Societies' Different Strengths in Computer Science Education and Research

Article excerpt

This paper investigates cultural differences in a comparison of the educational and research environments in two different countries: USA and Germany. These countries were chosen because they represent very converse approaches. A number of examples are used to argue that the differences are deeply anchored in different cultural values and may even reflect different personality type distributions in both countries. Thus, a working style is found that is more oriented toward cooperation in the USA and more toward individual work in Germany. Though currently countries are integrating each other's approaches and thus are converging, society is also faced with the challenge of keeping and supporting individual strengths.

Keywords: cultural values, education, research, society differences, personality traits.

The importance of cultural differences and social rules of countries has already been acknowledged and understood at the business level; for example, for foreign companies' commercial success. In this paper, we investigate cultural differences in science. We take a look into computer science education and research in different countries. For our discussion, we have chosen two countries, the USA and Germany, for two reasons. Firstly, they are very converse in certain respects (at least until now); that is, they represent two ends of a spectrum of possibilities. Secondly, the author is familiar with the cultures of these countries from concrete work experience. Using a small number of essential classifications, we demonstrate that the two countries have specific focuses and strengths.

We loosely lean our classification toward Jung's theory of psychological types - applied in many psychological publications. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®1) is based on this theory and is used for personality classification (Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998). This theory distinguishes four pairs (i.e. four dimensions) of types: sensing(S) vs. intuition(N), thinking(T) vs. feeling(F), perception(P) vs. Judgment(J) and introversion(I) vs. extroversion(E). Please note that sensing is associated with practical work and following fixed procedures; that is, it is not meant to be feeling. There exist a number of very similar classifications in learning theory - like using the two dimensions of concrete experience vs. abstract conceptualization and active experimentation vs. reflective observation (McCarthy, 1987).

We will present some basic examples of general cultural differences in the two societies and then go on to discuss differences in education and research. We provide a number of examples, including a self-contained comparison between two different universities, which are meant to illustrate and to provide evidence for the classification which we have performed.


We have chosen the pairs control/planning vs. self-organization, theory vs. practice, solitude vs. relationships, and criticism vs. optimism for classification. The latter two are more of a modal nature and we combine them in our discussion. We claim that, in Germany, control/planning, theory, solitude, and criticism have a higher cultural value and, in the USA, self-organization, practice, relationships, and optimism have a higher cultural value (see Figure 1). The MBTI Type Indicator® was used by Sodan and Capretz (2002) to show that indeed computer science students differ from the average population by a shift toward more Thinking-Judgment Types. This is one reason why we apply the differentiation theory vs. practice instead of Jung's classification into thinking vs. sensing. Thinking is not confined to theory (though some theorists do think so) and is greatly needed for innovative, more practically oriented work too. Furthermore, we view the different choices in each pair not as clear-cut but as a relative dominance of one of the poles on a transitional scale - as the percentage of the population preferring this pole. …


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