Ethics in light of cultural differences

Ethics in light of cultural differences


I’m here in Sydney right now. Beautiful city. 20 million in the whole of Australia and 4 million of them live in this one city.

I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Catherine McLoughlin, who is interested in exploring more regarding cultural differences in approaches and attitudes towards ethical issues in academia such as plagiarism and cheating. What are the different ways in which people are predisposed to think about these issues? How do these cultural influences affect the behaviors of students from different countries? Which ethical behaviors might be considered universally unethical (even though people do them from different countries, they are still inexcusable), and which might be relative depending on where you are coming from (there are valid differences where people think they are acting in an ethical way, even if it does not appear that way to an outsider)? How can people administering academic courses cross-culturally address academic integrity in the best ways possible?

Does anyone know of any existing resources or research which might address some of these questions?

Importance of Subcultures and Choice in Distinguishing Individual Uniqueness

Importance of Subcultures and Choice in Distinguishing Individual Uniqueness

Light Bulb

There is an incredible amount of variety even with a culture or within a family. As opposed to those who are deterministic (i.e. a belief that culture “makes” people do certain actions), I believe humans are unique because of our power to reinterpret and transcend our past (i.e. a belief that “culture” invites certain actions to be more or less likely) – especially as we come to understand what is hidden and have a more clear vision for what we would like in the future. A very interesting new book by Arden Dean, “Power Surge”, vividly describes the innovative power of individuals to create and transcend the status quo (see

So how does this fit into the study of culture and its impact on learning/instructional design? First, it is important to recognize and account for the complexity and agency of each human. I like this little section from an upcoming book I am helping co-author that gives a taste for how choice and different associations within a culture contribute to each of our uniqueness.
“No matter how culturally isolated a person’s life may appear,” the educational anthropologist Frederick Erickson has written, “in large-scale modern societies (and even in small-scale traditional societies) each member carries a considerable amount of that society’s cultural diversity inside” (p. 33).
From the field of Multicultural Counseling, Arredondo et al. (1996) have provided a highly useful way of categorizing some of the major subcultural identities that, together, make up the patchwork a person’s cultural identity. Some of these differences are matters of birth, some of choice, and some seem to fall somewhere between the “givens” of one’s birth and the exercise of one’s agency. Arredondo et al. suggest three major “dimensions” of subcultures:
“A” Dimensions: age, culture, gender, language, physical challenge, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class.
“B” Dimensions: geographic location, income, marital status, religion, work experience, citizenship status, military experience, hobbies/recreational interests.
“C” Dimensions: shared historical moments that members of a generation have lived through, characteristics and preferences of that generational cohort.
There are other ways of categorizing subcultural diversity. The general point is simply that, as Arredondo et al. insist, we must always be aware of “the complexity and holism of individuals,” and that “despite the categories we may all fit into or that are assigned to us, the combination of these affiliations is what makes everyone unique” (p. 54).

AEA – Portland Oregon

I am in Portland right now – presenting at the American Evaluation Association conference. It is interesting because there is a distinct and growing interest here in how cultural issues impact the field of evaluation. The growing interest hasn’t unfortunately translated into any kind of a comprehensive strategy for integrating cultural responsiveness into practice, but it has been nice to meet others who are working on the issue.

I presented with Dr. David Williams on this topic. A summary of our paper is as follows:

Cross-cultural Instructional Design for Online Teaching:
Implications for Evaluation

Paper presented at AEA, November 2006

A growing literature (Russon & Russon, 2004; Thompson-Robinson, Hopson, & SenGupta, 2004; and Wiesner, 1997) argues that culturally sensitive evaluation is essential in many contexts, including evaluation of online instructional design (Rogers, 2006). However, knowing how to evaluate and design sensitively is hampered by lack of information about challenges instructional designers/evaluators encounter.
This study, based on a dissertation (Rogers, 2006) that explores the experiences of twelve designers who have developed online instruction in cross-cultural contexts in over 80 countries, explores some ways evaluation could be used to enhance culturally sensitive evaluation and instructional design. Participants were interviewed using triangulation, negative case analysis, member checking, thick description, and an audit trail to enhance credibility, transferability, and dependability.


Interviewees noted three barriers to their ability to be responsive to cultural differences: (a) an over-focus on content development, (b) a relative lack of evaluation in real-world practice, and (c) the less than ideal roles instructional designer/evaluators assume in their organizational structures.

Building Evaluation Into Design:

These case studies clarify how increased sensitivity to cultural differences through evaluation could improve cultural practices of instructional designers, particularly by making evaluation integral to design by building several kinds of evaluation into the instructional design process. This presentation illustrates this view through use of Stufflebeam’s Context, Input, Process, Product evaluation model (2000), though many others might also be considered.


This study concludes that additional efforts are needed to educate and commit more stakeholders to engage in learner analysis and evaluation which will culturally sensitize them. Also additional instructional design models need to be identified and used that make evaluation and learner feedback more integral parts of the entire instructional design process from context or needs analysis, through input or alternative solution identification, to implementation and formative process evaluation to evaluation of the impact of the entire design effort. This is especially true for instructional design involving online learning because the normal means of adjusting to learner and cultural differences through face-to-face interactions are hampered by the medium.