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Distance learning with a twist


Left to right: Jacky Villanueva, Crayton C. Milton Sr., Hakan Ozcelik, Ashley Drago, Mamta Harakh

Hakan Ozcelik is committed to teaching Sacramento State students how to think on their own by doing.  This is why the associate professor of Business Administration connected his 45 students with their counterparts from Corvinus University in Budapest via videoconferencing technology.

This is the fourth year the two business school classes have engaged one another electronically. To date more than 300 business students have benefitted from this innovative program.

The most recent two-part gathering took place in October and November. Both sides, comprised of four-person teams, negotiated a simulated business case in which a used battery company tries to create a factory in a winery town. Utilizing socio-drama techniques the teams reversed roles in the November session to generate more empathy with one another. The sessions are recorded, edited to a manageable length and then shown to the classes for evaluation.

The project’s overarching purpose is to provide students first-hand experience in cross-cultural communication within an emotional context. Team member Mamta Harakh learned as much when she allowed her Hungarian counterpart “to get under my skin with his sarcastic comments.” But she soon recovered her composure and focus.

Crayton C. Milton, Sr. became accustomed to his role as company CEO and was more assertive as the negotiations proceeded. Ashly Drago improvised a “walk-out” during the proceedings, which caused both teams to pause, stop posturing and then get down to the business of deal-making.  Jacky Villanueva, the lone junior, provided a balanced perspective to keep the team on track at the onset of negotiations and joined forces with Mamta to refuse the Hungarian team’s proposal.

Context is crucial, Ozcelik says, for them to seal the deal. All too frequently, he adds, the personal touch is missing in the business world, which creates challenges especially between cultures where people easily stereotype each other. This is why he stresses the fundamentals of listening to what the other side is saying and picking up those emotional signals that are so easily missed.

Ozcelik’s sensitivity for such signs comes naturally to one who has extensive experience as an amateur actor and director. He incorporates dramatic techniques in his classroom to illustrate some of the important concepts and theories in organizational behavior and communication. It’s a balancing act, he adds, preferring to let the students discover things for themselves. Little wonder he received an Outstanding Teaching Award last year.

Since cross-cultural insight is the key to understanding, Ozcelik and Zita Zoltay Paprika, his Hungarian professorial partner, are in this for the long haul.

They met several years ago, when she was a Fulbright Scholar visiting Sacramento, and decided to begin this intercontinental team-teaching exercise. During the last four years they have refined the videoconferencing to the point where the respective classes react to the recorded exercise with increasing degrees of enthusiasm and reflection.

Ozcelik, who co-authored an article about the project with Paprika for the Journal of Management and Education, says it is one of the publication’s most-read pieces. More important is what business students at both universities are learning from this innovative, international teaching technique.

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