Incorporating Cultural Factors into the Design of Technology to
Support Teamwork in Higher Education
Wesam Shishah
and Elizabeth FitzGerald
School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, Wollaton Road, NG8 1BB, Nottingham, U.K.
Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, MK7 6AA, Milton Keynes, U.K.
Keywords: Culture, Group Work, Teamwork, Higher Education, Design, HCI, CSCW.
Abstract: Online teamwork is an instructional strategy widely used in education courses to ensure active knowledge
construction and deeper learning. There is a challenge for online course designers and technology designers
to create group environments that encourage participation, and have the ability to enhance positive attitudes
toward group work. It is hypothesised that incorporating cultural factors into the design of teamwork
technology has the potential to encourage participation and increase students’ positive attitudes towards group
work. This paper looks to do exactly that, although the definition of culture in this paper is limited to the
individualism–collectivism dimension. The paper summarises our findings from interviews conducted with
lecturers and students who have experience with teamwork. It then presents culturally-related design strategies
which are identified from cross-cultural psychology literature and our interviews finding. Finally, it
demonstrates how culturally-related design strategies are incorporated into the IdeasRoom prototype design.
The inclusion of group work into course work by
educators within higher education is becoming more
frequent, because of the current view that teamwork
is an essential skill that students need to develop
(Drury et al. 2003). Students gain a number of
educational, social and practical benefits by being
engaged in group work (Goo, 2011). To promote
positive attitudes and encourage students to
participate in group work, an effective group work
environment needs to be created, which is a challenge
for technology designers and online course designers.
Research studies suggest that students work more
effectively in group work situations if they perceive
teamwork positively, as behaviour is often predicted
by attitudes; however, the way that individuals
interact with their environment and with others is
often governed by shared learned patterns of
behaviour and belief, so that culture strongly
influences behaviour and attitudes (Mittelmeier et al,
2015; Triandis 1995; Hofstede 1996). Currently,
there is insufficient research on how technology could
support the effectiveness of teamwork in terms of
focusing on how culture could enhance attitudes
towards teamwork more positively, or the role of
culture in encouraging students to participate in
This paper discusses the approach taken to
support teamwork for students within the design of
technology used that incorporates cultural factors,
which is achieved in three stages. Within an academic
context, relevant cultural factors associated with the
practice of teamwork are explored by conducting
interviews, which forms the first stage of this work
and is described in more detail in Section 5. Insights
from the interviews, as well as findings from cross-
cultural psychology literature on the bipolar
dimension of individualism-collectivism are
evaluated to identify design strategies in Section 6,
which forms Stage 2. Section 7 describes Stage 3,
which discusses how these design strategies are
adopted for the prototype design, named IdeasRoom.
Due to the increasingly multicultural character of
students in higher education, it is important for online
course designers to understand the role that culture
plays in academic teaching.
Several studies in the areas of cross-cultural
Shishah, W. and FitzGerald, E.
Incorporating Cultural Factors into the Design of Technology to Support Teamwork in Higher Education.
In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2016) - Volume 1, pages 55-66
ISBN: 978-989-758-179-3
2016 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
behavioural and cognitive psychology found that
one's culture determines how we process information
(Kim 2013). In Human Computer Interaction (HCI),
there has been only limited research on the effects of
cultural differences on information processing and
online interactions. Instead, researchers have tended
to focus on users’ external behaviours, rather than
their internal cognition. However, we propose that an
understanding of cultural differences will benefit
designers in the development of cost-effective
systems that serve both ‘domestic’ students and
multicultural groups.
In this research, we propose a novel approach that
is culturally personalised in a group-based system in
higher education. The motivation for this approach is
to establish a culturally related group-based tool to
aid collaborative work carried out by multicultural
student groups. This led to the development of a
prototype system called “IdeasRoom”, to investigate
this proposal and demonstrate a culturally
personalised approach to collaboration. This paper
details the first phase of research by exploring the
differences between how individualists and
collectivists process information through group work.
In this study, we focus on two common societal
dimensions of culture: individualism and
collectivism. We define these as follows:
Societies described as individualist tend to be
mainly associated with their close families and
often live independently, so that they are expected
to look after themselves; therefore, there are loose
ties between individuals. People living in
individualist societies tend to be motivated by loss
of self-respect and guilt, and are often perceived
to be goal-oriented and self-motivated, so that
group interests are less important than individual
interests (Hofstede, 2010; Hofstede, 1996).
People living in individualist societies tend to
demonstrate a personal identity rather than an
identity of specific groups, so that they often seek
benefit from their duties and activities, and have a
more consistent behaviour and attitude approach
to life than those from collectivist societies
(Triandis, 1995).
These findings are contrasted with societies
described as collectivist, where people tend to
form groups that are cohesive and strong
throughout life, so that the welfare of individuals
becomes the concern of the group associated with
them, and anxiety can result when individuals are
separated from their group. Unquestioning loyalty
is shown to individuals in collectivist societies, as
the groups they are associated with, and often
known as ‘in-groups’, give them protection when
needed. Generally, people in collectivist societies
attempt to maintain tradition, adopt virtues and
skills that are needed to demonstrate that they are
good members of their group, and attempt to
maintain social harmony, so individual interests
are less important than group interests. Therefore,
people living in collectivist societies tend to be
motivated by loss of face and shame (Hofstede,
2010; Hofstede, 1996). The identities of
individuals in collectivist societies are usually
associated strongly with the values of their group,
so that they generally support what is acceptable
in their group (Triandis, 1995).
The main focus of individualism and collectivism
is how individuals are integrated within groups.
Therefore, this research focuses on peer group
interaction with individuals from different cultures,
within a group-learning environment.
Although this categorisation of societies is widely
supported in the literature review, the definition of
cultural identity involves greater complexity than
factors discussed above, as individuals in all societies
are likely to demonstrate various cultural identities at
different times and in different circumstances. We
present only one perspective on how to examine
culture and there are others that we could draw upon.
However, to form a concept of different groups in
terms of their behaviour patterns and general belief,
the individualism-collectivism dimension proposed
in previous research studies provides a very useful
and important initial categorisation on which to
ground future work.
According to Smith and Bath (2006), the most
effective approach to ensure students acquire
knowledge and enhance their communication skills at
educational institutions is teamwork, as this provides
significant advantages to supervisors and teachers to
reduce the quantity of their marking, give students
opportunities to work collaboratively, enhance the
challenge and complexity of tasks given to students
to improve their experience of working, and to engage
students more effectively (Gibbs, 2009). When
compared with face-to-face collaboration for group
work projects, the performance of students
collaborating online can be significantly better,
because the interactions with other members of the
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
group are more meaningful and frequent for students
collaborating online, when compared with students
involved in learning activities on a face-to-face basis
(Tutty and Klein, 2008).
Online learning tasks for teamwork is perceived
more negatively by Smith et al. (2011), who report
that resolving logistical problems is easier for
students seated physically together in one room, when
compared to students learning in online classes.
Personal factors can influence the perception of
teamwork by students, so that how they perform
within group activities is affected by this perception.
Perceptions of group work by students might also be
affected by their communication and personality
traits (Myers et al., 2009), but this is challenged by
findings from other research, which suggests that the
previous experience of students working in groups
could change their perception of teamwork through
online channels. In a study by Powell, Piccoli and
Ives (2004), the findings report that when students
had wider experience of working with other students
online and were involved in more online courses,
their perceptions of teamwork through online
channels were increased positively. This was related
to the students spending more time online, and using
this time to adapt to (and benefit from) the technology
and online teamwork activities.
Research studies evaluating behaviour and
teamwork preferences for employees and students
suggest that the cultural dimensions of individualism
and collectivism developed by Hofstede are an
important factor in terms of profiling such groups and
a useful way of assessing group behaviours (Bishop
et al., 1999). When students work collaboratively in
groups, their working processes are likely to be
different, due to differing approaches that are likely
to be taken by students from primarily individualist
versus primarily collectivist cultures (Galanes et al.,
The link between individuals’ interactions with
technology, and their culture, has become a focus for
an evolving field of research. HCI approaches can
utilise Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, borrowed
from the field of sociology, to investigate how aspects
of culture influence our interactions with technology
(Hofstede, 1996). Evers (2001) investigated interface
metaphors from a perception of cross-cultural
understanding, and Vohringer-Kuhnt (2001)
investigated perceptions of usability by people and
the influence of culture, where both studies relied on
cultural dimensions in HCI investigations. However,
there is an insufficient focus in the literature on how
teamwork could be supported by examining the
relationship between technology and culture.
Designers of technology tend to adopt cultural
aspects of day-to-day life when adapting design
preferences for technology products, as this is an
important factor for consideration, and the strategies
adopted by designers are embedded and used in their
products. Design decisions are often based on the
value judgement of the designers in terms of
motivating factors used, their belief in what any target
audience could be influenced by, and what influences
them personally (Khaled, 2008). This suggests that
technology designers are likely to embed their own
cultural preferences into their technology products,
but do not sufficiently consider the consumer or
audience that could use these products who might not
associate with these values and ideals. According to
Hall (1989), hidden issues in society are often exposed
when individuals become aware of control systems that
are in place, and this is exposed more frequently during
programmes involving a mix of cultures, and who
reports from an anthropological perspective. Hall
explains that an individual’s personality has cultural
programmes that are internalised, so that people’s
behaviour, attitudes and personalities are based on
these (Hall, 1989). However, these findings could be
transposed to investigations of technology users, as
some could feel dissatisfied by their typical interaction
patterns, their behaviour, their knowledge base or
mismatched assumptions about their identity.
Therefore, behavioural and attitude changes are
unlikely if users are made to feel uncomfortable, and
technology designers need to consider these potential
When using technological tools to trigger
encouragement, it is important to recognise and
identify that different users will have different
cultural dimensions, and that their perceptions are
likely to differ. Therefore, the potential effectiveness
of such tools could be increased if designs match the
cultural assumptions of users, as they should be more
comfortable using the technology, concerns would be
reduced, and users can focus their attention on the
content better, which would help overcome the issues
mentioned previously by Hall (1989).
Semi-structured interviews were adopted in this study
in order to explore how students incorporated culture
Incorporating Cultural Factors into the Design of Technology to Support Teamwork in Higher Education
as a factor in their current practice of teamwork
Two groups of participants were recruited for this
study. The first group involved twelve computer
science postgraduate students from a UK university,
who had prior experience of working in groups. The
gender balance of this sample was six females and six
males. Student interviews included topics that asked
about tools usually used for the completion of group
tasks and projects, together with tools used for
communicating with others, evaluating and assessing
the group projects. Advantages and disadvantages,
and problems and issues faced by students working in
groups are also included.
The second group involved five lecturers from the
same university, who teach computer science for
university students at its UK campus and also in its
overseas campuses in China and Malaysia. All
lecturers had prior experience planning and teaching
group activities. The focus of lecturers’ interviews
included asking about their experience with
teamwork activities, how students’ project teams
were formed (whether student, tutor, or randomly
organised), how roles were allocated (no roles, tutor
allocated roles, student chosen roles or all tasks
divided evenly) and whether the groups designated a
leader or not. The lecturers were also asked about
tools or technology used to support student teamwork,
and the strategies used for group work assessment and
students’ feedback regarding the assessment.
The interviews took place in the School of
Computer Science at the university’s UK campus,
where respondents were individually interviewed in a
quiet area. The interview process, the purposes and
aims of the interview were explained to the
participants; the interview time ranged from 30 to 45
minutes. Respondents were asked for their permission
to record the interview, and to sign a consent form
demonstrating their willingness to participate before
the interviews. The researcher explained that
respondents could stop the interview and withdraw at
any time; the interviews were recorded with an audio
recording device for subsequent analysis.
6.1 Analysis
Following the interviews, the audio recordings were
transcribed, resulting in fifty-one thousand words.
Then, the transcripts were qualitatively analysed. A
thematic analysis was adopted in order to identify
underlying patterns and themes of behaviour or living
from text data, to reveal common threads that
emerged from all the responses, as recommended by
Aronson (1994).
An initial phase of analysis was conducted before
thematic coding was applied. This phase consisted of
gathering cross-cultural psychology literature on the
behavioural and motivational differences between
individualists and collectivists. Key motivations from
the literature are summarised in Table 1 and were
then considered as a scientific basis for the thematic
analysis and codes are described in the next section.
Then, thematic analysis was used to analyse the
transcripts in two phases. In the first phase, two
indicators were used (individualistic focused theme
vs. collectivistic focused theme). In the second phase,
four indicators were used, that emerged from the data
and coded appropriately. These two phases is
described in more detail below. The assignment of
statements to categories was done by the main
researcher in consultation with two other lead
researchers, to avoid subjectivity and bias.
Table 1: Individualist and collectivist motivations.
Motivation Individualist Collectivist
Individual goal Sharing goal
Self-identity Group identity
Cognition based Affect based
Individual based Group based
Partial channel Full channel
Equity based Equality based
Competition Harmony
few rules many rules
6.1.1 Thematic Analysis: Phase 1
Two overarching thematic codes were developed to
use in this phase. The two codes were identified based
on cultural anthropologists’ classification on how
individuals are integrated within groups (Hofstede,
1996; Triandis, 1995) as described in the definition of
individualism and collectivism in the introduction.
The codes are reflected the following classifications:
IND – Individualism
COL – Collectivism
Many sociologists such as Hofstede and Triandis
have worked on classifying individualism and
collectivism on two levels – namely, the nationality
and individual level. Hofstede’s research applies the
classification of individualism and collectivism to the
nationality level, while Triandis’s research applies it
at the individual level. Hofstede’s work has often
been criticized because of his classification which
reduces culture to nationality. It also ignores the
ongoing changes that a person or a group who shared
cultural values undergo (McSweeney 2002). In our
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
analysis, we relied on the individual level of
classification of individualism and collectivism and
excluded participants’ nationalities.
By the end of this phase, two lists are generated:
the IND list which includes all quotes that refer to
individualistic perspectives and the COL list which
includes all quotes that refer to collectivist
6.1.2 Thematic Analysis: Phase 2
A set of thematic codes was developed to use in
determining the key differences in cooperation
between individualism and collectivism quotes from
the two lists in the thematic analysis phase 1. The
codes were developed by the research team based on
both a grounded analysis of the text and also taking
into account the critical aspects of teaching from the
lecturers’ accounts. The codes reflect the following key
aspects, which highlight notable differences between
students and are explained in more detail below:
R – In-Group Relationships
I – Identity (of the student)
N – Assessment Norms
G - Superordinate Goals
In-Group Relationships (R) refer to how the
relationship among group members is different
between individualistic and collectivist perspectives.
Identity (I) refers to how the views about self is
different between individualistic and collectivist
Assessment Norms (N) refers to how the individual
perceives the distribution of rewards or marks among
group members and how this may be different
between individualistic and collectivist perspectives.
Superordinate Goals (G) refer to how the goal of the
cooperation will be achieved which is different
between individualistic and collectivist perspectives.
Quotes from the two lists in Phase 1 were then recoded
to identify themes that indicated R, I, N and G. By the
end of this phase, eight lists of quotes are generated and
referred to by the codes given in Table 2.
Table 2: Codes Generated in Thematic Analysis Phase 2.
Code R I N G
6.2 Results
This section explains the results from the thematic
analysis of Phase 1 and Phase 2.
6.2.1 Thematic Analysis Results: Phase 1
As explained above, the recordings of the interviews
were transcribed and the transcriptions were then
thematically coded looking for quotes relating to
individualistic perspectives and collectivist
perspectives. Table 3 below shows the quotes
frequency that emerged for each code (IND and COL)
in this phase. Broadly speaking, there were some key
differences found between students and these are
explored in the analyses below.
Collectivism was described by both groups of
participants, i.e. both students and lecturers; for
example, the collectivist behaviour that described
students in China and how the interdependency of the
Chinese students influences the strategy of forming
students in groups by lecturers. A typical response
given by one lecturer was “Once we have formed CS
[Computer Science] students together, we form
groups in the way that they live. It is more convenient.
So they absolutely do not need mobiles to
communicate. They come to the lecture together, they
walk together, and eat together.
Also, a high collectivism perception is
demonstrated in describing students in Malaysia, as
they are seen as more family oriented. A typical
response given by one lecturer was “In Malaysia,
students see their teachers like their parents. Maybe
the culture of the east. The culture is like this, this is
the lecturer and everything is OK, so they do not
argue. Their culture is to do what is the teacher asks.
This collectivism is demonstrated by students as
well; for example, one student expresses the priority
and the importance of values like harmony and
working together in teams. A typical response was
It just came to my mind is that it is group work after
all and firstly we should have some harmony. We
need all working together.
On the other hand, individualism was also
demonstrated; for example, the need for the
evaluation of individual contributions was
highlighted. A typical response by one student was “I
think it’s difficult to mark a group without peer
evaluation, because if you don’t have peer
assessments, you can’t tell he [a particular student]
hasn’t done any work and the group gets all the same
Individualism is demonstrated by lecturers; for
example, describing the feature of the student self-
moderators in online groups is the reason for the
success of experience with forums that are not
provided by the university. A typical response given
by one lecturer was “Using forums through Moodle, I
can’t make any students moderators, so they can’t
Incorporating Cultural Factors into the Design of Technology to Support Teamwork in Higher Education
appoint their own self-moderators in groups, which I
think is why I have never seen any forum setup using
the university learning system, which has a same kind
of interaction as any other kind of forum that you can
see existing online.”
Table 3: Themes Frequency that Emerged in Phase 1.
(Numbers refer to number of quotes from interview
Participant IND Theme COL Theme
Student_1 * 8 7
Student_2 ** 4 10
Student_3 ** 0 20
Student_4 ** 8 11
Student_5 * 20 2
Student_6 * 16 3
Student_7 ** 2 17
Student_8 ** 1 7
Student_9 * 19 4
Student_10 ** 5 17
Student_11 ** 2 19
Student_12 * 20 12
Lecturer_1 ** 0 3
Lecturer_2 ** 0 2
Lecturer_3 ** 0 3
Lecturer_4 ** 0 2
Lecturer_5 * 4 0
Total IND/COL 109 139
Total 248
( * indicates that IND themes more than COL themes)
(** indicates that COL themes more than IND themes)
6.2.2 Thematic Analysis Results: Phase 2
In this phase 248 quotes were listed in Phase 1 and
recoded in this phase looking for quotes relating to
indicators relating to in-group relationships, identity,
assessment norms and superordinate goals. Table 4
below shows the quotes frequency that emerged for
the eight codes that were developed for this phase.
Table 4: themes frequency emerged in phase 2 (Numbers
refer to number of quotes from interview participants).
Code R I N G
12 36 35 42
51 49 15 50
Table 5 shows examples of quotes reflecting the
codes used in this phase. The quotes in Table 5 show
how individualists and collectivists differ in the in-
group relationship (R), the quote (COL-R) shows
more harmony and collaboration behaviour while the
(IND-R) shows more competitive behaviour among
group members. Regarding the identity (I), the
comparison behaviour in cooperation explained by
the quotes (COL-I) and (IND-I) shows the differences
between individualism and collectivism in the
identity. The (COL-I) quote demonstrates high
collectivism, as the respondent perceives the self as
the group and compare the group that belong to with
other groups. In contrast, (IND-I) quote demonstrates
high individualism, as the respondent perceive the
self as individual and compare own efforts with other
In assessment norms (N), the (COL-N) quote
relates to when students are working in the same
group, but who are dissatisfied when they receive
unequal marks. The (IND-N) relates to students who
are dissatisfied when members of the same groups are
awarded equal marks despite making unequal effort,
which was perceived to be a factor that influenced the
contribution of individuals involved in group work.
Regarding the Superordinate Goals (G), the quote
demonstrates the motivation to achieve the goal of
cooperation in collectivism (COL-G), and shows the
person has a group goal interest. The quote
demonstrates the motivation to achieve the goal in
individualism (IND-G), and shows the person has
more personal goals and interests.
Table 5: Examples of Quotes Reflecting the Codes in Phase
Code Quote
“When they come to receive marks back to the
group coursework, students will compare each
other mark and if they believe that their friend get
the mark for something they did not get a mark
for. They are coming ask for that extra mark so
they can have higher grades than friend. They are
very competitive between each other within the
group about the mark they receive.” (lecturer_5)
“Sometimes people don’t care what others
contribute so with each person, it differs, but with
me if I see someone else do more work, then it
motivates me to do more” (Student_6)
“It’s not fair on the rest of the group who have
done the work whereas someone hasn’t and he’s
got high marks from doing nothing. Our marks
should not be equal” (Student_9)
“if there was some way to measure how much I
contribute to the overall work than I will do my
best” (Student_10)
“Sometime my friends think that I work hard
looking for extra marks but it is not. I see it is
teamwork and we need work together and
support each other” (Student_7)
“Sometimes I will compare our group effort to
others because sometimes I see other group is
more like our group.” (Student_12)
“We worked in a group of two and we did all the
preparation together. It’s just that my friend said
the first half and I said the second half; I got a bad
mark even though we did the work together, and
we both felt it was unfair. It is a group work and
we suppose to get an equal marks” (Student_8)
“I mean I will try my best to win the competition
for my group.” (Student_11)
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
6.2.3 Summary of Results
The analysis shows how two groups of participants
(lecturers and students) reported their views of
individualism and collectivism on teamwork. This
study is in keeping with previous studies such as, Cox
et al., (1991); Galanes et al., (2004); Mittelmeier et al,
(2015) which suggested that individualism and
collectivism traits can predict and influence student
group work behaviours. The findings also show that,
while some students’ have a more dominating
individualistic tendency, others have more
collectivistic tendencies. For instance, five students
report that they have more individualistic perspective
towards teamwork. On the other hand, seven students
show that they have more collectivistic perspectives
towards teamwork (see Table2). With regard to
lecturers, four of them have a collectivist perspective
in teamwork while one lecturer has a more
individualistic perspective.
In the second stage of the interview analysis, we
focused on four key strategies; namely, ‘R’ – In-
Group Relationships, ‘I’ – Identity of the student, ‘N’
– Assessment Norms and G - Superordinate Goals.
The results show that these four keys were found in
both individualist and collectivist perspectives.
However, the percentage was more significant in ‘R’
– In-Group Relationships in the collectivist
perspectives rather than individualist. On the other
hand, ‘N’ – Assessment Norms was more significant
in individualist rather than the collectivist
perspectives. Figure 1 demonstrates the percentages
of the occurrence of the four key strategies in both
individualist and collectivist perspectives.
Figure 1: The percentage of the four key strategies’ quotes
in the individualist and collectivist perspectives.
To design group-based technologies that are
meaningful and effective for their target audiences,
designers should reference – or at least allow for - the
audiences’ cultures in their approaches. This section
summarises the findings of the interviews carried out
with lecturers and university students who have
experienced group work, to establish how students
incorporate culture as a factor from their current
practice. This section also presents a set of culturally
relevant group-based technology design strategies
based on insights from the interviews, as well as
findings from cross-cultural psychology literature on
behavioural tendencies of individualists and
These strategies have resulted from our work with
the participants mentioned above, and form suggested
approaches when considering the design of
technological tools to support and encourage
effective online team working, particularly when
working with culturally diverse group members.
A set of four main culturally relevant design
strategies is presented and each strategy involves two
sub strategies. One is aimed at use in tools developed
for collectivist users and the other is aimed at use in
tools for individualist users. Each strategy is
presented with the following information:
Description, which attempts to explain the strategy
presented, Antecedents, which highlight the factors
based on the review of the literature that lead to the
strategy, Real World Parallels, which demonstrate
the strategy in real world situations, and The Two
Sub-Strategies produced from each main strategy.
The two sub strategies are presented with a
description and target audience, which suggests
whether the audience would likely to be collectivist
or individualist. This way of describing the strategies
is intended to help designers include appropriate
strategies in systems that are relevant for target
audiences where cultural backgrounds could be a
significant factor. It is anticipated that designers
could find the discussions, descriptions and
antecedents helpful in understanding the strategies,
why they were developed and how they could be
7.1 Strategy 1: In-Group Relationships
Description: The difference between collectivist
users and individualist users forms the basis of this
overall strategy to define relationships between
members of a group.
Antecedents: In studies of education theory, findings
suggest that individuals from individualist cultures
often display less cooperative behaviour in groups
than those from collectivist cultures, which supports
the views discussed above (Cox et al., 1991).
Collectivists often highly value group solidarity and
Incorporating Cultural Factors into the Design of Technology to Support Teamwork in Higher Education
interpersonal harmony, prefer cooperation to
competition, value group success rather than
individual success, and tend to avoid individual
recognition. This contrasts with individualists who
often demonstrate additional effort to attain
individual goals, and are generally motivated by
individual recognition and competition (Triandis,
1994; Cox et al., 1991; Leibbrandt et al., 2013).
Real World Parallels: the study investigated
communication in the USA (individualist culture) and
in Syria (collectivist culture), and reported that Syrian
respondents preferred strategies that were ritualistic,
indirect and cooperative, but American respondents
preferred strategies that were hostile, direct and
competitive (Merkin & Ramadan, 2010).
The Sub-Strategies: this strategy contributes to the
competitive strategy and the harmony strategy.
The Competitive Strategy: A sense of
competition between members of a group could
be promoted with the competitive strategy.
Target Audience: Individuals in individualist
The Harmony Strategy: When the level of
cooperation between group members is
increased, a sense of harmony relationship is
promoted by the harmony strategy. Target
Audience: Individuals in collectivist cultures
7.2 Strategy 2: Identity
Description: The differences between collectivist
users and individualist users in the views about the
self are described by the strategy.
Antecedents: How individual people understand
themselves in relating to other people explains the
concept of the self, and Erez and Earley (1993)
suggest that people represent their social roles, social
identity and personality as the self. People in
individualist cultures often perceive themselves as
separate from the social context, and independently
follow their own projects and interests. People in
collectivist cultures often perceive themselves as
connected to social contexts with relationships with
other people that are interdependent (Markus and
Kitayama, 1991). Therefore, people living in
individualist cultures often perceive themselves as
unique (Shulruf et al., 2007; Triandis, 1994), but
people living in collectivist cultures tend to feel they
fit into or belong to society, and do not feel isolated
(Triandis 1994; Triandis 2001).
Real World Parallels: An example of parents in an
individualist culture, such as the USA, would
encourage their children when reluctant to eat the
meal prepared for them by telling them that children
in other countries have very little food, and that they
should be pleased that they are fortunate. An example
of parents in a collectivist culture, such as Japan,
would encourage their children when reluctant to eat
the meal prepared for them by telling them that the
farmer that had grown the rice had wasted his time,
so he would feel bad if the children did not eat the
rice, so they are encouraged to think more about the
producer of the food rather than themselves. The
example of the Japanese family suggests the
importance of interdependence with others and fitting
in and being concerned about others. The example of
the USA family suggests the importance of promoting
the self, noticing the differences with others and
focusing on the self (Markus and Kitayama, 1991).
The Sub-Strategies: this strategy contributes to
Individual-identity strategy and Group-identity
Individual-identity Strategy: This strategy aims
to promote uniqueness, independence, and an
independent view of self in cooperation. Target
Audience: Individuals in individualist cultures.
Group-identity Strategy: This strategy aims to
promote belonging, fitting in and an
interdependent view of self in cooperation.
Target Audience: Individuals in collectivist
7.3 Strategy 3: Assessment Norm
Description: The differences between collectivist
users and individualist users form the basis for the
strategy in terms of the perceptions of compensation
or rewards for an individual within a group.
Antecedents: The review of literature into reward
allocation preferences indicates cross cultural
differences, so that individuals from an individualist
culture tend to prefer equity based allocation of
rewards, but individuals from a collectivist culture
tend to prefer equality based allocation of rewards
(Triandis, 2001; Fadil et al., 2009). Therefore, values
of collectivist cultures emphasise affiliation and
cooperation, but values of individualist cultures
emphasise achievement and competition, so that
individualist values are more compatible with equity
norms and identify individual performance for career
progression and reward systems, as well as pay for
performance systems (Gelfand et al., 2007).
Real World Parallels: In a study that compared
distribution of rewards in a group and decision rules,
Japanese respondents described as collectivist and
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Australian respondents described as individualist,
were involved in a game of decisions for classroom
administration. Australian respondents had a
tendency to follow self-interest rules in this game, and
Japanese respondents had a tendency to follow equal-
say rules (Mann et al., 1985).
The Sub-Strategies: this strategy contributes to
Equity strategy and Equality strategy:
The Equity Strategy: The equity strategy
proposes that persons who allocate rewards or
compensation within a group distribute them in
proportion to each member’s contributions.
Target Audience: Individuals in individualist
The Equality Strategy: The equality strategy
proposes that persons who allocate rewards or
compensation within a group distribute them for
a group of users for the actions of an individual
user. Target Audience: Individuals in
collectivist cultures.
7.4 Strategy 4: Superordinate Goals
Description: The differences between collectivist
users and individualist users in goals, interests and
motivations described by the strategy.
Antecedents: In societies defined as having an
individualist culture, group interests are less
important than individual interests, so that individuals
in this type of culture are often motivated by potential
loss of self-respect and feelings of personal guilt, so
that they tend to be goal orientated and self-
motivated. This contrasts with societies defined as
having a collectivist culture, as individuals tend to
maintain traditions by being good members of groups
by adapting their virtues and skills, and in a
collectivist culture typical motivators are loss of face
and shame (Hofstede, 2001; Triandis, 2001; Triandis,
1994; Plueddemann, 2012).
Individuals often emphasise personal autonomy,
freedom of choice and personal responsibility as
values of personal independence in individualist
cultures, and often show a preference for the
independence of groups and self-directed behaviour,
as these individuals attempt to maintain personal
opinions and attitudes that are distinctive (Triandis
1994; Shulruf et al. 2007). In contrast, a sense of
working within a group, interdependence and duty to
a group are attitudes represented in a collectivist
culture, as values in these societies stress that
personal goals in groups are less important than
maintaining the goals of the group. Therefore,
individuals living in a collectivist society are
interdependent with their in-group, and there is a
collective responsibility for accountability and
sharing responsibility (Triandis 2001; Triandis 1994).
Real World Parallels: In Japan, managers of
organisations often use participative programmes,
employee suggestions and team decision-making or
delegate responsibilities to team members and
practice team working as a business strategy.
Therefore, Japanese managers tend to adopt
restrictive methods by expecting employees to obey
and honour all management decisions, but also adopt
relaxed methods by looking for consensus when
issues arise, even minor issues, and ask for
suggestions and ideas from employees (Sagie &
Aycan, 2003). Japanese organisations often introduce
activities, such as team names, team banners, team
dormitories and collective meals, to enhance
productivity, as these types of activities help to
integrate workers within their team and encourage
effective teams. This contrasts with patterns of group
working in Western countries, such as the USA, the
UK, Sweden, Canada and Australia, where work
teams are often self-managing, semi-autonomous or
autonomous, so that team working operates as a form
of self-management, and is widely applied in these
countries (Sagie & Aycan 2003). According to
Hofstede (2001), there is a perception that in the USA
and the UK, higher quality decisions are made by
individuals, when compared to decisions made by
The Sub-Strategies: this strategy contributes
independence goal strategy and interdependence goal
The Independence Goal Strategy: This strategy
aims to promote self-goal, self-interest, personal
responsibility and a sense of independence in
cooperation. Target Audience: Individuals in
individualist cultures.
The Interdependence Gaol Strategy: This
strategy aims to promote group-goal, group-
interest, collective responsibility and a sense of
interdependence in cooperation. Target
Audience: Individuals in collectivist cultures.
A key motivation for this research was to establish
whether a culturally related group-based tool would
be more effective and more welcomed by a target
audience, than a tool that was assumed to be neutral.
This led to developing a prototype for testing whether
the system design strategies detailed in Section 5
Incorporating Cultural Factors into the Design of Technology to Support Teamwork in Higher Education
provided useful design directions. The design of the
prototype for teamwork was titled IdeasRoom.
8.1 The IdeasRoom Prototype
One of the most important strategies in developing
creative thinking is brainstorming, which is a skill
required by computer science students, since
designing and innovation is at the centre of computer
science (Shih, Venolia and Olson, 2011). IdeasRoom,
a medium-fidelity prototype, was used in this study to
simulate a web-based tool designed to support
students with group activity, which is designed to
encourage electronic group brainstorming for
students to generate ideas within their groups.
Prototype designs were carried out using Balsamiq,
providing a useful initial simulation. It was selected
because it resembles a medium-fidelity prototype. Its
use encourages users to view it as work in progress
rather than a completed product, thus encouraging
users to provide more feedback than they might for a
more ‘finished’ product. In addition, its
comprehensive layout offers high visual elements,
resulting in users feeling that they are using the real
environment. The evaluation focuses upon the
behaviour and needs of users, instead of the visual
elements. IdeasRoom is based on a discussion forum
format. There are five main options in IdeasRoom,
namely ‘add idea’, ‘idea comment’, ‘ideas list’,
‘visibility score of participation’ and a ‘leader board’.
8.2 Incorporating RING Strategies into
IdeasRoom was intended to be an experimental tool
by designing one version that would appeal more to
individualist users (which we refer to as the IND
version) and another that would appeal more to
collectivist users (which we refer to as the COL
version). While cultural identity is complex, the
cultural assumptions of the IND version of
IdeasRoom are based on typical attitudes of
individualists, while those of the COL version are
based on typical attitudes of collectivists. Our
intention was to make the IND and COL versions of
IdeasRoom able to equally promote group
brainstorming activity for different types of audience.
At this stage of the design, a student’s allocation to a
particular group is not yet carried out because of this
function has yet to be implemented. In the next stage
of the IdeasRoom design, adaption rules will be
developed to allocate students to specific groups.
These rules will be based on a match or mismatch of
each student’s pre-assessed cultural type (individual
or collectivist).
8.2.1 IdeasRoom IND Version
In the IND version, R.I.N.G. sub-strategies for
individualism culture are incorporated: competition
strategy, individual-identity strategy, equity strategy
and independent goal strategy.
To increase the feel of the competition, the leader-
board in the IND version was adapted. Members’
ranking in the leader-board is applied and ranked by
higher member contribution. Contribution is defined
by the total number of ideas and idea comments
generated by the member. It ranks the names of group
members and their contributions, which should
promote in-group competition strategy.
To promote Individual-identity strategy, self-
information is provided in many forms. Users are
identified by their name and personal greeting
message. Also, user pictures are used for personal
identity and to promote a feel of the uniqueness. In
the leader-board, the representation of information as
members instead of the group together with visibility
of user participation should increase the view of
The equity strategy is applied in representing
participation in the group as a member score.
Participation in the prototype by generating ideas will
increase the score of the member. Finally, the
independent goal strategy is also promoted. The
design increases the sense of the personal goal.
Participation is the main goal in IdeasRoom and in the
IND version, individual participation is promoted.
The design motivates users to work for their
independent goals, such as changing their position in
the leader-board by increasing their participation, and
to work to increase their own score of participation.
8.2.2 IdeasRoom COL Version
In the COL version, R.I.N.G. sub-strategies for
collectivism culture are incorporated: harmony
strategy, group-identity strategy, equality strategy
and interdependent goal strategy.
To increase the feel of collaboration and harmony,
the leader-board in the COL version is adapted. The
leader-board was adapted based on between-group
competition technique, which is suggested as a
technique that encourages in-group collaboration
(Cárdenas & Mantilla, 2015; Hausken, 2000). Group
ranking in the leader-board is applied and ranked by
higher group contribution. Contribution is defined by
the total number of ideas and idea comments
generated by all members in the group. It ranks the
CSEDU 2016 - 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
names of groups and the group contributions, which
should promote in-group harmony strategy.
To promote Group-identity strategy, group
information is provided in many forms. Users are
identified by the group name and the greeting
message is personalised with the group name. Also, a
group picture is used as an identity, which promotes
a feeling of belonging to the group. In the leader-
board, the representation of information as groups
instead of members, together with visibility of shared
participation, should increase the view of
The equality strategy is applied in representing
participation in the group as a collective score. Any
member of the group can participate in the prototype
by generating ideas that should increase the score.
Finally, the interdependent goal strategy is also
promoted. The design increases the sense of the
shared goal. The design motivates users to work for
the interdependent goal, such as to change the group
position in the leader-board, each member in the
group could work to increase group participation and
it is necessary to work together to increase the
collective score.
This paper summarises the process of incorporating
cultural factors in the design of technology that
supports teamwork. Interviews with lecturers and
students who had experience with teamwork were
conducted that aimed to explore cultural factors in
group work activities. The analysis of the interviews
used thematic analysis that was accomplished in two
phases. The main focus in the first phase is
individualism theme and collectivism theme, while
the main focus in the second phase is the differences
between individualism and collectivism in teamwork.
This identified four key differences: In-Group
Relationships (R), Identity (I), Assessment Norms
(N) and Superordinate Goals (G).
R.I.N.G. design strategies were identified from
the cross-cultural psychology literature relating to the
bipolar dimension of individualism–collectivism, and
used with the responses from the interviews. The
design of the two versions of the prototype of the
system is called IdeasRoom. The IND version should
appeal more to individualist users and the COL
version should appeal more to collectivist users. The
discussion explained how the design was informed by
the R.I.N.G. design strategies in both versions.
Currently, the prototype is undergoing iterative
testing and development as a web-based system for
students, and there is a focus on the design and
usability issues that have emerged from the user tests
of the initial prototypes of IdeasRoom. An analysis of
the evaluation findings highlighted issues within the
IdeasRoom design that needed to be reconsidered and
adapted, which shaped how the final phase of
IdeasRoom development should be approached. Once
this is fully implemented, the system will be
evaluated by examining the effectiveness of the
system in terms of encouraging participation and its
ability to enhance students’ attitudes towards group
Many thanks to all participants involved in this
research. This research is supported by Saudi Arabia
Cultural Bureau in London, UK, and Saudi Electronic
University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
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