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Course conducted in 2 classrooms on 2 continents wins ACE national award

FEB. 3, 2010 — An innovative Wagner College course in international business communication taught by Provost Devorah Lieberman has been chosen for recognition by the American Council on Education’s 109-member Internationalization Collaborative. The course was one of four winners in ACE’s “Bringing the World into the Classroom” competition. The award will be presented at the 2010 Internationalization Collaborative Annual Meeting Feb. 4-5 in Arlington, Va.

The course, “Cross-Cultural Business Communications,” was offered simultaneously last spring in two classrooms on two continents: one at Wagner College, on New York City’s Staten Island; the other at the Hellenic American University in Athens, Greece. Video cameras streaming on the Internet allowed students and professors in the two classrooms to see one another and communicate almost as easily as if they were in the same physical location. At the end of each class session, pairs of students — “dyads” — from each school worked together on collaborative homework assignments, using Skype’s free Internet video telephony service.

“This is an impressive example of integrative learning that combines global intimacy, cross-disciplinary content and collaborative group work,” remarked Wagner College President Richard Guarasci. “It begins to unfold the pedagogy appropriate for higher learning in the global age.”

Internationalization has been one of Dr. Lieberman’s top priorities since coming to Wagner College as provost in January 2004.

“When I started here, we had fewer than 10 students studying abroad, and just a handful of foreign students studying here,” Lieberman said. “Last year, 250 Wagner College students had an international experience of one sort or another, and an increasing number of foreign students came here to study.”

The Wagner-HAU collaboration arose from Wagner’s Expanding Your Horizons program, which has taken hundreds of students overseas each January for course-related Study Abroad experiences since its inception in 2006.

“Two years ago, theater professor Felicia Ruff and I took an EYH drama class to Athens, where we partnered with Professor Eileen Hoesly at the Hellenic American University,” Lieberman said. “It went so well that we thought, wouldn’t it be terrific if, instead of 10 days together, we could have this kind of experience for an entire semester?”

The technology necessary for the new business communications course was facilitated by Jeff Gutkin, Wagner’s director of academic computing. Students in Athens and New York learned from personal experience about surmounting intercultural barriers. Their final project was a case study of the effect of differences in cultural values on businesses run by expatriate entrepreneurs — either Americans running businesses in Athens, or Greeks operating in Greater New York. To complete work on the project, the HAU students flew to America last May, where they physically met their Gotham counterparts for the first time.

“Our students experienced first-hand how individuals see life through the lenses of their cultural values and customs, and how this perspective affects their ability to communicate effectively within and between organizations staffed by personnel from different cultures,” said Professor Hoesly. “The use of the Polycam and Skype facilitated direct interaction between students and faculty in the U.S. and Greece, which was far superior to simply reading the theory and analyzing cases on the subject.

“Essentially, the students were part of a case study in the making as they discovered more about each other with each class session and each Skype encounter.  At the end of the course, they were amazed at the difference in their perception of their American classmates — and in the case of mistaken impressions, they felt great satisfaction in being able to pinpoint the reasons for their false conclusions. This understanding has led to continued communication and friendships among the HAU and Wagner students beyond the classroom,” Hoesly concluded. “What more could we, as faculty, ask for?”

“The uniqueness of this particular learning environment was unlike anything in which I had ever participated in formalized education,” said Chris Fourman, one of the Wagner College students enrolled in the class. “The coursework equipped me to be able to confidently interact and communicate in the world today, where the realities are that we have to communicate across borders through a variety of media. To sit in class every day and interact with students half way around the globe on a projector screen was at first quite nerve wracking, but today it is something I could do with confidence and effectiveness.”

According to Lieberman, the “Cross-Cultural Business Communications” course was a first venture into something she hopes will become a regular component of Wagner College’s internationalization program.

“When colleges have thought about internationalizing their campuses, they’ve always focused on sending their students abroad, bringing foreign students to their campuses, and encouraging the development of courses with ‘international’ topics,” she said. “I think that the next step in internationalization will be to bring students on separate campuses together in combined, collaborative, virtual classrooms like ours.

“It’s new, relatively unexplored territory — but when you limit yourself to the traditional, you limit yourself.”

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