N. Kovalainen1, L. Bethell2

1Laurea University of Applied Sciences (FINLAND)
This article introduces research focusing on dimensions of intercultural communication competence in a virtual learning environment. An ethnographic action research approach was used to study a course that was a pilot shared between three Finnish universities of applied sciences (FUAS) and taught by two teachers during spring 2012. The course, “Intercultural Communication Today” emphasized pair and team work, intercultural learning in action. The research method used, ethnographic action research (EAR), emphasizes the researcher’s role both as a participant and an observer. Preliminary results indicate the emergence of three intersecting components of intercultural communication: Skills, attitudinal orientation and cognitive dimension that will be elaborated in the article.

This paper is based on empiria gathered from learning diaries, forums, videos form the virtual course. By investigating the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of individuals of foreign origin and their Finnish peers participating ion the course, we aim to understand the existing capabilities as well as the capabilities needed for different agents to cooperate and work side by side in environments that are becoming even more transnational and multicultural. Currently developing virtual courses as well as virtual communication in the future is seen vital in the quickly changing arena of higher education.

Intercultural communication has been traditionally taught alongside language courses, and understandably stress has been placed on linguistic skills or national cultures. Changes in higher education as well as rapidly evolving virtual learning environments have brought on welcome changes to course selections. Higher education institutes and global, transnational work life networks have created a real need for intercultural communication competence where using a foreign language is essential for successful communication. In higher education institutes courses are often organized virtually in a transnational environment that will have an effect on the communication process. It is interesting to see how a common language is selected and used and on what basis. What are the communication skills needed in a virtual learning environment?

This article introduces the concepts of ethnographic action research and intercultural communication as well as its competences. The issues that arise in a virtual learning environment are then addressed. At the end of the paper conclusions and some suggestions for further development are being made.