Cultural Diversity Resources

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2008 Summer Olympics Beijing by familymwr

Cultural diversity

In this topic, the rich tapestry surrounding culture is considered. This is a huge subject so the focus will be on only some of the more pertinent factors associated with tertiary education in New Zealand and further afield. Culture from this perspective concerns the learners and the teachers, and other stakeholders (e.g., industry), the organisation and how cultural differences and norms influence the intricacies of the classroom. Not only do educational organisations have a unique culture but each vocation or academic pathway offered therein, also has a specific culture into which students need to be indoctrinated. Educators need to be able to effectively manage this cultural diversity and facilitate a smooth integration for students into the classroom and the discipline, if they are to ensure that the learning environment is inclusive, equitable and fair for all participants.

It is up to you to select the areas of diversity that you wish to explore in more depth. Your choice may depend on what you believe are important aspects affecting your classroom. For example, if you know little about how to engage indigenous learners, then you may wish to find out about critical success factors for Maori and Pacific Island learners. If you have a propensity for male students in your classroom, then information about gender and equity may be an area you wish to explore - how to attract more female students and ensure that your teaching is inclusive of them.

  • What is culture?

Culture is influenced by traditions, beliefs and assumptions arising from factors associated with ethnicity and gender as well as socioeconomic, historical, religious and political systems. This diversity affects the way that people respond to a learning environment.

A good place to start is by exploring a theory concerning the dimensions of culture.

Cultural dimensions

  • Professor Geert Hofstede (a Dutch researcher) developed the theory of Cultural Dimensions. He undertook a comprehensive study of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture, and from that study he identified five dimensions that cultures can be distinguished by: Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty avoidance, Masculinity, and Long Term Orientation.
  1. Power Distance Index (PDI) - the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others'.
  2. Individualism (IDV) - versus collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.
  3. Masculinity (MAS) - versus femininity. This dimension refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society.
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) - deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to the search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations.
  5. Long-Term Orientation (LTO) - versus short-term orientation: It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'.

Indigenous learners

Indigenous people are ethnic groups who live in a geographic area with which they have the earliest known historical connection. Historically, many Indigenous groups, including Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand, have been the subject of colonial expansion. This has often resulted in territorial and cultural conflict, and the intentional or unintentional displacement and devastation of Indigenous populations (Wikipedia, 2010). In the contemporary context, Indigenous people often feature strongly in the lower echelons of society in terms of employment, socio-economic status, health status and educational attainment. As a result, it is important to consider the needs of Indigenous learners in the development, design and delivery of flexible learning programmes and courses.

Resources about Maori and Pacific Island learners

  • All the links to the video clips are on the left side of the web page. Take particular note of the video about the model of learning for Maori - Te Whare Tapa Whā.
  • Hui report - Critical Success Factors for Effective Use of e-Learning with Māori Learners.
  • Rameka, L. (2007). Mäori Approaches to Assessment.Canadian Journal of Native Education. 30 (1), p. 126 - 191. (Available on Moodle in the Cultural Diversity folder - AEL and FL courses.)
  • This is an interesting article by Lesley Rameka. Whilst the focus is on early childhood education there are many principles discussed that are of value to explore in relation to tertiary education.
  • Greenwood, J., & Lynne-Hairata, T.A. (2009). Hei tauira: summary document. Wellington, New Zealand: Ako Aotearoa. PDF
  • This is a research investigation of four tauira (programmes and exemplars) of success for Maori in tertiary education.
  • Clayton, J.F., Rata-Skudder, N., & Baral, H.P. (2004). Pasifika communities online: and implications. Paper presented at the Third Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning. PDF

International Learners

Awareness of diversity is needed to improve not only the educational outcomes for international students but also to internationalize the experiences of domestic students. To gain an understanding of the issues surrounding cultural diversity from this perspective, an exploration of the publication from the Ministry of Education is recommended.

  • This is a report in two parts: 1. a review of the literature surrounding "issues of cultural differences in the multicultural classroom"; and "guidelines for strategies that might be used for managing cultural diversity in the classroom and the institution" (p. viii).

Culture of Learning

A new culture of learning is developing out of the change to more learner-centred environments. In this new wave, "the culture emerges from the environment", rather than the environment being responsible for the culture (p. 37). Learning is integrated within a richly resourced digital information network shaped not just by the teachers and the context, but also by specific boundaries and structures, and most importantly by the students. Standardization and rigid testing is replaced by inquiry.

The culture of learning, according to Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011), occurs by active engagement in the world instead of teachers teaching about the world with students passively 'soaking up' the information. It is an emerging culture that "thrives on change" because learners are encouraged to explore and ask questions (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011, p. 37). Through using digital media they can enter other environments to source information and to play. In doing so, learners get the opportunity to think critically and to create new knowledge and understanding. Bloom's Digital Taxonomy is a helpful framework to understand how digital technologies can be used to promote Lower Order and Higher Order thinking skills when learning at seven levels.

The expectation in this new culture of learning is that the learning space can be collective as well as personal so that people learn from and with each other. So sharing and collaboration and experimentation is encouraged, in fact it is expected. When people work together in a digital information environment, diversity is essential so that a wide range of abilities is available to the group. For learning in this type of environment to be successful, particular dispositions (or characteristics) are needed. For example, openness, and a willingness to share and to make mistakes and learn from them (Hegarty et al., 2010).


  • Hegarty, B., Penman, M., Kelly, O., Jeffrey, L., Coburn, D. and McDonald, J. (2010). Digital Information Literacy: Supported Development of Capability in Tertiary Environments. Final report. Ministry of Education, Wellington. Retrieved from
  • Thomas, D. & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. California: Createspace. (Paperback, ebook, and audio versions available from Amazon.)

Designing for cultural diversity

The first challenge is to understand who the learners are in your classroom, be it an on-campus and/or blended programme or one offered by distance. Today's classrooms are generally a mix of domestic and international students, therefore, teachers need to understand not only how to incorporate biculturalism but also multiculturalism.

  • Hearns. N., Frances Devine, F., & Baum, T. (2007). The implications of contemporary cultural diversity for the hospitality curriculum. Education & Training. 49 (5), p. 350- 363. (Available on Moodle in the Cultural Diversity folder.)
  • An article exploring aspects of internationalisation in relation to developing a hospitality curriculum. Findings - The experience across business sectors, such as hospitality, emphasises the need for training that is geared to meet the needs of both international and indigenous employees and that, critically, intercultural issues represent a significant training gap. It is posited that the curriculum response is multifaceted embracing the need to address course content, learning outcomes, assessment methods and the training needs of educators.
  • Whiteford, G. (2007). The Koru unfurls: The emergence of diversity in occupational therapy thought and action. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 54(1), 21-25.
  • This article explores the issue of diversity, first from a global perspective and then within the discipline of occupational therapy. Particular foci are the emergent diversity in occupational therapy theory, research, and finally in practice developments. Two symbols, meaningful in Aotearoa (New Zealand) are used as motifs throughout: the koru, capturing the potential of diversity in occupational therapy and the wero, or challenge that the profession faces in more fully embracing diversity in the future.