Monash/Jiao Tong Cross-cultural eLearning Exercise

Introductory comment

While I do not yet have formal teaching qualifications, I have designed and delivered several corporate training classes. I am fascinated by good instructional design, and have the highest respect for teachers that are able to motivate students with interesting lesson content and engaging delivery, to yield effective and practical learning experiences.

I have particularly strong opinions on education policy, the educational process, and what makes people learn effectively. These views started forming around the age of 14, when I wondered why I had to learn complex mathematical theories which I was not likely to understand and even less likely to ever use.

Since then I have been increasingly conscious of my learning experiences: analysing the materials being used, the structure of the instruction, the method of delivery, the instructors, the general interest level of students, and the eventual outcomes. 

Over the past year of developing Totuba, a business in the education sector, I have been fortunate enough to meet dozens of interesting people from around the world who are in some way connected with learning. Further, as my masters study is now conducted entirely online, I have had first hand experience with different online learning tools. These activities have further evolved my opinions and ideas for learning.

I have thought for a while that it would be useful to tap into student diversity at different institutions around the world – synchronously or otherwise – using the myriad technologies that are readily available. Having an opportunity to design a learning experience as assessment for an elective subject, I pounced on the chance to connect classes at two institutions to which I have exposure, and where it seemed the right people were in the right places.

And it was so: agreement was reached to connect a group of Chinese students learning English at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, with a group of Australian students learning Chinese at Melbourne’s Monash University. Two great institutions with great instructors who were willing to try something different. A cross-cultural exercise would transpire in the form of a role-playing game. 

In setting out to design this learning experience, I kept the following in mind:

  • The most effective learning experiences I can recall were participatory (learning by doing), interactive (real-time feedback), fun (actually enjoyable) and practical (relevant to today)
  • That conducting a live online learning experience would be at the whims of available Internet bandwidth, which if insufficient, could completely derail the experience
  • That peer groups can be resourceful among themselves to solve a problem
  • I attempted to achieve a balance between the creative use of Internet tools, the design of an activity that was neither too easy nor too difficult, and something that would fit into the curriculum of an existing class.

It should be noted that this project involved the coordination of no less than four separate stakeholders, two geographically distinct learning venues, and was conceived, drafted, proposed, finalised and executed within two weeks.



Monash University

Two eLearning instructors, innovators and enthusiasts, who provided enthusiasm and support throughout the process, were able to mobilise a group of Aussie students on a Saturday at very short notice, organise a venue on the Melbourne side, and help run connection tests:
  • Dr. Scott Grant
  • Dr. Michael Henderson

Jiao Tong University

Three enthusiastic learning professionals with a connection to eLearning technologies, including the recent authoring of a paper on the use of web 2.0 technologies in the classroom, and involvement with Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s distance learning arm:
  • Ms. Kerstin Borau
  • Ms. Jinjin Feng
  • Dr. Carsten Ullrich

Project Abstract

Conduct a fun cross-cultural class simultaneously across two countries, utilising Internet technologies to facilitate the learning experience. In this ground-breaker, The class should take the form of a game, conducted live in two geographic locations. The game consists of two point-scoring rounds with a bonus score accumulation opportunity during the first round. 

Summary in tags

Students teaching students, cross-border live group student exchange, cross-cultural learning, Australia-China relations, game-based learning, learning via role-play.

Technologies used

  • Skype video/audio: to facilitate live interaction between the classes
  • mIRC/MSN/Skype: for instructor communication during the exercise
  • Twitter: For teams to take notes during the exercise
  • Blogger/Wordpress: Post exercise feedback

Learning activity



Monash Sports Company (Monash group) wants to buy an air ticket/hotel package deal for a staff incentive (total 5 staff) trip to Shanghai from Jiao Tong Travel Company (Jiao Tong group). For this package, Jiao Tong Travel has a list price of USD$5000 per person. Monash Sports Company’s HR team, represented by X individuals, initiates a video call. The call is led by one member of the team. Jiao Tong’s sales team takes the call, which is led by one member of the team.

In conducting the negotiation, teams must attempt to use as many of their designated keywords as possible.

Team keywords

Australia team: Australia Day, Coffee, Melbourne, Australian Rules Football, Relaxing, Koala, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

China team: Shanghai 2010 Expo, Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, One-child family, Rapid development, Xiao long bao, Chongming Island, Premier Wen Jiabao

Exercise proposal


Game rules

  • The teams have up to ten minutes to complete a negotiation and transaction. The buying team wants to get as low a price as possible as they cannot afford $5000/person (the budget is max $23,500 / $4,700 per person). The selling team wants to get as high a price as possible (and no lower than $4,600 per person each). These budget limits are to be advised at the start of the game, and teams are to be communicated the budget privately.
  • Each team is assigned n keywords/phrases/concepts, all of which should be attempted to be included in the negotiation. These keywords are the basis for the cross-cultural learning component of the exercise. Five points are awarded for each keyword used.
  • The Negotiation Round: After keywords are presented to the students, they will have ten minutes to discuss amongst themselves to consider how they can weave the keywords into their role play.
  • The Knowledge Round: After the negotiation is finished successfully, each team will be asked 3 questions about the keywords used by either team. Each question will be worth 10 points. In the Knowledge Round, students from opposing teams will be asked true/false questions based on the keywords assigned to the other. For example, the Jiao Tong group might be asked: “Australia Day is the day when Australia gained independence from Britain. True or False?”. These questions will be pre-determined and then customised as appropriate by the Faciliator during the exercise (in negotiation with the Referees via Internet chat if necessary).
  • Bonus Commentary points: Each team’s non-negotiating members should provide a text ‘commentary’ on the events taking place during the Negotiation Round. These comments are to be posted live on Twitter for later review. For each topical post on Twitter, a team will be awarded two points. Level of relevance will be determined by a Referee from either side and reported to the Facilitator by the end of the Knowledge Round.
  • The team with the most points at the end of both exercises will be the winner.
  • In the event of a tie, no further playoff is required and a tie is announced.
  • Referees are the teachers on both sides plus the Facilitator

Proposed pre-briefing (one class before the exercise):

  • Facilitator to provide background briefing and situation setup to the teams via a video recording. Also talk about Australia-China relations. Introduce the universities.
  • Facilitator to provide a brief outline of the situation, objectives, expectations on involvement, and short team intros (provided by students)
  • Connection test

Proposed exercise agenda:

  • Live welcome
  • Outline video replayed to both classes
  • Keywords are presented to both sides via an Internet chat interface. Teams acknowledge receipt and have ten minutes to discuss amongst themselves. Any language issues or misunderstandings may also be resolved in this period. A five-minute grace period will be allowed for, if required. Students will not be informed of the grace period unless necessary.
  • Negotiation begins. One designated Referee tracks the time and calls the game off at 10 minutes or before if the negotiation is completed. A time warning will be issued at 8 minutes.
  • Facilitator asks three questions of each team in the Knowledge Round, while Referees tally up the Bonus Commentary points.
  • Facilitator announces the winner!
  • Free video chat between the two classes in Chinese and English.
  • Live farewell

Both sides will be given a game summary and explanation of the keywords. This may be delivered electronically.

Applying Gagne’s “Nine Events of Instruction” to this exercise


1. Gain attention
  • “You will play a game with students on the other side of the world via a live video hookup.”
2. Inform learners of objectives
  • “Test your negotiation and persuasion skills”
  • “Learn about another culture”
  • “Teach others about your culture”
3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
  • Identify students who might be linked to the process of travel (the game topic)
  • Utilise that knowledge in the negotiation
  • Consider what you know about your own culture
4. Present the content
  • Each side uses their knowledge of their own culture to teach the other side
  • Pre-briefing on the subject keywords if language insufficiency exists
5. Provide “learning guidance”
  • Instructors on both sides to provide backup advice in case of conversational blocks
6. Elicit performance (practice)
  • After the negotiation is finished, each team to be asked three questions about the keywords used by the other team.
7. Provide feedback
  • Instructors to intervene when something incorrect is said or when the activity goes off track
8. Assess performance
  • Assess the points scored (and in what manner) and provide advice for improvement
  • Review the teams’ ability to follow game rules
  • Review results of the micro-blogging (via Twitter) notes taken by each team

9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job

  • The on-the-spot pressure of the game’s live communication gives real life experience with immediate feedback, which can be more readily retained and used ‘on the job’ or ‘in life’.

Actual exercise preparation


Proposal modification

  • Feedback on the idea and rules was attained from Monash and Jiao Tong teachers
  • Agreed that due to the tight time constraints and experimental nature of the exercise, the game rules would be scaled back to include only one round (negotiation) and the use of one Internet tool (Skype) for interaction/partcipation.

Class setup

  • Participants finalised on the Melbourne and Shanghai sides
  • Agreed to use Skype for video and a connection test was conducted during the same time window as the proposed exercise
  • Briefing document sent to instructors on both sides, for distribution to participants

Actual exercise reviewed

Date: 2008-10-18

Australian side: Two instructors, five students

Chinese side: One instructor, seven students

Facilitator: Me

I arrived at Ms. Borau’s class in the morning of Saturday 18 October 2008. I proceeded to conduct a 30-minute briefing session with the Chinese students, who were nervous yet excited about what was about to transpire. Realising that it would be challenging for them to catch the meaning behind many of the keywords assigned to the Australian team, we went through each in some detail. Australian Rules Football and koalas elicited quite a positive reaction.

The designated speakers on the Chinese side had prepared pages of potential conversational pieces for the game. While it was heartening to see that level of preparation at such short notice, the idea of the game was to be spontaneous and natural, like a normal transactional conversation between customer and vendor.

A Skype video call was initiated to start the day’s events. Fortunately, the biggest technical glitch of the day happened at this point, where both audio and video started to misbehave. After a ten-minute delay, another call was initiated successfully.

It was exciting to see the Australian and Chinese classes ‘facing’ each other (see image below). Formal introductions were made, followed by a re-brief on the day’s exercise.


Both sides had seen the keywords prior to the formal starting of the game (against the prescribed rules but necessary given the short notice of the exercise). They were then advised of their budget limit, and given five minutes to finalise their preparation for the conversation.

Once the negotation between the two classes commenced, there was some adjustment necessary for the very slight time delay (<= 1 second) on Skype. Aside from that, the technology was behaving well. The Chinese side were quite shy leading into the exercise (expected), and the Australian side took charge of proceedings creatively (also expected). Both sides took the negotiation seriously, with Australia demanding a low price for their travel package, and the Chinese side dismissing it as impossible, retaining their price as high as possible.

Australia were innovative with the use of their designated keywords, and had used many of them in the opening few minutes. The Chinese side were extremely focused on using correct English, and coming up with the right answers to the Australians’ questions. As a result, they did not use any of their designated keywords by the end of the exercise. Also hampering the Chinese side was a now choppy Skype connection, which made the Australian side’s communication difficult for the non-native speakers to interpret (see video 3 below). Ms. Borau and I had to intervene to assist at that point.

Around 15 minutes into the exercise, neither side was budging far from their opening price requests, and received a friendly nudge from me to initate a final offer. The Chinese side relented and offered their minimum budget price, which the Australian side duly accepted, bringing the exercise to a conclusion.

A 30-minute interactive session transpired, in both English and Chinese. This was conducted in very good spirits, and the students appreciated the ability to talk directly with one another on more casual topics. The instructors had to guide some of the conversation, particularly on the Chinese side. Once the Australian side started speaking Chinese, however, the Chinese side were visibly more engaged and relaxed (see video 1 below).

Overall, the interaction during the game was up to expectations, and interesting to see the live reactions on both sides.

Interaction highlights

1. Chinese speakers in Melbourne eliciting a great reaction from the Shanghai students

2. Both the Chinese and Australian teams were driving hard bargains

3. At times, the Skype connection was being unfriendly

4. Finally, and upon the threat of no deal being concluded, the two teams agreed on a price

5. Quote of the day: “Five people in China is not a group!”

In terms of a winner, the Australian side came out on top, with the Chinese side failing to use their designated keywords. All sides were winners on the day, however, and the exercise has set a precedent for future such exercises, and many valuable lessons were learned.

Lessons learned

  • The Chinese side would have benefited from a few more weeks notice, and most likely a practice session, to get the most out of the exercise. Perhaps a real assessment could be tied to performance during the game, which would hone their strategy to use the specified keywords, for example.
  • Students could have been better briefed to ensure they used the keywords in an instructionally meaningful manner, that is, not to simply tack the words on (e.g. “Koala Travel”), but to explain them: “We have many koalas in Australia, they are cute little creatures who eat leaves all day. They must be similar to your pandas, but much smaller!”
  • Next time, students can be briefed on how to most appropriately communicate with the other side. For example, the Australian side was talking quickly at times, making it challenging for a non-native to catch many of the words being communicated.
  • Many of the Chinese students had not been exposed to an Australian accent before, also increasing their difficulty level. In a future exercise, further preparation in this area would be helpful.
  • The English proficiency level of the Chinese students needed to be a little higher to more completely achieve the game objectives, and the explanation of the game rules required further reinforcing. While the students were wholly focused on winning the negotiation, they did not use any of the prescribed keywords. If the game were part of an actual assessment, they would have failed. Given that this was a first-time test conducted within a very short timeframe and with relatively little briefing, the outcome was still satisfactory.
  • A more rigorous vetting of keywords is necessary, to create the most rounded learning experience as possible.
  • The scenario should be tailored around the keywords to ensure they make sense, to allow smoother running of the game, and to assure a solid learning experience.
  • A lecture before the interactive synchronous class should be conducted to introduce all the keywords and the game objectives more clearly.
  • The “Knowledge Round” is necessary to consolidate the learning experience. It wasn’t possible to run the Knowledge Round during this trial exercise due to the short timeframe.
  • Technology training would be necessary if students are to submit exercise actions during the game, such as Twitter posts. This technology would need to be introduced and exercised prior to a live event, to ensure smooth running of the game.

Feedback from the instructors

Six questions were sent to the instructors on the Chinese and Australian sides to evaluate the exercise:

1. Knowing your students, how would you rate their enjoyment of the exercise? Did you have any direct comments from the students that you could share?

Ms. Kerstin Borau (Shanghai Jiao Tong University): They enjoyed it very much. It provided the chance to talk to native speakers, which is rarely given for most of them. If they communicate with foreigners, it’s mostly via email, so this was a great chance to them to actually use their English skills. Also a very good exercise to train their intercultural communication skills.

Dr. Scott Grant (Monash University): My students were very forthright about how they felt about the exercise. They openly stated they enjoyed it and thought it was a worthwhile exercise and could see the benefit in doing something like that again. One of my more experienced Mandarin speakers was even so keen that he emailed me and asked if anything similar could be organised during the summer break here in Australia and while I am in Shanghai.

2. How easy were the (simplified) game rules to grasp?

KB: “I don’t think my students really understand that they should use the keywords – next time we should give them an example.”

SG: “I don’t think my students had no problem with the rules – they seemed grasp them very quickly and were able to work within the structure/rules quite easily.”

3. Would you consider using similar game-style exercises in the future (if not already part of your curriculum)?

KB: “Yes, definitely. The advantages I see: it allows them to communicate with native speakers within a given frame, so they don’t have to come up with a conversation / questions themselves. Keeps the conversation going. The students enjoy it because it’s so close to their real life situations. Prepares them for real business deals.”

SG: “This is like a role play, but the innovative aspect of it is that each team while playing a role within the scenario responded to the situation very “naturally” in cultural terms – i.e. not like Australians trying to play Chinese.”

4. What do you believe could be improved for next time?

KB: “More time for communication between the groups of students. Maybe the students could prepare more questions and / or more topics on their own / the foreign culture.”

SG: “At this stage I guess the main thing is just where you physically place the camera – try not to move it around too much… I think also having the goals and objectives of the class set out in more detail (linguistic, cultural, etc) would be beneficial, and maybe some way of doing a formal evaluation by the students would be good too.”

5. Do you see potential to extend the exercise, incorporating the original game rules (multiple rounds, using multiple technologies such as Twitter)?

KB: “Yes, but I need to make this mandatory as part of an assignment. Maybe we need to come up with a whole “business concept” for our students – I like this idea because I think this would also increase motivation and class participation.”

SG: “Yes. I would include Second Life in this too. I would also suggest that if two groups of students are potentially going to meet several times in a semester or a year, that having a Facebook group for them would help create a sense of “community” and allow them further interaction outside the formal class setting that might be interesting to explore (share photos, daily life, etc).”


  • The concept worked, the students enjoyed the exercise and participated well
  • The technology was sufficient to achieve an interesting interactive learning experience
  • The simple application of existing free technologies can create a compelling learning experience
  • More instructor feedback and student briefing is required beforehand to achieve more optimal outcomes
  • Expected learning outcomes need to be clearly communicated to students
  • Schedules need to be organised well in advance (at start of semester) to get higher participation rates and fair conditions for both sides
  • Need to consider potential backups for Internet bandwidth issues (moving to audio only, for example)

Future possibilities

  • Conduct a similar exercise, with the Chinese side speaking English exclusively, and the Australian/Western side speaking Chinese exclusively.
  • Conduct a similar game exercise multiple times over a full semester, with links and logical learning iterations between each exercise.
  • Coordinate these exercises with study abroad groups (prior to leaving, during their program, after returning home)
  • Extend the community aspect of the exercises by engaging and briefing students online prior to the exercise, then reporting back and eliciting feedback afterwards
  • Assess other technologies such as Adobe Presenter, Dimdim, and web conferencing tools for suitability in a future exercise
  • Apply the shell of the instructional design to other subject contexts, such as MBA classes.

Written by

Suren Gunatillake

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