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Global management education via the Internet.

Abstract

This paper looks at the application of WebCT to one MBA level course, and discusses some of its advantages (such as increased student participation) and disadvantages (inadequate for the execution of simulations). Pointers for future Internet instructors are offered.

Introduction

Distance education has become a fairly common method of delivery for university programs. While this has accommodated the varied schedules of students, the comparable value of distance versus on-campus learning has been debated. Some researchers suggest that face-to-face interactions increase participant engagement in learning, and state that on-line courses lack the media richness and interaction effectiveness that facilitate behavioral and attitudinal change (Chidambaram & Jones, 1993; Fulk 1993; Siegel, Dubrovsky, Kiesler & McGuire, 1986).

Other studies stress the positive aspects of distance education. Hutchins (2001) found that when technology was used in a course, the students reported higher levels of satisfaction and felt that class communication was more equitable and varied. Both Gendreau (2003) and Morse (1999) concluded that online delivery has progressed to the point of being a quality alternative. One popular software program, WebCT, is used at thousands of institutions of higher education (WebCT, 2003). Williams' (2001) study of the program concluded that the only negative aspect of WebCT was the amount of extra work that faculty encountered. However, the level of student-to-student interaction was lower via the Internet, and the distance-students expressed that they missed the human contact. To overcome this, Goldberg (1996) posited that a combination of on-campus and WebCT sessions was superior to either a course taught completely via WebCT or entirely in a face-to-face mode.

A Distance Program at FGCU

Florida Gulf Coast University, part of the Florida state university system, opened its doors in August 1997, with a goal of offering 25% of the university's courses via distance. The College of Business made the strategic decision to offer its MBA program in both face-to-face and distance formats. In the first iteration of the distance MBA, professors sometimes chose to have both a distance and face-to-face component to their classes (consistent with Goldberg's 1996 findings). Since it is now necessary for some students to earn an MBA without coming to campus, all required courses, and an adequate number of elective courses, must be available in a 100% distance format.

While the on campus delivery of courses is the preferred format for behaviorally oriented classes, the author utilized WebCT to deliver a very experientially based, required course in the MBA program. My on-campus course (Global Organization Issues) is highly interactive and process-oriented, with objectives that focus on preparing students for global and cross-cultural management. One desired outcome is to move students away from an ethnocentric perspective, through the use of simulations and experiential exercises, to affect changes in attitudes and behaviors. The face-to-face version of the course focuses on having students examine their cultural values, reinforcing and/or changing behaviors and attitudes, and assisting them in developing cross-cultural competencies. This is accomplished through the use of experiential exercises, modeling of effective behavior, written and video case studies, international negotiation simulations, cross-cultural experiences and country specific training modules. My first distance delivery was a combination of on-campus and Internet modules to accommodate the face-to-face experiential learning. The distance portion of this earlier mixed format utilized Web Board software rather than WebCT.

WebCT Features

WebCT has many useful features for the delivery of an Internet course. It allows a professor (as the designer) to establish an integrated training site that includes training modules, chat rooms, bulletin boards, homepages, drop boxes for assignments, presentation capabilities, and a viewable grade book for students. The professor has the ability to allow students to sign into just one location, as if the students were showing up each week for class. The WebCT site becomes their classroom. The viability of this delivery method is its capacity to provide easy access to information and multiple types of databases and files. WebCT allows the instructor to add all the bells and whistles in order to increase the media richness. Teaching the course via the Internet, however, meant that I needed to prepare everything months in advance.

In my class, the process of developing and posting a personal homepage is part of their first assignment. The students decide how they would like to present themselves to the classmates they will be working with all semester, but with whom they may never have any face-to-face interactions. This software lets them add photos, animation and files to their homepage to share parts of their personalities (thus allowing the class to get to know their "culture"). This allows the class to visually relate to all of the students, even those separated by great geographical distance. On the course homepage, the professor can display links to course learning modules, communication tools, tests, presentations, announcements and course grades. An announcement feature allows a professor to insert tips for the day that will pop up when the student logs on. This provides a mechanism to post urgent notices or reminders that must be read by all students. The course grades function allows the instructor to create a student grade book containing all of the assignments for the course, along with weighted values. Within the learning modules, I list all assignments, and links to support materials, by the week that the assignments are due. These correspond with the regular university semester, however, other professors may choose to have a more open time frame, allowing students to complete and submit their assignments whenever they wish.

Deadlines

I have found the weekly deadlines to be useful on a number of levels. Some of my colleagues who don't use weekly deadlines have found themselves at the end of the semester with many incompletes, because students didn't get all of the assignments in on time. I think the firm deadlines also work to the professor's advantage because the amount of work for an Internet course can be daunting, and having students submit assignments by a deadline helps manage the workload for both the students and the professor. I have picked up some negative "noise" in the chat rooms about an Internet course meaning that students should be able to do the course at their own speed, but I stress that an Internet course provides freedom from location constraints, not necessarily from time constraints. Students always have the option of working ahead of time to submit an assignment if they will be out of town. Another important case for using the time limitations relates to group work. Some of my assignments are to be submitted by the students for an individual grade. These may be submitted via a "drop box" that closes at the end of the day that assignment is due. If the students don't get their assignment completed on time, the grade book will display a zero for that grade. Other assignments need to be discussed as a group, in that group's private discussion board. After reaching consensus, the group as a whole posts its answers. I usually have them post on a topic-related Bulletin Board for the entire class to read.

Teamwork

Even at a distance, it is important for students to learn to work as a team. In fact, organizations are requiring employees to spend less time at airports and more time at their computers in an effort to become more efficient and to avoid many of the problems that are endemic in air travel today. Consequently, developing communication skills utilizing synchronous and asynchronous technology is an important part of preparing students for today's business world. Students learn that chat rooms, conference boards and e-mail are not as rich as face-to-face communication because they lack the visual markers (such as facial gestures) that let us know when we need to clarify our meanings. A valuable learning experience in my course occurred when the WebCT software was upgraded the second week of my classes. Since all of the bugs had not been resolved for the new version, the chat function was problematic. As more students logged on, the program reached a point when it would freeze up or bounce everyone from the chat room. It became necessary to get back into the site and start over. I held virtual office hours each week via the chat room function, and the number of students participating in the real-time discussions dropped off dramatically after these early frustrations. One important lesson was to have as many backup plans as possible. After the initial glitches, I set up duplicate chat rooms and private conferences on O'Reilly Web Board that provided greater stability. Many groups established their own chat rooms on other Internet servers and used Instant Messaging.

Helpful Media

On campus, I show video cases and film clips to generate discussions and understanding. To migrate this learning to the distance course, I placed the film clips on CDs and mailed them to students, who then posted their answers to questions I would normally ask in class. I found the use of CDs especially helpful for students with slow Internet connection speeds, since downloading and streaming can be very time consuming. I obtained permission for the use of all copyrighted materials. The software's presentation function allowed students to develop a site to display their group project. They added pictures, sounds, text and links to other Web sites to enrich the presentation and virtual class interactions.

Case Studies

In the face-to-face version, students prepare cases for classroom discussion and generate lively and meaningful dialogues. However, it is possible for some students to coast on the efforts of others, or be only partially prepared for these face-to-face discussions. In the Interact version, students need to give careful consideration to all of the questions because they are posting them to be read by the professor or shared with the entire class. They are not able to ride on the discussion answers provided by other students; consequently, they delve into the readings with greater detail. Both students and professor need to do much more writing, since there is no reliance on verbal communications, and this means that there is more answering of questions for students, and more reading and feedback for the professor.

Simulations

The limitations of the Internet approach for the delivery of behaviorally oriented management classes rest in the lack of face-to-face interactions. Simulation exercises, such as Barnga and BaFa'BaFa', help students gain the "aha!" experience of suddenly "getting it". Communication barriers, perceptions and differences in rules are demonstrated in the card game, Barnga (Thiagarajan & Steinwachs, 1990). BaFa'BaFa' (Shirts, 1977), places participants in two new countries (Alpha and Beta) so they may: explore the idea of culture; experience communication barriers; develop feelings (such as culture shock) similar to traveling in another culture; and practice interacting within that culture. These wonderfully rich learning experiences place students in unknown situations where they must interact with different values, behaviors and cultures. This is not possible on the Internet.

The CIBER at Duke produces international negotiation simulations that successfully help participants experience the faulty perceptions and thinking that lead to many cross-cultural collisions. Students realize that others may not share their cherished values. The simulations help students understand the frustrations involved in international negotiations, the necessity of understanding the other culture, and the importance of preparation. I utilized one of the simulations with both my on-campus and distance classes. Students role-play as members of a U.S. delegation or a Chinese delegation. The on-campus groups frequently dress in Chinese clothing and serve Chinese refreshments to their U.S. guests. During the Internet course, some students in the same or adjoining counties wanted to meet face-to-face. They met at offices and their observers were able to provide feedback to them. The students that were not close enough for face-to-face negotiations were given private chat rooms to prepare their vertical negotiation strategies. An additional chat room was available for the China-US horizontal negotiations. Even when they were preparing for negotiations, all students had to stay in character. While the simulations are written to produce frustration, the two teams that conducted their negotiations on the Internet, experienced far more frustrations than the face-to-face groups. One of the Chinese characters is instructed to leave the room occasionally, and I had to advise the students playing that role to type (in parenthesis) the words "I am leaving the room" during the on-line negotiations. In the face-to-face simulations it was obvious when the character left the room. One of the on-line groups continued negotiations past midnight.

I had students submit answers to questions regarding their experiences with this simulation. WebCT provides an option to record the entire chat, thus enabling the professor to review the actual experience. I will focus on the two negotiation sessions that were conducted on the Internet. The Chinese delegation on Team A spent approximately 45 minutes on a conference call for their negotiation preparations prior to "meeting" with the U.S. delegation. The actual negotiations between China and the United States took place in a chat room and lasted for approximately 3 1/2 hours. Team B established their time schedule with e-mail messages and then conducted the negotiations in a chat room. Neither of the negotiating teams was able to reach an agreement. Feedback from the on-line groups pointed to a desire to meet face-to-face. They stated that they missed having non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. In both the face-to-face and Internet formats, the students learned the necessity of being prepared, of understanding the other culture and being patient. The face-to-face groups expressed greater levels of enthusiasm and shared more positive learning outcomes. On the other hand, the Internet groups learned that without the connectivity of in-person discussions, it becomes more important to express your thoughts clearly and to read the replies very carefully. Both formats provided the students with the basic learning outcomes, but the Internet is neither as rich, nor as powerful a learning tool. Given these limitations, I would like to develop a simulation that would succeed in this Internet format.

While both my on-campus and WebCT classes completed group projects on preparing employees to do business in another culture, the on-campus classes were able to do more hands-on training. Both groups write papers investigating a series of cultural variables: economic, cultural, political, ethical, etc. They also design home pages for their countries and use the information to assist them in training the rest of the class. On-campus we are treated to foods and artifacts from different countries. Students get totally immersed in that culture for an evening. They usually facilitate learning through the use of rotating training modules for smaller group interactions. The Internet groups "present" their training through the WebCT presentation page and answer questions in both synchronous and asynchronous discussions. WebCT allows students to view all of the countries and visit linked web sites, but it doesn't leave the same impression on the trainees as the in-class training. The investigating groups learn the same content, whether it is Internet or face-to-face, however, the retention seems to be greater on campus because they are practicing and training others.

Information for Future Instructors

This paper has attempted to encourage instructors who are faced with their first delivery of a distance course, whether they use WebCT or other software packages. While the Internet lacks immediate reinforcement and clarification, and is ineffective for most experiential learning, it does provide greater student participation and work schedule flexibility. All Internet formats require advanced planning and place time burdens on faculty. Instructors should have all activities and assignments displayed in one location for simplicity and easy student access. Providing a CD with all of your film clips, PowerPoint, etc., resolves streaming problems. Clarify your requirements and expectations (emphasize that the workload includes hours normally spent in the classroom), and remember that weekly deadlines keep students on track. If WebCT, or other programs, are not supported on your campus, check with text publishers. Many now offer this service to instructors. Because of technology glitches, it is imperative to have backup plans and to keep the technology user-friendly. Free instant messaging services can be incorporated into your course for chat and discussion rooms.

Conclusions

Internet instruction seems to be a flat format for process-oriented courses, but the author found ways to enrich this learning experience. Careful planning, providing tools (such as CDs) to facilitate learning outcomes, and lots of feedback, will help students gain more than facts from your class. Personal interactions will always create a different learning environment, and are the preferred opportunity to gain hands-on experience, but new software programs greatly facilitate and enhance distance education.

References

Chidambaram, L. and Jones, B. (1993). Impact of communication medium and support on group perceptions and performance: A comparison of face-to-face and dispersed meetings, MIS Quarterly, December, 465-491

Fulk, J. (1993). Social Construction of communication technology, Academy of Management Journal, 36(5), 921-950

Gendreau, R. (2003). What has happened in the business world of on-line distance learning? Journal of American Academy of Business 2(2), 446-451

Goldberg, M. W. (1996). Calos: An experiment with computer-aided learning for operating systems, Proceedings of the ACM's 27th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. Available on-line: http://www.webct.com/service/ViewContent?contentID=11961

Hutchins, H.M. (2001). Enhancing the business communication course through WebCT, Business Communication Quarterly, 64(3), 87-94

Morse, D.A. (1999). A study of student perspectives on Web-based learning: WebCT in the classroom, Internet Research, 9(5), 393-408

Shirts, R.G. (1977). BaFa'BaFa'. Simulation Training System: Delmar, CA.

Siegel, J., Dubrovsky, V., Kiesler, S. and McGuire, T.W. (1986) Group processes in computer-mediated communication, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 37(2), April, 157-187

Thiagarajan, S. and Steinwachs, B. (1990) Barnga. Intercultural Press: Yarmouth, ME WebCT. (2003) (Online). Available: http://www.webct.com/company

Williams, P. (2001). Learning area network: information dissemination and online discussion in an education environment: the capabil-IT-y project, Aslib Proceedings, 53(3), 99107

Karen Eastwood, Florida Gulf Coast University

Eastwood, PhD., is Associate Professor of Management and MBA Coordinator. Her research interests are cross-cultural management and organizational behavior.
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Author:Eastwood, Karen
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:3007
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