Fostering Inter-Cultural Communication Globally Among Business Studentsbthe Trials and Triumphs of Using Cyber Space


Helena Czepiec (2001) ,"Fostering Inter-Cultural Communication Globally Among Business Studentsbthe Trials and Triumphs of Using Cyber Space", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 302-304.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 302-304


Helena Czepiec, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, U.S.A.


Unlike any previous discovery, the Internet and the technological tools it has spawned have provided a way of significantly enhancing cross-cultural communication. These tools include bulletin boards, lotus notes and e-mail. The Internet improves communication because it allows students to communicate and collaborate to solve problems globally from multi-cultural perspectives. It provides the means with which students can cooperate and actively participate in their own learning.

Global communication and active learning are among two of the "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education," published in March, 1987, by the American Association of Higher Education, namely:

1."Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement inlearning. Sharing one’s ideas and responding to others’ improves thinking and deepens understanding."

2."Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to their past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives."

According to Chickering and Ehrmann, 1996, technology is not enough to boost communication and learning. In order to make sure that the principles are carried out, faculty must develop learning experiences that are "interactive, problem oriented, relevant to world issues, and that evoke student motivation." (Implementing The Seven Principles: Technology as a Lever, Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann, AAHE Bulletin (Vol. 49, No. 3) October, 1996)

The use of the Internet as an educational tool in the global marketing classroom has been advocated by Natesan and Smith (1998). They identified the internet as a communication tool, and information search and retrieval tool, an analytical and problem-solving tool, an elctronic-mentoring and career-networking tool, and a promotional tool. According to Drea and Singh (1998) students consider web based assignments a positive learning experience to which they devote a considerable amount of time.


The purpose of this paper is to discuss how such Internet tools were coupled with an interactive problem. The project was part of an International Exporting class taught concurrently during the Winter of 1999 at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and De La Salle University, Philippines. The students at both universities were organized into teams which acted as import/export trading companies. The teams were matched with overseas partners and were expected to develop an export plan and an import plan. The matched teams were expected to help their counterparts obtain necessary information to complete the plan. The teams were encouraged to communicate in a variety of ways but primarily through email and a bulletin board located on the U.S. instructor’s class page. The class page also contained the assignments which comprised the export/import plan along with hyperlinks that could help the students complete the assignments.

The paper will describe the assignments and how they incorporated Internet resources. It will also describe the cyber tools used to facilitate intercultural cooperation, including:

$the mechanics of setting up bulletin boards, lotus notes and e-mail;

$the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative methods

$strategies for encouraging efficient and effective student usage of these tools;

$ways these tools can promote communication and active learning.


The class page contained the following assignments, which made up the components of the exporting/importing plan. In assignment one, the students were asked to assess the feasibility of exporting to the Philippines. They had to describe the demographic, physical, political, economic, and social/cultural environments of the Philippines and rate each of the factors on a fie point scale with respect to its attractiveness. In assignment two, they identified products with export potential and possible trade leads. After deciding on a product to export, they found its harmonized schedule code and its standard industrial classification code. Assignment two also involved determining the marketability of the product. In assignment three the students were asked to identify any barriers or permissions to satisfy domestic and foreign export requirements (tariffs, quotas, laws and customs regulations, licenses). In assignments five and six, the students developed a marketing strategy including a sales forecast, price determination, promotional plan. In assignment six, the students were also asked to identify potential distributors or export management companies, freight forwarders, and shipping methods. In assignment seven, they were asked to develop an abbreviated import plan for their counterpart’s product.

Placing the assignments on the web page had several advantages. It allowed the instructor to modify the assignments easily and notify the students on a more timely basis. Otherwise the instructor’s contact with the class was limited to its twice a week meetings. Second, the class could more easily take advantage of the resources available on the internet. There are extensive resources, ranging from country research reports to on-line letter of credit applications, available to complete and execute an export/import plan . Third, additional information can be provided to improve the project. Students are encouraged to locate additional relevant sources of information and to share them with their colleagues by posting them to the class page.


Available Internet communication and collaboration tools include bulletin boards, lotus notes, list serve, and email. The primary tools used by the students in this project were a threaded message board and email. A threaded message board is a Web-based bulletin board on which messages can be posted. It includes an index of posted messages outlined by subject that makes it easy to follow a discussion thread or participate in a discussion. It also contains an administration form for controlling access and deleting posted messages.



Lotus Notes is an e-mail, calendaring, group scheduling, Web access and information management program. It is a more sophisticated and complicated version of the threaded boardCall integrated in an easy-to-use and customizable environment. Through email individuals can engage in one-to-one communication. Email can support email address lists, so that a single individual or organization can send email to a list of addresses of individuals or organizations. Email-based discussion groups are another use of email lists. Participants send email to a central mailing listserver, and the messages are broadcast to the other participants. This allows subscribers, who may be in different time zones or different continents, to have useful discussions.

The different internet tools vary with regard to their benefits (Table 1). For example, the bulletin board has high immediacy. Individuals can respond immediately to the posted question. The question and the response is also available to all the students in the class at the same time. The chances of someone in the class responding to the question are therefore higher. Lotus Notes and the list serve method are also high with respect to immediacy. Email is easier to ignore. It is also more difficult to send the same message to multiple recipients.

Security, however, is lower for bulletin board users. For example, not only can all the participants in the class post and read everyone else’s messages, anyone with access to the web can do so unless the public’s access is restricted.

Collaboration is higher through the bulletin board because respondents can reply to specific questions and can coment further on the replies. This is more likely to result in a meaningful dialogue and interchange. Also respondents who may be reticent to speak in a classroom situation are more willing to contribute in a cyber setting where no one particular individual has the advantage and ability to dominate.

The technical capabilities of the bulletin board are moderate compared to Lotus Notes but better than list serve and email. Unlike Lotus Notes, it is difficult to sort messages by subject area, contributor and date. Therefore one must peruse the entire message board to look for specific threads he is interested in. One may even need to set up a separate discussion boards if one wishes to keep individual threads truly isolated.

It is relatively easy to set up a discussion board. Most universities now support an intranet and have the instructions posted on their web sites. For example, at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona users can create a threaded message board within any user or group directory in which they are allowed to write and insert access. The message board title is a string of at most fifty characters describing the message board. The message directory is the directory to be created in an existing directory.

With respect to the board, the board administration has the ability to control access and to prune messages. This is relatively easy to do technically. However, it does take time especially if the board is heavily used. One must be vigilant to keep it cleaned up to avoid confusion.


Despite the reported ubiquity of the Internet, the students were still reticent to use the communication tools. According to Ingersoll, 1998, at least 100 million people logged onto the Internet in 1997, up from 40 million the year before, and as many as 1 billion people are expected to utilize it by the year 2005. A number of strategies were tried to encourage use. They included posting an ice breaker question to which all the students were required to respond. The ice breaker was designed to help the students get to know each other better and learn something about the other’s culture. For example, sample question could be: What is your favorite pastime? Or How did you spend New Year’s Eve? In another attempt to facilitate communication the team members’ email addresses were posted to the bulletin board. To put a face to the names, the U.S. students also posted their pictures to the class page.


Undertaking a project of this magnitude is fraught with potential problems. Students, who do not know each other and are very busy with their own lives, are required to cooperate and communicate across several time zones. They are expect to provide strangers with information that is time consuming and often vague. Such a situation, however, is not so dissimilar from what they will encounter when engaged in actual importing and exporting.

The bulletin board helped foster communication in a number of ways. For example, students could transmit hard to find information about consumer characteristics and competitive activity. In other words the students could do some primary marketing research and relay the data to their counterparts inexpensively and quickly. The web permitted the students to send photographs and drawings. This enabled the students to better understand the characteristics of products which were unique to the culture. For example, one of the teams in the Philippines was exporting lamps whose base looked like ceramic fruit. It was very difficult to describe the item in words alone. The students began to freely post sites to the board that were useful for all tems to complete the project. They learned that everyone could succeed if they shared information. Lastly, the students got to know each other much better. In some cases friendships were forged and plans were made for future visits.


Chickering, Arthur W. and Stephen C. Ehrmann, Implementing The Seven Principles: Technology as a Lever, AAHE Bulletin 49 ( 3) (October, 1996)

Drea, John T. and Mandeep Singh, 1998, "Analyzing Retailing on the World Wide Web," in Great Ideas For Teaching Marketing, edited by Joseph F. Hair Jr. Charles W. Lamb Jr., and Carl McDaniel, 31-33, Cincinnati, OH: South-Western College.

Ingersoll, Bruce, 1998, "High Tech Industries, Led By the Internet, Boost U.S. Growth and Rein in Inflation," The Wall Street Journal, 16 April, B11.

Natesan, N. Chinna and Karen H. Smith, "The Internet Educational Tool in the Global Marketing Classroom," Journal of Marketing Education, 20(2)(1998): 149-60.



Helena Czepiec, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, U.S.A.


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001

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