Crowd Wise 5b: My culture, your culture, our culture

People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what – and who – we are not. 

We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.   Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where people are becoming more and more closely interconnected.  
Kofi Annan

Cultural differences have been noted in groups of monkeys which live in different regions so it's hardly surprising to note culture becoming an issue within e-communities.

Some of this might have something to do with rules set or not set right from the outset, sometimes it has a lot to do with recognition and egoboo, sometimes it is made up of professional  partnerships and other times competition and jealousies.    Sometimes it springs directly out of the leader's own approach to leadership and his reasons for creating the group in the first place.

What happens when the tribes' needs change?    What does a community do when it realizes it has leaders who are autocratic  or it begins to suspect that shady politics, raw ego or financial gain may be in the background of every message sent?   

What can a community do when its leader feeds off its members by asking for more and more and never really giving back?  How does it butt in and interrupt, asking for a new tone?

Why are some e-groups nothing more than deserted ghost-towns, others a warm safe nest and still others warring battlefields made up of various splintered tribes?  

When working with a global group of human individuals, be it with teachers or students, can culture online ever be agreed upon and defined?


This posting is part of a series, Crowd Wise, and is, in part, preparation for the swap-shop on web based communities at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, April 8th, 2010.  Your answers, as brief or as in-depth as you'd like to be, is very much appreciated!  To subscribe to all the posts within this specific series, copy and paste this url:  into your reader.  

Note: if you would like to participate in this conversation anonymously, please do feel free to do so.  Alternatively, if you would like to specifically mention an online educational community when making reference to your experiences, adding your group's name and/or its URL, you are most welcome to!

10 Responses to “Crowd Wise 5b: My culture, your culture, our culture”

  • darren says:
    March 10, 2010

    Are you refering to any particular 'leader' here, Karenne? Or am I just reading too much into the current community fascination with a certain topic?

    March 10, 2010

    No! And I'm so glad you asked... all of these posts (the crowd-wise series) were drafted out over Christmas and this was supposed to go out after "threats" but due to a different post I had to postpone that one because it has even more that will be seen as potentially referring to 'that' particular group and what goes on there.

    But what happened there and what that group's leader did is actually quite common - am following textbooks on community practice - and really am crowd-sourcing for other people's opinions in an "online swap-shop" prior to the real-life swap-shop at Harrogate.


  • Jason Renshaw says:
    March 10, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    These are very interesting points, and highly relevant in a time of burgeoning e-community growth.

    However, and please do forgive me if this makes me sound ignorant, I would understand the examples you give here a whole lot better if they were connected to actual examples of practice. Where exactly did you get these impressions of what happens in e-communities?

    Honestly curious!

    :) Jason

    March 10, 2010

    I belong to about 50 e-communities and perform different roles in all of them, mostly I tend to be a lurker but in others I'm a boundary member and run 3.

    The situations, however, that I am referring to above are textbook based - some draw similarities to what I myself have seen across linkedin, xing, facebook, ning, yahoo!, twitter but in this case I am especially interested in knowing what else other people have observed rather than give examples from "Karenne's" experience.

    You run a large community, Jason, I remember and if I'm right you are based in Australia but your community is mostly Asian - correct me if I'm wrong - what sort of cultural differences and similarities have you noted?

  • Andy says:
    March 10, 2010

    I've honestly never experienced these "leader" problems in any online communities I've been a part of. In most cases in my experience there really is no clear leader (though there may be a team of moderators or whatever, but they tend to stay in the background and devote most of their time to weeding out spam).

    The most common clashes in my experience come between older long established members of the community and newer people. New people can perceive the long term as being cliquey because they have shared experience, common jokes, reference points etc, while the longer established can sometimes see the newcomers as diluting or diverting the group's direction/focus.

    Have had a lot of online community experience and none of the leader based examples you give ring any bells. In fact the only ones that do are the ghost town and the warring battlefield of splintered tribes (I also have positive experiences too :-))

  • says:
    March 10, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    Have you ever experienced a feeling along the lines of the following:

    You put a bell in your back yard, with the early aim of growing it and making it into something impressive and vibrant. It doesn't make the noise you were hoping for, so you turn away and keep busy with other, more immediate priorities. You don't completely forget there is something in your back yard, but you more or less forget it's called a bell...

    Then, suddenly, you hear someone make some comments about bells. "What do you mean?" you ask. "Can you give me some examples of bells so I can get the gist of what you're talking about?"

    The person smiles at you patiently, wanders into your back yard and gives the bell a quick ring...

    and the bell lets off a clamour that makes you jump almost clean out of your skin!

    That's what your comment and question just did to me, Karenne! My e-community is a very interesting beast, and you've given me some very fresh fodder for a new and interesting blog post.

    Thank you so muchly! I'll be linking back here and shall give you an update!


    ~ Jason

    March 10, 2010

    :) Jason, glad to have helped, do let me/us know when the post is up + perhaps copy and paste some of the core phrases in here with a link to your post - I don't mind :).

    Andy, yes for the most part leaders are never really the issues especially when they perform the role of the "servant leader" - the issues I mention above were on my list iz all. I have seen one or two of these directly though but again, not about me, and am glad you shared that you haven't.

    I think that you have pointed to a very critical issue, the old-standing community versus the newbies and in two real-life communities I belong to have seen the conflict which that can cause!

    In online life I've noted it too but online groups generally tend to have a constant stream of entrants and departees.

    Still I do hear, from lurkers in online communities, that they lurk because they are worried about offending the 'perceived' clique!

    Thanks so much for sharing!


  • rliberni says:
    March 11, 2010

    Hi Karenne,
    very interesting post. I'm still at the 'ghost town' stage with my community - I'm sure that it's my fault maybe I expact too much too soon!
    I am surprised by some of this I had an idea that communities made up of global participants would be a utopia and I haven't experienced anything like this directly.
    I suppose at the end of the day human nature is human nature!
    Looking forward to more insights.

    March 11, 2010

    Hi Berni,

    You're probably still waiting for critical mass to occur, it's a really interesting shift when it does but it will.

    I still have to put my finger on the point - some groups wait to around 100, others can take off with 30 - but definitely there is a turning point when suddenly "all hands are on deck" and very importantly it's quite different working with students than with teachers so do hang in there and keep plugging away, put up tasks and challenges and keep communicating with them and frequently.

    Actually that's the key, I think, although many people look at sites like Wikipedia or YouTube and think that they were overnight successes... yes, they were but what they don't seem to see is the sheer amount of hours that went into creating that by

    a) the leaders
    b) the first to "buy-into" the concept

    And umm... Utopia... hmm... no, Berni, unfortunately that is a fairy tale which doesn't exist.

    People are simply people for all their good and their bad and I think, as you're a group leader I should say to you honestly that you have to be very aware that people will be people. The threats post will help clarify some of the things to watch out, will post that up CROSS FINGERS (something keeps happening to stop it from going up it's now 3 weeks late)

    But the first time I had to fulfill the "DOS" role in one of my e-communties, i.e. take care of a teacher whom one could consider as being horrifically and publicly attacked by another e-member, it truly shocked me to the very core. Both of them are nice people and the misunderstanding was, at first glance, so silly. But I didn't sleep a wink that night and even, oops, I have to say this online, cried (but only a little).

    My initial thoughts before realizing the seriousness of the issue was "why on earth don't people just like each other and be tolerant of each others differences, why can't "x" sympathize with "y" and not just go for his jugglar" in the end the situation smoothed out but I learned very valuable lessons during the process and made the rules of our community clearer.

    Also, for some time I took the whole thing personally and questioned my leadership abilities.

    BUT... then I started noticing action throughout other e-groups and remember getting emails from one in particular (with over 10,000 members) calling out for mutual respect and zero tolerance for flaming...

    And I realized for myself how shirty and uppidity and damming I could get when I felt like it - the power of the written word to transmit tone and meaning can sometimes be fiercer than face2face, rightly or wrongly when assuming that I had been criticized publicly...

    And then I saw the level of spammers rising across so many groups - even the pseudo spam begging for some action or another, time vampires by people who don't give any of their own time away - and also saw how so few controlled entry, letting in "pirates" (content thieves) - and then I did it - I let someone in to one of my communities who was only there to take things away from the community not give or share with it and oh lord.... sorry, this is getting quite long!

    Needless to say that over three years of participating in e-communities I am beginning to see how real life they are, like planet bubbles and it's absolutely FASCINATING!!!

    Especially because on the flip side as I also mentioned above there are so many e-communities which are wonderful and warm and safe, sharing and collaborative.

    I suppose that's why I did a special posting about their leaders - it takes work to keep the world beautiful :-)


  • Tara Benwell says:
    March 12, 2010

    We definitely have cultural clashes in our e-community, but as leaders we try to stay out of it unless it is reported as abusive. The chat room is one of the worst places for it. My very favourite part of the community is the cultural diversity of it. For example, when an English learner takes the time to post a blog about a holiday or tradition I always feature it, which helps others stumble upon it and comment. It's my way of traveling these days. Members take on voluntary leadership roles for now, but we're working on developing a more systematic operation as we grow (and are forced to deal with more spam).


Visitors and Regular Readers


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed

Communities of Practice

Blog Archive

Directories, catalogs and Back Links

Adult Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

The EFL ESL Blog List - ESL/EFL/TEFL Teaching Jobs and Teacher Resumes

International Blogging Directory

Recent Posts

Simply Conversations

Pedagogically sound materials designed to get your students actively talking:

Free Samples
Conversation Control

General English
Business English

Learn more on why these work