I love acronyms…
This is yet another one of my early-morning 5am concoctions…

Democratization Of Internet and Technology-based Worldwide Education, Learning and Literacy a.k.a. DO IT WELL

This blog was triggered by an experience I had yesterday. No, it was not entirely “new”, as I have experienced similar discomfort in my life, many times. When one has a last name that resembles certain ethnic-racial-religious individuals, who are world renowned for acts-of-crime-against-humanity, it is inevitable that one would face all sorts of difficult situations in life.

I recall my first encounter with such situations. It was 1990. A certain country was being invaded by a certain individual, whose last name happened to rhyme with my last name. Needless to say, I experienced the same immature and unfair verbal hazing “game” that I remember enduring way back in elementary school – the type of teasing you get when kids make fun of your name. Only at that point, in 1990, I was not in elementary school, the people who chastised me were not kids, and the topic was not funny.

Yes, I know, everyone gets teased about stuff like that. And we all learn to shrug these things off, and eventually laugh about it, 40+ years down the road.

Or do we?

There was a period of my career as an educator when I was traveling extensively to various countries, including underdeveloped and less-than-stable regions of the world. My passport was quite colorful, filled with entry and exit stamps from all sorts of places, containing records of my movements in all forms of languages. At the time, I thought that was cool – having such a passport. Unfortunately, I learned later, that such records worked against me, as it made it hard for me to gain access to some other countries – those that have beef with certain other countries.

This was my second wake up call. Prejudice goes beyond a namesake. I learned that even governments play the same elementary school “game”.

Then yesterday, I woke up to a message that I received in my email. It was one of those automated G+ notifications that you receive when someone +’s your name into a post. FYI, ever since I began my G+ “binge learning” experiment 8 weeks ago, I have had a steady flow of incoming push-notifications. Although I had already begun to learn how to not let the barrage of incoming email overwhelm me, this particular incoming notification was one that I was not prepared for.

It was a post from an acquaintance (or should I say online-colleague) whom I had read about in one of the many MOOCs that I had participated in the past 9 months. The content was heartfelt, sincere, and full of enthusiasm. My initial reaction was – Wow! Good for this person. What enthusiasm and sincerity this person has for lifelong-learning and self-development. I admired the passion and innocence of the post.

Then, minutes later, I received a follow up email. Someone had reacted to that initial post, and since I was on the list, I had I received a push-notification. An hour later, I received another response-post, and through the day, I saw quite a number of subsequent follow-up messages, circulating in cyberspace. Unfortunately, since I had set my email to auto-receive push-notifications, my poor work-email inbox was inundated with an avalanche that day. This would have been fine if all the posts were “appropriate”, but unfortunately, one of the push-notification emails happened to pop up on my computer screen, right at a time when I was giving a demo at work. Needless to say, it was quite uncomfortable.

You see, the “innocent” post included certain cultural religious content. Based on the language structure and message, I was able to immediately see that English Language and contextual understanding were barriers in this situation. The person posting was from another culture and totally unfamiliar with the “social norms” that dictate what (we in) the Western “developed” world consider to be academically “appropriate”. Having had extensive experience traveling to many regions of similar cultures, I knew that the “innocent” post was truly “innocent”. But I also knew that great damage and potential problems could occur if such “innocent” posts were seen out of context and/or misconstrued.

THIS is the crux of my blog today.

I know… tl:dr… too long, didn’t read.

But for those of you readers who have made it down to this point…

the point that I am trying to make here is…

I realize today, that leveling the playing field in education will take MORE than just pedagogical strategies and instructional design innovation. MOOCs, OERs, social networks, or any other online methods… NONE of this will be successful, unless we find a way to calibrate and bridge the cultural-syntax divide. Great wars have erupted from similar misconceptions. Language and literacy goes BEYOND just communicating an idea. It is amazing, incredible, and dangerous that simple things such as a person’s name, or a cultural greeting, can incite so much prejudice, or be misconstrued as a representation of opposing beliefs.

In conclusion, in my quest to “binge-learn” and “discovery learn” in this new Connectivist (Siemens, 2008) culture, I truly am now truly curious to see how this will all pan out…

and… I sincerely hope that we will DO IT WELL


5 thoughts on “DO IT WELL

  1. Roz, I noticed that on my first MOOC when a person from another culture and whom English was not their native language.left a rather abrasive comment about one of my projects not to take it seriously. Having learned years ago from my dutch friend living in the US, but married to someone from a non-Western culture that though her “book” English was near perfect, American and English humor went straight by her without comprehension. ( Several years of watching American TV has cured most of that.) Back to my mOOC experience, I started to make a comment about cultural specificity about language but did not.I sensed the person was also young and most likely would had over reacted

    But culture can be very nuanced as in the English MOOC I am taking in Open Ed, I realize how different the English system of ed is from the American system and sometimes feel like I need a dictionary-:).

    • Deborah,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I think your story resonates with many of us… I know it does to me, on a daily basis! I am by no means a G+ expert, as I consider myself a recent un-virgin, however, after a mere 9 weeks of heavy immersion, I realize that I now have a small following, including people who are not native English speakers.

      English is my first language, as I grew up in London. I later became bilingual and pseudo-trilingual through my secondary and undergrad years. So, my ability to ignore language syntax differences is quite natural. Even so, I still do cringe when I see situations which you described in your post. I use the word “cringe” NOT because I am offended, but because I feel sad for the person who is unaware of the negative perception that he/she would receive due to the cultural/language differences.

      I like the thought of a “dictionary” as you have mentioned. My question would be… can some form of “intelligent” dictionary app be developed for cultural-translations of online blogs?

  2. Roz, I really like this blog post and it highlights an area that perhaps does not get enough focus. As we all know, technology is shrinking the world in an incredible way. I interact daily with people in other countries at work and via social media. Many are not native English speakers and even if they are – well I have worked with Americans long enough to know that vocabulary and communication style can be very different. Someone who is going to be successful in this environment will have to be hugely sensitive to their own and others’ forms of communication. Daniel

    • Daniel,

      Thank you for your positive feedback and insightful sharing.

      As a child – all through elementary and high school – I did not appreciate my multicultural and multinational exposure, but today, four decades+ later, I have finally come to terms with the many abuses and prejudices I faced all these years. Having grown up in London, Malaysia, New York and now living in Nebraska, I see a pattern. People are all the same. Ignorance is everywhere. Doesn’t matter what country.

      What matters are the few outliers who care to open their eyes and hearts, because these are the people who will pave the way for others to also open their vision and understanding.


  3. copy-pasted response from

    Patrick H Post 8 (unread) in reply to 2
    22 Apr 2013, 16:14

    Thanks Roz,

    Agreed that ‘literacy’ must include other forms of communication/comprehension.

    I drafted a list of literacies myself before reading your post – within it I had flagged ‘online etiquette’ and ‘the management of online identity’ – which maybe have some overlap with the cross-cultural issues you have written about.


    Roz Hussin Post 13 in reply to 8
    28 Apr 2013, 15:53


    Apologies for the delayed reply. I forgot to click NOTIFY, so I wasn’t aware of your feedback. Thanks for the info. BTW, are you the same Patrick that I sometimes see in my G+ space? Maybe not. Just wondering, since you talked about “online etiquette”. If you are a G+ user, would love to continue dialog on that issue beyond H817.


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