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Handbook of Research on Culturally-Aware Information Technology: Perspectives and Models

Handbook of Research on Culturally-Aware Information Technology: Perspectives and Models
Author(s)/Editor(s): Emmanuel G. Blanchard (McGill University, Canada) and Danièle Allard (Sherbrooke University, Canada)
Copyright: ©2011
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-883-8
ISBN13: 9781615208838
ISBN10: 1615208836
EISBN13: 9781615208845


View Handbook of Research on Culturally-Aware Information Technology: Perspectives and Models on the publisher's website for pricing and purchasing information.


Information technology is an integral part of our daily lives, whether in professional, educational, or personal settings. It allows us to interact globally. IT researchers recognize the potential in developing systems that seek to integrate our current knowledge of cultural variations, as IT is well-positioned to support the work of those directly involved in promoting and disseminating culture.

The Handbook of Research on Culturally-Aware Information Technology: Perspectives and Models is the first publication of its kind to bring together research contributions from a wide range of IT disciplines, including human-computer interaction, information systems in business and leadership, computational modeling and cultural dynamics, semantic technology and cultural heritage, and e-learning and intelligent tutoring systems. The handbook provides researchers, professors, and students with an in-depth knowledge of the theoretical and technological research conducted in IT with relation to culture.

Table of Contents



Information technology (IT) is intrinsically linked to human beings and the use they make of it. Increasingly, computer systems must deal with culturally diverse users. Increasingly, collaborative activities using IT are made possible, sought and encouraged. Increasingly, virtual social networks are gaining in importance. Whether in professional settings, in education, or for personal use, IT is becoming an integral part of daily life, while interaction unfolds on a global basis. What fundamental issues are then at stake as IT becomes enculturated? What techniques are devised to face the challenges this raises? What systems have been proposed? What results have they shown? Conversely, the need for cultural understanding per se is increasing. How then can IT and devised systems help to better comprehend and enhance knowledge of culture? These, among others, are questions this work investigates.

Researchers in different subfields of IT recognize the importance and the great potential in developing systems that acknowledge and seek to integrate current knowledge of cultural variations and differences. They further recognize that IT is well-positioned to support the work of those directly involved in promoting culture and disseminating knowledge concerning it. Culturally-Aware Information Technology has consequently been carving a niche for itself as an emerging, ebullient, vast field of interdisciplinary research that can no longer be ignored. As such, the current Handbook is a valuable reference given that it is the first publication of its kind to bring together research contributions from a wide range of disciplines and subfields of IT, including human-computer interaction, information systems in business and leadership, computational modeling and cultural dynamics, semantic technology and cultural heritage, as well as eLearning and intelligent tutoring systems. The Handbook further demonstrates how perspectives, and consequently models being used and developed within Culturally-Aware Information Technology, vary. It should thus allow the reader to gain greater understanding as to the breadth and range of possibility of this promising field of research.

Handbook Objectives

The Handbook's four overall objectives are the following:
  1. -    To provide a theoretical presentation of culture from the vantage point of different fields of inquiry,
  2. -    To present, in a comprehensive publication, a view of the various fields of endeavor that combine culture and IT,
  3. -    To showcase major achievement in these areas
  4. -    Ultimately, to provide the reader with the possibility of acquiring in-depth knowledge of the theoretical and technological research conducted in IT in relation to culture.

Target Audience

This work is aimed at scholars integrating or wishing to integrate culture into their respective research in relation to IT and computer science. The fields of inquiry are varied, including information systems, computational models and simulation, ubiquitous systems and, more specifically, educational technology. It also addresses researchers in fields as varied as ethnology, anthropology, political science, archeology, education, or cultural heritage, among others. That is, scholars wishing to increase their knowledge not only as to how culture and IT can work together, but also to consider the possibilities IT offers to promote the understanding of culture.    

This work can serve as a valuable reference in undergraduate and graduate university courses such as information systems, user modeling, knowledge management, and educational technologies. Since this emerging field of inquiry combining culture and IT is generating great interest from researchers in various domains, it can support courses specifically designed to address these issues, and as such train future scholars.

Graduate and undergraduate students who have an interest in both culture and IT should find this Handbook helpful. In terms of research, students will find a wealth of references to cultural theory as well as to IT and its various subfields in terms of theory, models and frameworks, applications, paths of inquiry and future trends, among others. They should find inspiration to make original contributions to this burgeoning and rapidly expanding field.

Outline of the Handbook

The work in this Handbook presents theoretical approaches to culture while comprehensively portraying the various technical initiatives, techniques and practices that aim on the one hand to integrate culture to IT, and on the other to use IT to better address culture-related issues. After careful examination of the various chapters that compose this work, we have organized the material into three main sections and relevant subsections. The main sections are: Understanding Cultural Dynamics, Enculturating Information Technology, and Relevant Domains of Applications.

Section 1. Understanding Cultural Dynamics
The first section, Understanding Cultural Dynamics, features research whose main objective is to better understand the forces at work in culture, as well as their influence on IT. Part 1 examines cultural differences in the perception and use of IT whereas Part 2 focuses on computational anthropology, a field aiming at better understanding various cultural phenomena through socio-cultural simulations.

Part 1, Cultural Differences in IT Usage, opens with the work of Balduf, Balke and Eymann who examine cultural differences in managing cloud computing service level agreements, using Hofstede’s seminal work on culture to draw relevant conclusions. In the next chapter, the perspective broadens, with Merchant and Merchant discussing variables that contribute to the successful implementation of IT strategy given significant differences in the cultural and work values of those involved in their implementation. Following, Campbell, Schwier and Kanuka focus on a specific group of agents involved in IT implementation, instructional designers. They initiate and discuss, using a narrative approach, a research program to explore how instructional designers use design to make a social difference locally and globally. Stewart and Chakraborty then address the question of whether a framework for cross-cultural dimensions can be used to investigate how people use Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) systems versus Live (human) help, with a focus on Individual-Collectivism, one of the five national dimensions Hofstede has identified. This leads them to propose a set of questions that proves effective in deriving cross-cultural distinctions while providing empirical evidence for culturally determined preferences in the use of ASR systems. Finally, in Chapter 5, Mannonen breaks away from the preceding chapters, discussing the interpretations and relationships to different technologies. That is, he claims that the understanding and know-how of technologies do not appear to follow national or traditional cultural boundaries, but rather those of new groupings and emerging boundaries in relation to technological understanding. “Technology cultures,” then, become important when usability, acceptance and even utility of new technologies are considered. In researching cultural differences in IT, as in this subsection, the concept of technology cultures may eventually prove useful in further understanding the greater dynamics of culture.

Part 2 of this first section on Cultural Dynamics delves into sociocultural simulations as performed within computational anthropology. This part opens with Neumann’s discussion of methodological issues in relation to simulation technologies, demonstrating that the gap in sociological theory between interactionalist and structuralist theories can be discerned in methodological frameworks by contrasting agent-based and equation-based models in detail. The next two chapters are concerned with sociocultural simulation within specific areas of research. In Chapter 7, Beltran and his colleagues use a cellular automaton to address the question of language shifts, that lead to potential language extinction. This simulation technology proves useful in understanding the phenomena, and shows how individuals’ engagement with their language influences the process. The automaton is assessed using empirical data from a region in Spain. Santucci, De Gentili and Thury-Bouvet then analyze folktales and their transformation, simulated in light of Levi-Strauss’ theory of mythical thought. They explore the potential benefits of deploying Levi-Strauss’ structuralist analysis using computer science modeling as well as simulation concepts and tools. Their software is based on the DEVS (Discrete Event System specification) formalism. Among others, they model Corsican oral myths.

Section 2. Enculturating Information Technology

The second main section of the Handbook is Enculturating Information Technology. Here, methodologies for integrating cultural considerations into IT processes and applications are discussed. Part 1 is more specifically concerned with computational cultural frameworks or the representation of culture (whether culture in general or with regards to specific aspects). Part 2 examines the enculturation of the design process in IT, so as to improve IT usability and allow IT to better reflect, in its very design, specific characteristics of given cultural groups. Part 3 then focuses on real time cultural adaptation, in other words, research whose goal is to enhance human-machine interaction through real time, and allow for dynamic system adaptation in view of cultural factors.

Part 1, focusing on Computational Cultural Frameworks, moves from broader perspectives to more specific ones. It begins with the work of Blanchard, Mizoguchi and Lajoie, who provide results of a neutral, theory-driven, and interdisciplinary ontological analysis of the cultural domain in the form of a formal upper ontology. This conceptualization aims at providing guidelines for the development of culturally-aware applications, for the consistent computerization of cultural data and their interoperability, as well as for the development of culture-driven automatic reasoning processes. Birukou, Blanzieri and Giorgini, in the next chapter, while also presenting domain independent research, more specifically address the problem of culture transfer between or within communities using what they term the Implicit Culture Framework. With the help of this framework, they demonstrate how experiences acquired by people in communities constitute community culture. A system for web service discovery developed using the Implicit Culture Framework is also evaluated. Following, Reinecke, Schenkel and Bernstein then propose an approach to localizing user interfaces, taking into consideration the fact that different cultural backgrounds may coexist in a given country. Adaptable aspects in user interfaces are identified in addition to aspects to be included in a cultural user model. A resulting approach for implementing culturally adaptive systems is described using their MOCCA system. This sub-section closes with the work of Vossen and his colleagues who describe KYOTO, a wiki for establishing semantic interoperability for knowledge sharing across languages and cultures. This Asian-European project is concerned with a community platform for modeling knowledge and finding facts across languages and cultures. The platform operates as a Wiki system that multilingual and multi-cultural communities can use to agree on the meaning of terms in specific domains.

The second part of Section 2 focuses on the enculturation of the IT design process. In Chapter 13, Clemmensen carefully analyzes the need for cultural considerations in the enhancement of Interactive Technology Usability, eliciting cultural variations both in immediate perception and at the cognitive level. To address this cultural diversity, he presents a five-level framework, bringing research on cultural usability to a new level. The next two chapters each have a more precise focus, the first on a given form of design, the second on a specific cultural group. In Chapter 14, Kondratova and Goldfarb report on a research project conducted in a large number of countries to identify cultural preferences in visual interface design. They report on the results of their research project, focusing on findings in the use of colors. They also discuss their approach in conducting an automated and manual cultural audit to identify culture-relevant design. Chapter 15 for its part analyzes issues for Australian indigenous culture online. Kutay discusses how innovative technology and software can meet the needs of a specific sub-culture. Her work focuses on supporting Australian indigenous knowledge sharing. She shows how IT could support the preservation of traditional culture while acknowledging that systems need to be tailored according to cultural specificities in order to be efficiently endorsed.
The third part of this section on the enculturation of IT examines three projects concerned with real time cultural adaptation. Rehm begins by reviewing and discussing some of the pitfalls for enculturating interactive systems and presents strategies on how to avoid these pitfalls in relation to the standard development process of Embodied Conversational Agents. Miller and his colleagues then describe their work in developing a computational model of the famous “politeness” framework proposed by Brown and Levinson. One of the objectives of their model is to enable better and more respectful human-computer interaction. Finally, Endrass, Rehm and André provide an overview of how virtual agent systems have developed over time in terms of the integration of culture to such systems. They further show how virtual agents can promote cultural learning in a game-like environment, and introduce a system that focuses on the simulation of body language and social interaction.  

Section 3. Relevant Domains of Applications
The third main and final section of the Handbook is concerned with Relevant Domains of Application. It introduces research in various domains supporting and benefiting from the enhancement of cultural awareness in IT. More specifically, Part 1 discusses IT in relation to the preservation, accessibility and dissemination of cultural heritage. Part 2, the last section of the Handbook, bridges cultural considerations with education, featuring projects and applications whose objective is to raise awareness and teach users about culture, and discusses tutoring systems that adapt according to culturally diverse users.

The first part focuses on the management of cultural heritage. To begin, Bearman examines museums’ loss of cultural authority and the present dispersion of collected objects through museums worldwide, pointing to the difficulty, among others, for users to effectively find items of possible interest to them. He explains that in a near future, a technical infrastructure of “smart” objects and location-aware devices can play a role in enabling museums to successfully address these issues. The requirements for museum success in a geo-aware future are thus examined. The next chapter describes the successful Peach experience. Here, Stock and Zancanaro describe the development of intelligent museum guides used to enhance cultural appreciation. Technological aspects are discussed, concrete examples of use illustrated, and the challenges inherent to developing such technology brought forth. The next chapter moves on to describe OSIRIS, a platform dedicated to the development of community web spaces. The focus of the work with this platform is to facilitate both the semantic annotating process and the searching process of multimedia resources. Trichet, Aimé and Thovex’s illustrate the use of such a system in the context of cultural heritage preservation. In the last chapter of this foray into cultural heritage management, D’Andrea and her colleagues discuss an architecture that specifically addresses the collection, preservation, management and access of intangible cultural heritage, using mobile devices and intelligent interfaces. In so doing, authors focus on the importance of considering a variety of cultural elements not as standalone, but rather as integrated nodes of a cultural network.

The very last part of the Handbook deals with Enculturated Education and the Teaching of Culture. In Chapter 23, Ogan and Lane review six virtual learning environments built to support the acquisition of cultural knowledge and communication skills. They also identify paths of potential research directions focusing on general intercultural competence, learner assessment, as well as cultural model building and validation. In the next chapter, Bond examines the use of digital repositories, libraries, and archives that serve as the collective memory of humanity. The focus of the study is to demonstrate how these can be utilized by educators to prepare learners for a global, diverse, and technological world. Following, Melis and her colleagues describe the enculturation of the European platform for mathematics learning, ActiveMath, in terms of its computational model, computational techniques, and the empirical basis for the cultural adaptation. The next chapter analyzes the development of a safety culture in the domain of commercial nuclear energy through the use of IT, while highlighting some of its current limitations. Here, Rothwell discusses the notion of safety culture as the promotion of safety standards and the sharing of knowledge about safety. She focuses on the present role of IT in these regards and how it could contribute to globally spreading safety culture for use in the civil nuclear industry. Finally, the last chapter of the Handbook describes how a native language can potentially create linguistic and cultural interference in the process of acquiring another language. Allard, Bourdeau and Mizoguchi outline how knowledge to this effect can be mapped using ontological engineering methodology, that can then guide the design of computer-assisted language learning systems aimed at helping language learners overcome such interference.    

Final Words

Under three overarching sections, Understanding Cultural Dynamics, Enculturating Information Technology, and Relevant Domains of Applications, this Handbook has presented the work of researchers from various disciplines involved in different subfields of IT. While at the project stage, the Handbook was envisioned as a work that should provide a comprehensive overview of Culturally-Aware Information Technology, more precisely its different perspectives and models as well as the theory underlying them; it should moreover showcase achievements in the area, and reflect the vast scope of this emerging and active field. The rich and varied content of the now finished work leads us to believe that the Handbook has fulfilled its objectives.

Author's/Editor's Biography

Emmanuel Blanchard (Ed.)
received his M.Sc. (2003) and Ph.D. (2007) in Computer Science from University of Montreal, Canada. His thesis on "Motivation and Culture in e-Learning" was included on the Dean's list of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the ATLAS Laboratory, Faculty of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, which he joined in 2008. His research interests include but are not limited to formal ontology engineering, cognitive sciences, intelligent tutoring systems, multiagent systems, user modelling, serious games, and cultural and affective adaptation in information systems. He initiated the International Workshop on Culturally-Aware Tutoring Systems (CATS), which he co-chaired in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Danièle Allard (Ed.)
is a professor in the Department of Humanities and Communications at the Université de Sherbrooke, Canada, where she teaches professional writing and translation. Her research has recently focused on computer-assisted language learning with an interest in learning difficulties stemming from native language interferences and cultural differences. She trained in ontological engineering methodology at Mizoguchi Laboratory (University of Osaka, Japan) between 2004 and 2006. She has co-chaired the International Workshop on Culturally-Aware Tutoring Systems (CATS) in 2008, 2009 and 2010.


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