoretical awareness when considering pedagogical approaches and that the operationalization of different theories of culture has practical, valuative, and even normative outcomes.

It is the first study of its kind in engineering education and perhaps beyond to critically examine the teaching of intercultural communication across a representative range of studies and, to our knowledge, also the first to explicitly argue for a change of approach in engineering education.

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The first approach frames culture as a given, the second as a construct. Indeed, the Global Engineering Excellence Initiative quotation discussed at the beginning of this paper is framed in such terms: the nation is seen as the fundamental cultural category, and culture is perceived in terms of differences from other national cultures.

This approach has been influenced by Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov , who since the s have used primarily quantitative methods to define dimensions of national cultures e. Their writing has gained wide support and has inspired intercultural education to this day, especially in organizational theory and business publications e.

Therefore, Holliday , and others have referred to this approach as essentialist in nature. Further, by categorizing individuals using a single, usually national, identity, this approach has been criticized for being reductionist, in that it conveniently ignores multiple other identities that people typically have.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Critics have additionally targeted the usefulness of this approach, arguing that what is statistically significant at the level of the group may be of little guidance when it comes to interaction between individuals. It simply cannot be posited a priori that a person will possess certain beliefs, uphold certain values, or act in certain ways because of the group they are assumed to represent.

Rather than framing cultures as distinct entities that define, let alone determine, behavior, the second approach toward intercultural education considers culture as a process in which meaning is jointly constructed Dervin, Consequently, it makes little sense to try and define the cultural dimensions of one or another prearranged group.

Researchers working within this paradigm, therefore, need to be mindful of the particularities of each situation with an eye for what connects and separates people in a given encounter as well as the individual's ability to shift between different cultural identities. In this paper, we examine how the teaching of intercultural communication is approached in engineering education, discuss the reasons for and the implications of the predominant approach, and recommend an alternative one. The wider significance for the development of intercultural communication in engineering education is further explored in Section 4 , where we discuss the possible reasons for the conceptualization of culture that is favored in engineering education and the implications of this tendency, followed by recommendations that can be offered to engineering educators on the basis of our findings.

This methodology section comprises the data collection, focusing on a description of how the papers were selected followed by the data analysis, which includes a description of CADA, the close reading, and the analysis of representative papers. An initial search using the SCImago Journal and Country Rank for journals in the fields of engineering education and intercultural studies yielded 61 journal titles, from which we selected the 12 most established general journals based on their impact, particularly in the domain of education.

Intercultural journals were also considered because they have published several important studies in engineering education. All papers were manually scanned for the extent to which they address intercultural learning in engineering education, resulting in a final set of 31 papers, distributed as seen in Table 1.


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Nevertheless, all appeared in leading international journals. By explicitly focusing on the language used in these papers, we can interpret underlying discourses of culture in other words, ways of constructing culture as a concept through language and ways that intercultural is framed in the discourse. This interpretation was achieved through CADA, as described below. This approach employs statistical measures to identify important linguistic items, which are then interpreted using longer extracts of text.

It has been applied in a range of fields, including media discourse e.

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The advantage of this methodology is that it allows for a reduction in the potential research bias typically associated with qualitative approaches in the analysis of texts, while enabling a contextual appreciation that a purely quantitative study would not permit. However, despite the demonstrable advantages and epistemological attractiveness of this approach, to our knowledge, CADA has not been employed in engineering education contexts.

Furthermore, the methodology used here is novel, as it combines CADA methods with two further steps: an initial close reading of each article, followed by a discussion of two representative articles.

Intercultural Communication

The combination of CADA with this close reading and discussion of two representative papers has the potential to create a degree of redundancy. Such patterns are, of course, linguistic, for example frequent and typical words, and suggestive of shared approaches to the same issue.

But they can also imply contextual patterns, reflecting the stance of writers toward a particular item and the concepts it invokes, again across a range of texts. Such evaluative stances may also operate at a less than conscious level in the producers of texts themselves Sinclair, It is for these reasons that we argue the combination of these steps is worthwhile.

While our primary intention was to ascertain the degree of essentialism in the reviewed studies, this review was also informed by an assessment of the degree to which essentialism is explicitly articulated in each paper. The discussion of representative papers involved choosing two articles that, rather than representing what is typical across the corpus which CADA shows , examine articles which are representative of the two positions discussed here in terms of linguistic patterns and argumentation. The software used to produce the quantitative results was Sketch Engine Kilgarriff et al.

Keywords in Sketch Engine are produced by dividing the normalized per million frequency of each word in the target corpus JAICEE with the normalized frequency of the same word in a much larger reference corpus, thus allowing for the identification of typical words keywords in the former Kilgarriff et al. Unlike pure frequency lists of single words that consistently show how functional items such as articles and prepositions are the most frequent in language, keyword lists are considerably more interesting as they highlight the characteristic and important language of the context in question Baker, The reference corpus used here is the written part of the Open American National Corpus, chosen because it is a large collection 11,, words comprising a range of text types, thus providing a suitable base line for comparison.

As there are inevitably hundreds of keywords in this study, more than 1, , only those considered most relevant will be discussed, specifically cognates of the keyword culture and the keyword diversity. As corpus tools cannot recognize different spelling conventions, all U. This section begins with CADA, providing empirical evidence of the typical linguistic patterns in the corpus of articles and the conceptualization of culture they invoke. It is then followed by the findings of a close reading of all the articles and a discussion of the two representative ones.

While the general topic discussed here is approaches to intercultural communication in engineering education, we demonstrate that it is through the analysis of culture and related terms that the topic can be best understood. Our selected keywords are both salient and typical. While further analysis of other items would be possible, such as the frequent phrases intercultural communication or beliefs and assumptions , these four items were chosen here because they most elegantly and succinctly demonstrate the typical patterns in the corpus. Table 2 shows the normalized per million words frequency in JAICEE and in the reference corpus for each item analyzed, showing, for instance, that cultural occurs 31 times as frequently in the former, while diversity occurs more than 9 times as frequently.

This section examines these items and their collocates to provide insights about their meaning and use. This examination involves the explicit and implicit analysis of concordance lines: explicit in the presentation of data e. Using Sketch Engine, the grammatical and lexical profile of cultural can be constructed.

Other nouns it frequently modifies include background 34 , awareness 17 , and competence One of the most frequent collocates in the modifying position is disposition , but a close analysis reveals that all of the collocations cultural disposition occur in only one article. Similarly, norm collocates 25 times with cultural , but 20 of these are in the same article.

In contrast, cultural difference s occurs across 18 articles. The concern here is that by making cultural difference the key explanatory factor in intercultural engineering education, the complexity of culture is glossed over, and learners are directed toward first finding and then attributing meaning to difference, above all other aspects. This point is discussed later in this paper. The high frequency of cultural and its most frequent collocational phrases such as cultural difference s means it is deserving of further textual analysis of concordance lines to allow for drawing inferences on the role it plays in the context of these articles and the educational approaches it represents.

A syntactic analysis can also shed light on the way cultural difference is framed in the discourse. The most frequent collocate of cultural as a modified adjective is different , drawing a clear parallel with cultural in its modifier position.

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Table 4 shows randomly selected illustrative concordances from the JAICEE illustrating the cotext of these collocations. An analysis of the complete 21 concordances of different cultural shows that the most frequent pattern is:. Using Sketch Engine to build a linguistic portrait of culture as it is used in the corpus, we find that Its two most frequent collocates are different 59 and other 52 ; also, own occurs 10 times.

Several of its most frequent collocates are concerned with the national level, such as nationality 9 , country 8 , foreign 6 , Brazilian 3 , American 3 , and French 3.


It forms a loosely connected category comprising two strands, one featuring items such as engineerin g 20 , disciplinary 5 , and professional 3 , the other organizational 5 , and institutional 3. It is most frequently found in a modifier position, for example, engineering culture The most frequent cultural category that modifies culture is the national; to a lesser extent, culture is also framed at the institutional level.

Grammatically, many of these collocates are attributive adjectives, for example, different culture or foreign culture.

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  7. The collocates of culture and cultures are not always the same, even in an intercultural education context see Zhu et al. For instance, the top two collocates of cultures are different 46 and other 42 , while own cultures does not occur.

    Interpreting Cultural Differences Challenge of Intercultural Communication

    There was no evidence of the framing of diversity within a national culture; for instance, U. Diversity was chosen here because, despite not being a cognate of culture, it may reflect a more inclusive, complex approach to the teaching of culture than is evidenced so far in our analysis of other keywords. However, once again a closer analysis of the cotext suggests a somewhat critical view of diversity. The most frequent verb collocate of diversity is increasing , which may be interpreted as having positive connotations.

    However, an analysis of the words that occur with increasing diversity shows they are neutral, or even problematic, including issues of increasing student fees and loans, the growth of student numbers, and resulting pressures such as issues of relocating. Diversity is literally something to be accommodated rather than embraced or leveraged. The most frequent noun or verb modified by diversity is issues , occurring 16 times in the corpus, although all in one article. The term issues itself has arguably negative connotations and is often synonymous with problem Handford, Looking at diversity more generally reveals a debate over the benefits of it in the classroom.

    For instance, according to LaFave, Kang, and Kaiser : The trend toward greater diversity in the engineering classroom is a welcome one, but it is also one that undoubtedly poses some challenges in implementing the engineering curriculum.