What better way to cure cabin fever than by exploring the world–from the comfort of their own homes that is. Seventeen Northeastern University students learned about international business, organizational behavior, and ethical issues unique to the global economy through a five-week, digitally immersive course over the Summer I term. The course included case studies, virtual site visits, and guest lecturers, including the Global Head of Back Office at Western Union Paulius Jakimavicius and the Global Masterbrand Director at Essity Astrid Schenk-Almagro.
D’Amore-McKim School of Business Part-Time Lecturer Duane Lefevre led this section of the online course known as a Virtual Dialogue of Civilizations, an immersive digital experience that allows students to explore global ideas and systems, engage with cross-cultural perspectives, and investigate how diverse communities are tackling timely issues. The dialogue titled “International Business and Global Social Responsibility” was planned originally to take place over a four-week period in Lithuania and Germany, during which the students would visit manufacturing firms, service companies, and marketing agencies as well as cultural sites and the U.S. Embassy. Because of travel restrictions and safety precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trip transformed into a digital odyssey, exposing students to the challenging environment of international business from the comfort of their homes.
“Professor Lefevre worked hard to make our virtual experience reflect what our in-person Dialogue would have been like,” said Nicole Reading, DMSB’23. “He introduced us to extremely accomplished professionals from all over the world in our weekly Zoom sessions. They shared their experiences, which touched on our weekly learning objectives, allowing us to see how what we were learning applied to real-world scenarios.”
The Virtual Dialogue began with an introduction to Lithuania, a small, former Soviet bloc country with great software and tech talent. The focus shifted to Germany, which has a much larger economy and many cultural differences from Lithuania, and then moved south to Italy with its “work to live” culture–a stark contrast from Germany’s. The course wrapped up by pivoting to India and its emerging markets, big players in international business.
Lefevre thinks the biggest challenge he faced was ensuring the dialogue retained its immersive and interactive features in its virtual iteration. The students accrued 26 hours of camera time over five weeks, staying on camera for the entire two-hour duration of the weekly seminars, and also engaged with the course topics regularly through weekly readings and discussion boards.
“We were able to keep a significant level of experiential elements so it didn’t feel like a typical online course,” says Lefevre. “I could see this being a format going forward: an experiential, geographically focused program without travel fees.”
Without physical location determining the context of the learning environment, Lefevre reimagined the structure and content of the original dialogue. And he didn’t do it alone: Sagar Dave, the course’s program assistant based in India, came up with fun virtual versions of the scavenger hunts like the ones done on in-country Dialogues that introduce students to the country’s culture. (Check out the virtual scavenger hunt for Lithuania.)
Lefevre and Dave balanced engaging students across time zones and encouraging participation, which required them to think creatively about how they formatted the Dialogue. “Traditional online best practices call for mostly asynchronous content,” says Molly Giblin, Curriculum Integration Manager at Northeastern’s Global Experience Office. “Professor Lefevre kept things exciting: He combined asynchronous reading and discussion with synchronous time spent making connections with global experts in business.”
Online operations allowed Lefevre and Dave to incorporate other global perspectives, scheduling guest lectures with experts in Berlin, Malta, India, and other countries around the world such as the Director of e-Business & Innovation for India sub-continent for Middle East & Africa at P&G Kapil Sharma, the Vice President of Customer Growth, Media and Engagement at Flipkart Nandita Sinha, the former CEO of Audi Bram Schot, and the retired President of Fidelity Investments India Sunil Kunte. These industry leaders helped students to compare business practices across cultures.
“Our faculty and students never cease to amaze me, and this course is a perfect example of why,” says Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Jeffery Born. “Many of D’Amore-McKim’s courses are both global and experiential in nature and adjusting these focuses to an online environment could prove to be tricky. Professor Lefevre and his students truly highlight the ingenuity of our community.”
Many of the students have expressed how formative this experience proved even though it lacked the travel component, with one student saying they now have a “better grasp on the world and the global business.” Nina Miller, COS‘23, called her experience “enlightening, challenging, and stimulating,” and is even more motivated to follow her passions in psychology and marketing after learning from many of the guest speakers. With the semester having come to a close and the future of online learning on the horizon, it begs the question: Where to next?