As a result of the global pandemic, international travel for students has been suspended since spring 2020. Despite physical barriers, UNC Charlotte continues to offer opportunities for students to be globally engaged – but in a virtual model – helping to prepare students for careers in the global marketplace. Victor Chen, Associate professor of International Management in the Belk College of Business, and Adriana Medina, associate professor in the Cato College of Education, discuss courses they've piloted through a new collaborative initiative called Globally Networked Learning or GNL.
I’m Jeffrey Jones, Director of Executive Education and Professional Development at UNC Charlotte, and this is Charlotte Business Buzz. Connecting the Queen City’s business community … From UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business.... This is Charlotte Business Buzz.
As a result of the global pandemic, international travel for students has been suspended since last spring. Despite physical barriers, UNC Charlotte continues to offer opportunities for students to be globally engaged, but in a virtual model, helping to prepare students for careers in the global marketplace.
Joining us to discuss are Victor Chen and Adriana Medina.
Dr. Victor Chen is an associate professor of International Management at UNC Charlotte’s Belk College, and Dr. Adriana Medina, an associate professor in the Cato College of Education. Both faculty recently launched courses to support globally networked learning initiatives.
Victor and Adriana, welcome to the program today.
Thank you for having us.
Well it's great to have you. I'm really curious about global networked learning. Can you start with telling me a little bit about that?
So the global network learning, or GNL in short, is a collaborative approach that enables students, instructors and researchers from locations around the world to participate together in learning and knowledge creation. It provides students with access to virtual international experiences through activities such as cross-cultural discussion, across time zone projects, in collaborative tasks, or a research project or a student conference or other activities. There are several types of GNL at UNCC, including cluster class exchanges - so students having simultaneous classes by multiple professors in different locations - there are virtual study abroad and internships, there's virtual research, and virtual engagement activities and of course there's also Global Tech Launch which is my model - which I would like to elaborate later
I would say Jeff while it seems like a new term - globally networked learning, GNL - it's really kind of an old idea too. You may recognize it for some of us I don't know from last century, as telecollaboration and so it's kind of maybe a little bit of a newer name because the technology allows us to do so much more now, but it's not a new idea entirely.
What kind of benefits have you seen in the classroom for yourselves and for students?
So I observed the benefits to my students through GNL in several ways. First they are exposed to a global, virtual, cross-cultural, cross-time zone, collaborative environment without actually having to spend a lot of money and time and to take the risk during a pandemic to physically travel abroad. So in other words they have a greater flexibility to test the water of working and collaborating in one or - in my class - several foreign countries before they decide where they want to go and how deep they want to spend their resources and time to have in-person experience, and this flexibility becomes extremely relevant in the current COVID pandemic situation where students all across the world would love to have a global exposure like this but not be able to or willing to resume in-person travel and although the experience is virtual, students do get the real experiences in a global collaborative setting such as cross-cultural communications and very often miscommunications, global team building or learning from how they mess up from the team building and learning from colleagues with different access to local data information resources such as context for conducting business interviews, and that's first, the second - so the first is flexibility. The second benefit I would say is this experience combines multiple real-world factors that are becoming increasingly crucial for the new normal of work from anywhere after the pandemic including virtual meeting skills and working with a globally dispersed virtual team. I'll give you one example. I have several teams in my class who are working with the Chinese counterparts both last semester and this semester and they have to mobilize across multiple virtual meeting apps back and forth because many apps in the US such as Google, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, you name it are blocked in China and later last year and early this year during the trade war between the two countries and many of the Chinese social apps such as Wechat, TikTok, face the same threat from the US government to be blocked so they had to find a way to work around such difficult technical situations to get the projects done. That is real. So that's something they cannot learn from the in-person or traditional class environment. The final benefit I would say is students are given along the wrong way to try many bold ideas and experiments in such virtual experiences before they actually execute whatever ideas they have for real work or study abroad. One example is I have students working with German MBA students to design field interviews for a US-based medical device product and they worked together for eight weeks to try several cold call techniques, surveys, follow-up methods, and interview techniques failed a long way but they learned from this and eventually found out the best way to get the most relevant responses from the German - potential German customers on US products and learning from trials and errors help American students build the right skills before they actually land a physical job or career in a foreign country such as Germany.
And I agree with Victor, the pandemic really presented many challenges, but also many opportunities because I feel like if it was not for the pandemic I might not have ventured out to do my COIL project last fall. So COIL, C-O-I-L, stands for collaborative online international learning. It's an approach to learning that falls under this idea of virtual exchange and globally networked learning. And basically allows the educators who do not work in a geographical proximity to collaborate across cultures and then to co-develop and co-teach a module or course that brings their students and their content together utilizing the technology and while we do it across countries you could also potentially have a COIL project across regions in the US. And so COIL can have both synchronous and asynchronous components and then the technology is used to interact, learn, discuss, collaborate, create, and share across from the two courses so the students use the technology to do so. Which as Victor says has its issues that you have to learn to work around, right. And COIL is just a way to internationalize the curriculum and provide students with this cross-cultural learning opportunities and so last semester I did a COIL project with my colleagues in Germany because I was set to lead a study abroad program to Germany, which of course was cancelled. And so at first I was not happy about it but a couple of months later we started thinking of different ways that we could still collaborate and this COIL opportunity, because of the pandemic, came around - so I might not have taken it up had it not been for the pandemic. What I often hear from students - obviously when I take students abroad and we do global learning that way, that's life changing, study abroad is life changing, and I do find that my students grow and develop as people and as teachers because of their experiences abroad. But even from those who participate in the COIL project, I heard that they appreciated that same opportunity of getting to meet people from other countries, seeing and hearing about others lives there - especially even during the pandemic. Most interesting I think is when students realize how much they learn about themselves and their own culture while interacting with people from a different culture, because you have to answer some questions as to why you do what you do, why do Americans do X and so on, so there's also that learning, that interpersonal learning, as well as the intercultural learning piece. And then to Victor's point they do have to learn how to work around certain issues, so for us we're working with Germany you think there would be no technology issues but they don't really rely too much on Google because they don't trust the way that Google can protect information and so for Germans protecting your private information is extremely important. And so our students are so used to - and the university supports Google - the students are so used to using that, that they're like well what do you mean we can't do Google, like what are we gonna do and then they don't realize that we don't have the only answers, other cultures have different answers to these same issues and problems of how they work on the web and collaborate and so they learned that - hey just because we use the Doodle here to set up appointments doesn't mean they don't have something equivalent to that on the other side, in the other world. Our way is not the only way or the best way all the time, and so I think it's like Victor said they have to learn these work arounds and problem solve in ways that - that wouldn't even be an issue in our classes, right. So you don't have the problem to solve in our face-to-face but then because you interact these cultures it creates, naturally some issues that they have to learn to solve.
Yeah, I totally agree with Adriana. So, I think one big takeaway from the students in this GNL model in general is they have to revisit some of the taken for granted assumptions. The technical comfort with Google, with Doodle which may not be very popular or accessible in other countries. And the time zone - they should be able to get up at 6 00 a.m in the morning once they stay up to 1 a.m and get used to it every week, so those are the normal things people would do in global business or globally networked work and most students don't have such experiences. I think those are all the good problems for students to experience early on in their life so they are better prepared for the real job.
So what about you two? How has GNL changed the classroom experience, the experience of educating for you?
So for me, I have been living in the globally networked learning or research activity for a long time. I used to be leading a 14-country research network between 201- 2018, there was a large research network across 14 large emerging markets and that was before Zoom, before Webex so it's less fun. So we had to use traditional phone calls, emails to communicate, and we got lots of delays and the idea was to to serve as knowledge brokers between the US policy makers, practitioners who are interested in understanding who are making investments - who are rising to make investments from those emerging markets into the US - that's back to 2011. So very few people knew Alibaba or Infosys from India, China, Mexico, Russia, so that was a great experience but the technology part was less fun - what my students enjoy today. I have experienced the benefits of broadening the scope of resources and mindset and the fun of working with different people from different cultures by myself. I would like my students to also enjoy the fun and also to benefit from this learning. So in my class, I can tell students very much enjoy it. They enjoyed the learning although they are hiccups so some students don't like getting up at 6 a.m in the morning and some students don't like the technical problems but those are all the good problems students have to learn and overcome to become successful in international business. Overall I think one measure that that impressed to me a lot is in all my global network learning courses in the beginning, before the class, I set up a survey asking students how confident you are in working in a global business team and usually the percentage of students who are confident is between 20 to 30 percent, but after the class it's usually 95 to 100 and only students who are not very confident are the ones who missed a lot of classes. So those who have joined the classes, who participate fully have greatly boosted their confidence in working the global virtual team.
And I would agree with you, Victor. The students do have a hard time with hours difference and so we even had to have classes on Saturdays and students did not enjoy having to get up early for a class on Saturday, but that was the only time that we could really have the classes together, and so it really does change their ideas of international collaboration. For me, I don't have a history in this like Victor does, to answer your question Jeff. You know prior to academia, right, I was a classroom teacher before I became a professor. As teacher-educators we really need to prepare teachers to teach all learners, especially those students that are culturally and linguistically different than the teacher. And as you all know our classrooms are getting more and more diverse every year, but our teaching workforce is not. So one way to help teachers meet the needs of all these learners is to expose them to other cultures other people through study abroad, virtual exchange and provide them with the knowledge of the world like through global literature as well and to offer these opportunities to gain multiple perspectives so that they develop their own intercultural competence, because that intercultural competence is the ability to effectively and appropriately behave and communicate with people in these intercultural situations, right. So this intercultural competence for us as teacher-educators is very necessary for a competent teacher and so we know that these opportunities and experiences influence teachers intercultural competence and that in closing affects your classroom practices. So that's where the importance of all this lies for me, and even something as simple - like Victor just said - exposure to world English. Not everybody in the world speaks English with, in the same way. We're speaking English but with different accents, and different types of English. So just something as simple as listening to people speak English in different ways. So I have bazillion colleagues, they come they speak English but it's with a different accent or just in a different way, or your German colleagues that speak English or so forth - even something as simple like that can broaden their perceptions of these students and their families who don't speak what you think is perfect English and therefore now you treat them differently, right. So that's really one of the important pieces for us as teacher-educators in my profession for having this global learning opportunities for our students.
And has that resonated real well with the students that have been involved so far?
Most definitely, most definitely. I do feel that it just broadens their awareness in a way that I could not do this alone in the classroom - well I can still have guest speakers obviously, and I internationalize my curriculum and collaborate with global partners in many different ways. I myself conduct cross-cultural research I - like I said take students abroad, I implemented the COIL project, this semester I had a virtual exchange with students in England, I have - like I said global conversations that I record and my students listen to, but those are still not them involved in it they're still passive - watching or what have you, in some of these cases where I'm interacting with someone but this - where they had to interact with people from across the world and do a product where they needed each other to complete the product. Like you really have to have a product where - like Victor was saying in his too - you need the other partner in order to complete this product and the other partner needs you. You couldn't do it alone, it would make no sense. Working like that collaboratively and with their hands, sleeves rolled up and your hands in it is very, very different experience and then what they take away is firsthand, not secondhand through me or someone else - makes a big difference.
Victor, you mentioned earlier that you wanted to talk a little bit about Global Tech Launch. You want to share with us how that's set up, and how that's similar to or in any way different from GNL?
Yeah well I would say Global Tech Launch is is leveraging the GNL opportunities, so it's built on the platform of GNL, so Global Tech Launch is designed to virtually team up three groups of players into real-world, real-business, immersive experiential learning and doing - it's not only learning. So the three players are business or technology partners who have a market-ready product for which they want to explore the possibility of a foreign market and the second player is entrepreneurial leads and the third player is global virtual team partners. So they work together to apply the learning in my class of foreign market assessment. strategic entrepreneurship in a global context, and market entry strategy to help promote a market-ready technology product from one country to another. So it's a lot more than learning, it's also about doing things. So the business tech partners are typically well-selected tech startups or high-tech businesses who have a deep technology-based product that has been advanced to the market stage and the reason to focus on tech is for global market the market entry is much more difficult than domestic market entry so the products and the companies have to have greater advantage to overcome such taken-for-granted liabilities of foreigners and high-tech based products have the natural advantage of overcome a lot of the tough situations abroad. So the second player is is entrepreneurial leads. Those are the current business students in my class who have completed the prerequisites in business fundamentals and also eight weeks of training of the global business fundamentals and they are playing the role of chief international business development officers for those business tech partners to help assess the foreign market product fit identified the misfits and those risks and they discovered the most effective channels, partners and potential consumers and they are also responsible for designing a market entry plan. But of course they cannot do this alone in a foreign market, because although they learn business in my class they don't know what's going on on the ground in the foreign target market. So the third player to fill in are the global virtual team partners. Those are competitively selected business students based on their professional experiences related to the products, coursework related to international business, and as Adriana mentioned, an important factor is the proficiency of professional English. So they’re from those international universities in areas targeted by the business tech partners and this semester, to target the the markets that the business partners are interested in have four partners. One from China in Shanghai - Fudan University. One from Japan - Tohoku University. One from Germany - University of Mannheim - a business school. And one from South Korea in Seoul, the capital city, called Hongik University. So they work together as a team and they all have complementary skills so my students are serving as the chief business officers for them to explore market design service and the global virtual teams fill the gap by collecting local data, reaching out to contacts for interviews, to identify potential partners, consumers, and the business technology partners - they can focus on their products. That's something they're really good at and unlike the other models of global network learning it's a three-way learning. It's not a student's learning from each other. It's the technology partners learning from the students from multiple countries, it's students learning from each other across cultures, and also the virtual partners learning about what's going on in the US from technology perspective, from business perspective.
And I think that Victor highlights how the possibilities for GNL, right, just it could be so many different things that can be done, it doesn't have to be just one model, one way, one partner. It just is really, really versatile. You could do it within disciplines, across disciplines, and the interdisciplinary - there's really just a lot of possibilities for students to tap in to other places across the globe and to have a variety of international opportunities with globally networked learning.
Exactly and the global pandemic is accelerating such opportunities for everyone.
Yeah, the technology just needs to catch up because there are some issues that I encountered as a professor -maybe you did too Victor, right - we're not working on one common island. So I'm here the other partners are here, here for Victor, for me. Everything that we created together we then have to separate back and take back to our institutions to give to our students. It's not like we create it in one place and then the students can all tap in to this one island, if you would, or one platform the technology is for us I think right now, maybe not catching up yet to what we could envision it being.
We’ll be right back with Victor Chen and Adriana Mediana in just a moment on Charlotte Business Buzz.
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Welcome back. We’re continuing our conversation with International Management professor Dr. Victor Chen and Reading and Elementary Education professor Dr. Adriana Mediana. So now that you've had this experience of COIL where do you see GNL going for you and what possibilities do you use?
So while I’ve done the COIL I also did a just a straight up what I would say a virtual exchange as well. This isn't something you do for one time you invest too much to do this one time, I mean I’ve been working with my global partners in Germany for 10 years now. So this is an investment that we make in these relationships- I think Victor would agree - it takes time to plan, to conduct the research, to create the courses, then to analyze your data and see how many students you know improved - all this takes time for faculty and then to disseminate those findings is important as well as part of our scholarship and just to inform the field. So this is a long-term investment in others, in our research, in our own personal learning so I continue to collaborate with my partners - with different partners - in a variety of different ways and that's where you find some of these partners. Our office of international program also has a list of partners they work with and that's how I found my partners for this virtual exchange - I had the students interview each other on what it means to be a global citizen. And so they found it interesting that people in the US have one idea of global citizenship, people who were not born in the US but live in the US have a different idea of global citizenship and then the students that were in the UK who they interviewed have a totally different idea of global citizenship. So sometimes the opportunity arises and you come up with a globally networked learning or a virtual exchange idea but other times it's my study abroad, or just a global conversation. We want to have a conversation, we record it we have a great recording studio on our library - Area 49 - or even now through Zoom like we record it that way and share it with our students for them to get international perspectives. I use a lot of global literature because I can, because I'm a teacher and we can talk about the importance of children's literature, international literature and that is also another way that I internationalize my curriculum so I feel like the GNL is just one of many things I can do to internationalize my curriculum for my students.
Yeah so I do agree with you Adriana and I agree that the GNL is a long-term investment. I've mentioned my Global Tech Launch course model. It sounds very complicated - three different players working together but I haven't scratched the surface yet because the GNL model and especially now, everyone across the world is so educated to use virtual technologies, the future opportunities are huge. So GNL is opening up so many possibilities for everyone. What excites me the most about going forward for this course model is I would like to more engage and benefit the Charlotte business community and I can think of several ideas that they can take advantage of Global Tech Launch model benefit from it through the learning of my students and I have several ideas. One is post-pandemic almost all the global businesses not just in Charlotte but but around the world are trying to come up with work from anywhere policies. So they realize they don't have to get everybody from nine to five in office but then they still want to have a discipline disciplined structured policy to make sure that the workflow is efficient. And the Global Tech Launch the global virtual teamwork could help those companies to experiment many ideas to see in terms of time zone, in terms of cross-cultural team building, in terms of the project timing and so on, and the second is digital transformation. Students are experimenting with multiple digital tools to make sure their meetings are efficient and the third opportunity - third opportunities is to build talent who can work effectively online to conduct business development projects and the final one is - especially the technology companies if they don't have the huge budget for field research for market assessment - they can become a part of my course and to try some some virtual pilots, field work and experiments. So I'm so excited about all the opportunities that are being opened up by this GNL model.
I'm excited too and I want the technology to catch up. For example I want augmented reality to catch up. I want to be able to bring my students into a classroom and I can somehow record this, the space right, but then do something where we can manipulate that where I can have particular questions or a little video that shows up and my students can interact other students across the world with my classroom in this augmented way, and I think sometimes people think - oh well if we're doing everything virtually no one's going to want to travel. I think that's incorrect. I think the because of the GNL there's more interest to travel right, like this is just kind of a teaser.
We have a very exciting future for our students, don't we?
Yeah, so I want to follow - I want to follow up quickly on Adriana’s point. So the GNL is making global travel more possible. So it's not only increasing students interest in travel and work abroad because now they know more, they're more prepared, and they have local contacts to help them and some of the students in Istanbul said they would like to host my students as tour guide, cover their travel expenses, in the first first week. That would never happen with that GNL. And second it would also increase students affordability to try study abroad or work abroad. So it's not only increasing students interest to physically travel abroad and work abroad, but also making such opportunities more affordable.
Well thank you for visiting with us today.
Thanks for having me.
Thank you so much, thank you for having us.
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