Umpleby and Pavel Makeyenko
Abstract: The existence of the internet makes it possible for management students to do semester projects with clients or students in other countries. Two projects in the 1990s and several projects in recent years are compared to show how the use of the internet is changing. In the early 1990s students in the US and Russia worked together on two projects via email because their professors knew each other. In recent projects students work with clients overseas because they are in touch with these people themselves. Hence, the use of the internet has become such a natural part of people’s lives, student projects with international clients are now no more difficult than projects with local clients.
Keywords: management education,
service-learning, internet, joint ventures, student projects
The use of modern telecommunication technologies for educational purposes is currently developing quite rapidly. As these technologies spread around the world, new opportunities are emerging to internationalize educational activities. This paper describes several experiments to use email in management courses. The purpose of the early experiments in the 1990s was to determine how working on a common project with students in a different country might enhance the learning experiences of management students. Email was used as the medium of communication. All communication between Russian and American students was conducted in English. The American students who participated in these projects were enrolled in a course in Cross-Cultural Management. Students in this class were required to form into multi-cultural groups and to work together on a project. The projects were regarded as the laboratory part of the course. Because about half of the students enrolled in the MBA program at The George Washington University are from other countries, the term "American students" actually means a multinational group of students.
In the first experiment a group of American students and a group of Russian students volunteered to participate in a project which was aimed at creating one or more joint business ventures. In the second experiment, conducted a year later, a group of American students communicated with a Russian professor who proposed a specific business opportunity -- translating and then selling American management training videos in Russia.
The major educational goals of these two exercises were to
give the students the opportunity to experience cross-cultural
communication; to provide some initial training in establishing business
contacts with foreign partners; and to acquaint the students with the use
of email for regular communication.
From the beginning of the first experiment in 1993 it was clear that the main constraint would be the limited access of the Russian group to email. The Russian students had to rely on a single email address which belonged to a research institution and which was also used by other researchers. There was no local computer network, so the only way to send or receive messages was to bring messages prepared in advance on a floppy disk. Time delays, which occurred because of this physical movement of files in Moscow, turned out to be the major obstacle to the success of the project. It took an average of about two weeks to exchange messages. Since both groups were involved in one semester courses, it became apparent very soon that substantial progress on defining one or more joint ventures would not be possible in such a short period of time.
One reason that time was limited was the different university schedules. For the Moscow Institute the semester runs from mid February to late June. For George Washington University the semester runs from mid January to early May. So there were less than three months overlap in the semesters.
Technical barriers were more significant than cultural ones.
The American students made an interesting point. "Although we did not
experience a true 'cultural gap,' we felt that the physical barriers could
be considered cultural barriers because the infrastructure was viewed as
critically poor from our subjective perspective." (Kim, et al.,
The First Experiment
The first project was not aimed at a predetermined goal. Instead, the goal was to conduct an exchange of ideas about business opportunities in Russia and the U.S. and to discuss joint venture possibilities. The students, about five on each side, sought to identify ventures with interest on both sides.
The U.S. side suggested several projects:
The Russian side suggested:
The students from each side made a preliminary analysis of the market potential of these ideas and rejected some of them. For example, the American group rejected the memorabilia project because of logistical problems. "The brokering of memorabilia requires an expert appraiser and the supply of this type of item would be very sporadic." The idea of "magician" toys was turned down for cultural reasons. The American students expressed the view that American children are primarily interested in "Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles" or G.I. Joe dolls rather than toys that are intended to "develop thinking," as the Russian students put it.
When we started this exercise, we did not expect that the project would bring immediate practical results. However, the primary goal of experiencing cross-cultural business communication was achieved to a substantial degree. Several of the students continued to communicate after the end of the semester.
The second experiment was of a different kind. American students, conducting a group project for a course in cross-cultural management, communicated with a Russian professor who set as the goal of the project the search for a possible partner in the U.S. who would be interested in establishing a long term relationship with a Russian partner in order to translate and adapt U.S. educational videos for the emerging Russian market for training in business and management.
From the Russian side the students received information about the present situation regarding demand for such materials, economic constraints on such a project, possible business partners, and forms of cooperation with the US side. The Russian firm suggested that they would translate the tapes from English into Russian and dub the tapes or provide subtitles. The Russian firm would also change the technical standard from NTSC, used in the US, to SECAM, used in Europe. The Russian firm would become a distributor of these tapes in Russia and other former Soviet Union countries.
Based on this information, the American students wrote a business proposal for the US companies that produce educational videos. After receiving initial responses, the students contacted by telephone those companies who expressed interest and conducted preliminary negotiations. Throughout this process they regularly contacted the Russian professor by email to obtain additional information and to report on progress. As a result of these efforts they obtained the names and addresses of three US companies which expressed strong interest for further negotiations with the Russian side.
This project also did not result in a joint venture. The
American copyright holders were concerned about the status of intellectual
property legislation and enforcement in Russia and other Newly Independent
States. Nevertheless the project was successful from an educational point
Obstacles to Joint Activities
Regarding the obstacles to establishing successful joint ventures, the two experiments revealed cultural, technical, and legal or economic difficulties. Some of the difficulties can be rather easily overcome. Some will be resolved only as new institutions or ways of doing business are developed.
1. Cultural difficulties
2. Technical difficulties
3. Legal and economic difficulties
Not later than 1993 one hundred percent of US universities had campus computer networks. Email and its companion, file transfer, had become an everyday practice throughout higher education in the U.S. (Cotton, 1995) But widespread use of email was not as well developed in Russia. The greatest obstacle to the projects in the early 1990s was the limited access by Russian educators and students to communication facilities. Nevertheless, these experiments in international educational activities showed that email can be an effective tool in teaching courses with an international focus.
The American students were impressed that communication via
email was much easier than via telephone or fax. Although there were
other methods of communication available, email was the most convenient
method because of the low cost of communication and because of existing
access to the necessary equipment. Email was also the most convenient
means of communicating because of the time difference (eight hours)
between Russia and the U.S. Because it is available at all hours, email
can be used at any time, unlike the telephone. And email is cheaper than
communicating by fax. (Chen, et al., 1994)
Recent Use of Email in Student Group Projects
In recent years the technical barriers to using email in student group projects have greatly diminished. The technology is now so widely used, both in the US and other countries, that students now do projects with clients in other countries without being encouraged to do so. Some more recent uses of the internet by students in management courses illustrate how completely the internet has become an essential tool in the academic and business worlds.
A group of students worked with Cyandi Electronics Corporation, a Korean firm with a plant in Mexico. The firm was having difficulty retaining Mexican laborers. The students decided to help the company find ways to keep skilled workers. They found that when the company decided to open a plant in Mexico, it focused on economic gains but not cultural differences. The students created surveys for the Korean managers and Mexican workers and analyzed the results. Their recommendations included more knowledge of Spanish among Korean managers, job rotation, incentives for good attendance, and contracts between the company and workers. (Farman, et al., 1999)
One project involved corruption in hiring practices in the banking industry in Ukraine. The husband of a former visiting professor at GWU is a computer scientist working for a bank in Ukraine. He was not being promoted, but others less capable were. So a GW student, who had formerly been a lawyer in Bulgaria, worked with him via email to write a paper comparing hiring practices and anti-corruption measures in the US and Ukraine. The paper was based on interviews in the US and Ukraine and information from websites of organizations such as Transparency International. (Rousseva and Melnyk, 2002)
A group of students worked with the Somali Television Network. Somalia is
a failed state. For several years it had no government, or more precisely
the government leaders were in Kenya to avoid the chaos in Somalia. But
many organizations continued to function, including Somali television and
radio stations. One student knew a shareholder who lived in London. The
students worked with the shareholder on three projects. First, they found
in the US a code of journalistic ethics, which will be used in training
the journalists in Somalia. Second, they obtained an organization chart
for a television station in Washington, DC, and sent it along with
recommendations on how to organize the people working at the stations in
Somalia. Third, the students described how a quality improvement program
could be established and conducted. (Boudjemaa, et al., 2003)
Summarizing the results of the experiments we can say the
Boudjemaa, H., Cortez, C., Porapakkham, C., Sudi, B. (2003), “Somali
Television Network Project: Organization Design and Quality Improvement,”
A group project for Mgt 201, The George Washington University.
Cotton, C. (1995), "Networking in Higher Education: Institutions Respond to Growing Demands." Syllabus, Vol. 8, No. 7.
Farman, Alan, Byung-Chung Ha, Jae Lee. (1999), “Labor Problems of Cyandi Electronics Corporation.” A group project for Mgt 216, The George Washington University.
Kim, J., Childers, S., Sirko, C. (1993), "U.S.-Russian Student Joint Ventures," A group project for Mgt 216, The George Washington University.
Rousseva, P. and Melnyk, S. (2002), “What Works
Best Against Corruption: USA – Ukraine a Cross-Cultural Approach,” A
group project for Mgt 216, The George Washington University.
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