Enhancing Cross Cultural Education Through the Internet, by Jon Franklin Ramsoomair
Experiential Exercises, Symbolic Information Gathering, Library and the Internet
The Internet in its different forms was cropping up across dimensions, and its potential to enhance learning appeared to be powerful. The textbook was determined, readings selected, exercises laid out and tests/exam dates settled. But the major component of the courses immediacy would be the Internet, which would be introduced on a phased basis along the following lines:
Introduction to the Internet.
The course would begin by dealing with topics such as
The Semester Begins
The outline of the course called for addressing the topics is
The topics were to be supplemented by readings from the text as well as supplementary materials from Journals, experiential exercises, appropriate videotapes and case analysis. Each session would also incorporate an Internet segment, in which students would submit a one-page report of his/her cyberspace activities. Prior to the start of the course, I had contacted Dr. Douglas Moesel, who is the moderator of a LISTSERV group. LISTSERVS are discussion groups involving experts in a specific field ranging from Cross Cultural Education, to Physics. Topics are discussed via electronic mail and responses to issues are garnered from a diversity of individuals across the world. Moesel kindly allowed my students to post messages to the multifaceted list, to ask questions, to respond to issues raised and to bring up topics which were of interest to them. Students also used this forum to seek out mentors from the area in which they were interested, and soon, groups of students had advisors from disparate parts of the world.
One of the group assignments encompassed an in-depth study of the culture and business practices of a country in which they were interested. Needless to say, we had very little difficulty in finding mentors from Brazil, Singapore, Australia, Trinidad and the United Kingdom. The degree of participation was overwhelming, enthusiastic and gratifying. >From the second week of our journey, there was a decidedly robust response from students as they freely communicated with their foreign counterparts and mentors. In raising issues and actively participating, not only were students deepening their knowledge of the topic.
More fundamentally, the opportunity was afforded to see cross-cultural communication in action. Some students who were apprehensive about posting comments to a list that would be read by all, preferred to correspond and interact via private electronic mail and in this way, formed their own relationships with experts in the field.
Other sessions of class were devoted to understanding the search engines of the Internet. The advantage here was that of a vast amount of information. Students were feeding in keywords to Veronica, Jughead and the Webcrawler, and coming up with enormous volumes of material. A side benefit of this exercise was that they seemed to easily learn the difference between useless and unsubstantiated information, and to consign junk to the cybertrash bin.
It was the country project the that elicited the most interest. Students were required to select a country with which we had dealt, either in discussion or case analysis. The project also called for establishing and maintaining a relationship with at least one business expert from that country. The primary thrust was that of the mechanics and vagaries of setting up a joint venture and the additional requirements were:
The power of the Internet Conference Line proved to be indispensable and invaluable in this regard. The Line could accommodate up to 60 people at any given time. The facility, more popularly known as a talker in Internet jargon was a pet project in which I had modified the embedded UNIX talk program to allow for multi line conferencing in real time. Students would make appointments with their mentors, telnet to the site*, and conduct their discussions in the main discussion room, or could go to private rooms and secure the channels, thus prohibiting general access.
Thus, the live and interactive nature of the tenet facility allowed for Stice's (1978, op. cit.) underpinnings of immediacy, reality and relevance. The meetings on the talker simulated as realistically as possible, actual, physical meetings with the experts around the world. Once per month in this three month course (twelve weeks), I would initiate a general conference in which students and mentors would come together via the telnet site to discuss problematic issues and to share insights
The case for a global perspective is increasingly evident in our shrinking world. On a philosophical level, Lear's (1988) comments on Aristotle's concept of epistemophia are germane when he says,
We cannot gain self-knowledge by turning our gaze unto ourselves...it is by looking outward on to the world that man's soul maps the structure of the world...because we are at bottom systematic understanders, self-understanding must be to some extent indirect (p.8)
Systems thinking is the directed and structured thought with its roots in general systems theory (Morgan, 1986). Senge (1990) refers to systems thinking as a framework for seeing interrelationships and patterns, rather than moments frozen in time. The assignments which were handed out, such as a case analysis, are useful from the point of view of having students delve deeply into root causes of problems and issues.
Yet, such assignments represent a photograph, taken, and although well developed, is stationary in time. In the situation of the study of cross-cultural management, there is need for a greater degree of dynamism, not from the point of view of fireworks and glitz, but from the perspective of reality, immediacy and relevance. Weatherby, (op. cit, 1992) proposes that the thinking process in cross cultural education can be heightened by providing students with the opportunity to practice. Bateson states this concept differently by noting that understanding is best aided not by the nature of objects in a setting, but by the role of the actor in a structure of relations. The perspective is supported by Cooper an Fox (1990) Weick (1979), who proposed the value of learning through ongoing relationships. In this regard, the Internet and the Internet conferencing line proved to be the star. The search engines such as Veronica, provided the means to access up-to-date and immediate information and information sources.
The Conferencing line proved to be invaluable in affording an immediate, real and novel method of meeting experts, who themselves enjoyed their time with the students.
Cross cultural management essentially calls for a move from ethnocentrism to cultural relativity (Bennett, 1986). There is an urgent demand for people to understand that here are many valid centers of the world other than their own (Adler, 1977; Batchelder, 1977). Benett (op. cit, 1986) notes that moving from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism does not occur without encounters with another culture. The Internet and the attendant features are powerfully poised to help bring about the paradigmatic shift that is necessary to understand the vagaries and intricacies of cultural differences.
There were additional benefits. Students learnt about the mechanics of electronic mail, were comfortable about using it; they also became quite adept at exploring the Internet to the point at which I needed to implore them about excessive time spent in cyberspace. A student evaluation at the end of the course gave some insight about the meaning of the course. Two comments are particularly useful.
"I came into this course expecting a routine set of lectures and the usual business school stuff. I wasn't ready fr what hit me when I learnt about the impact of the Internet. Not only did I make friends in other parts of the world, but I experienced a new way of life through their eyes." (McQuinn, 1995)