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A Recent Pilot of a Business Management Subject in Singapore

Sonja Jensen, Allan Christie, Judi Baron,,

University of South Australia



This is a review of the piloting of a business and management subject online in Singapore from a teaching and learning viewpoint. The subject is offered in Singapore in two modes of delivery. Students can choose between studying the subject using traditional print-based distance materials or 'online' via the Internet. The paper discusses the use and effectiveness of the design features as well as the implications of an instructivist versus constructivist approach due to the culturally specific learning styles of Singapore students.


Mazzarole and Hosie (1997, p23) propose two issues arising in long distance teaching in Australian Universities: an ìapparent spread of offshore teaching programs by Australian universities seeking to gain a competitive advantage in international markets.î and ìthe emergence of new information technologies that enable the packaging and delivery of interactive educational services on demand over long distances.î This paper discusses a pilot study involving the application of these two issues to the delivery of an Adelaide based subject to a Singapore based class of students. The paper will evaluate the piloting of the Internet version of this subject in Singapore incorporating a review of the subject design from an educational and technical perspective and summarise the current findings of the pilot study. Given the recent introduction of this subject into the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), evaluation has been limited. Therefore, the discussion on findings will be confined to reports provided by the development team and access logs.

The Subject

Business Communication and Negotiation (BCN) is a core subject offered by the Faculty of Business and Management, University of South Australia (U-SA). It also forms part of the BBA which commenced in Singapore in June 1997, the result of a twinning arrangement with U-SA and the local education provider Asia Pacific Management Centre (APMC). BCN includes a study of written, verbal, nonverbal, interpersonal and small group communication along with a study of negotiation models, approaches and theories. The assessment involves submission of a personal journal and analysis of a conflict situation. Both pieces of assessment were developed to encourage experiential learning (Brown, Davies, Jensen and Sweeney, 1996).

BCN is offered in two modes of delivery. Students can choose between studying BCN using traditional print-based distance materials or 'online' via the Internet. A non-compulsory intensive face-to-face workshop conducted by a U-SA lecturer halfway through the 13 week term was offered to all students, regardless of mode of study chosen. All students were placed in study groups at the beginning of the BBA course and encouraged to interact on a regular basis, either face-to-face or via telephone and electronic communication mediums.

Designing BCN Online (

The catalyst for designing BCN Online was the geographical and transactional distance (Jones, 1997) between students and teaching staff. The design was then considered from two perspectives: the educational rationale for using the Internet as a teaching and learning platform and the development of a site to support this platform.

Educational Rationale for Use

The educational rationale for introducing BCN Online into the BBA offered in Singapore was to increase interactivity between students and between student and lecturer in order to build a more collegial ìlearning communityî (Harasim, Hiltz, Teles and Turoff, 1996) albeit virtual in nature. This follows a constructivist model of education providing a student-centred and collaborative approach and moving the lecturer from an instructional to a facilitator role (Connell and Franklin, 1993). It was anticipated that this would provide a teaching platform which was more responsive to the needs of the students and, therefore, produce a course that was more attractive for students in Singapore considering the BBA.

The constructivist approach needed to be considered in conjunction with the culturally specific learning style of Singapore students. Their Confusion heritage culture (CHC) supports the notion of a collaborative style of learning (between student and teacher) through scholarly discussion (Feast and Churchman, 1997, p 3). However, Feast and Churchman also state that CHC students rely on cues from the teacher to guide their study strategies, that is, an emphasis on information such as assessment content, and the depth of understanding needed for different topics.

Included in the educational rationale was the need for flexibility supported by the demographic characteristics of the students. All students were mature age, employed and although studying a Singapore based course, many constantly traveled to various parts of Asia or the world as part of their work. The ability to log into BCN Online from anywhere in the world was seen as an important advantage for the students and exemplified the notion of flexible learning.

Specifically, the development of an online learning environment through BCN Online aimed to:

The website was then developed based on these teaching and learning needs.

Development of the Website

The website was developed within Australia by a multimedia consultancy (NetSpot Communications ñ in collaboration with a content and teaching expert (lecturer); and the U-SA Singapore program manager. Learning objectives were clearly defined from the outset of the project. Incorporated in the design was an emphasis on interactive enhancements to encourage interactivity and participation between lecturer and students and students and students, as well as meeting the criteria developed from the educational rationale. Broadly, the website used Web mediated and supported instruction (WMSI) (Simoff and Maher, 1997) which provided course material and facilities for communication between students and the facilitator (using both synchronous and asynchronous communication methods).

The various features of BCN Online are listed below:

Features identical to the print-based version

Features specific to BCN Online

These features were developed using a combination of customised perl scripts, HTML, and Java.

The customised perl scripts provide the personalisation of the learning environment through username/password access. For instance, students can edit their own profile, have their own private area for 'personal journals', and receive private messages via the noticeboard. Perl scripts are also used to automatically complete the login details for the web-based IRC client.

The functionality of the Java ticker-tape is enhanced by perl scripts that allow the lecturer to add new messages to the ticker-tape through the administration web page. Moreover, the ticker-tape information automatically changes from week-to-week and serves as a reminder of the topic for that week (hypertext links then direct the student to that topic in the study guide), assignments due or for announcement of events such as a real-time chat session and so on. Short messages added to the ticker-tape can be hypertext linked to more information.

Real audio-video server software ( was purchased to provide the streaming audio capability.

Access to BCN Online

Access to BCN Online was developed to allow for separate access depending on the purpose of the user. As a result different access routes can be made via the BCN ëFront Doorí (depicted in Figure 1).

The BCN Online 'Front Door' allows a visitor, student, lecturer or administrator to login with the respective username and password. A visitor is given the username of 'guest' and password of 'bcn'. Access to BCN Online via this account is restricted' to:

Personal Journal - can enter comments for 'guest';

Study Guide - can see table of contents only;

Subject Information;

Notice Board- can view messages but cannot add messages or reply;

Contact a Lecturer - visitors can leave private messages for the lecturer;

The lecturers and administrators have enhanced access and are able to view:

Lecturers and administrators are also able to delete any public message posted to the Notice Board.

Issues Impinging on the Introduction of BCN Online

The introduction of BCN Online into the curriculum of the BBA in Singapore has highlighted a number of issues relating to equity with non-Internet user students. As the BBA was not initially introduced as an Internet based degree, it was only equitable that those students without access to the Internet were provided with alternative facilities to, for example, interact with the lecturer and were provided with the same subject content information. For this reason BCN Online was offered as an option and is currently not replacing the traditional distance education methods. Nevertheless, approximately one third of the first intake of students into the BBA opted to take BCN Online.

Figure 1: BCN's "Front Door"

The introduction of this new mode also required a detailed analysis of the local Internet facilities (to assess access charges, reliability and speed of service, etc), close liaison with the Adelaide based consultant designing the site, and responding to the concerns of Singapore APMC staff. Contact is maintained between Adelaide teaching staff, Singapore staff and students and NetSpot Communications to enable prompt handling of any questions.

The development of the subject was followed by a pilot course in the Semester beginning September 1997 and ending November 1997.

Results of the Pilot Study

Given the recent introduction of this subject into the BBA, evaluation has been limited at this point in time, however, evaluations at the mid-point of the subject have provided some initial results.

A number of approaches have been taken to provide a multi-faceted qualitative evaluation of BCN Online to demonstrate the results. These include review of the web logs accessible from the administration page (these logs show what parts of BCN Online are being accessed and how often: refer to appendix 1), the type of messages posted on the noticeboard, the number of messages, and how many different students are sending the messages. The web-based IRC client also supports private conversations and these are not recorded in the chat logs. Student and staff feedback will be sought at the end of semester on completion of BCN Online.

The following section will discuss the results of the pilot study based on an adaptation of the criteria for effective on-line learning methods and technologies developed by Verduin and Clark (cited in Simoff and Maher, 1997): interaction and appropriateness to the instructional task. These reflect the aims of the educational rationale.



The overriding aim in developing BCN Online was to decrease the geographical and transactional distance between student and lecturer by increasing the interaction between them. Given this distance access to students or lecturers was formerly via fax, email or phone. These methods, however, do not provide the efficiency required for distance education in this case. Due to either cost or time they do not provide scope for in-depth interaction such as a dialogue to ensure mutual understanding at the time the message is sent. This is particularly important in a teaching context where student and lecturer are from two different cultures and, therefore, the potential need for discussion on how this may affect the information provided increases. Moreover, given the nature of the CHC students, cues to guide study strategies were most appreciated when disseminated quickly; particularly with assessment information. The use of asynchronous and synchronous communication (noticeboard and real-time chat facilities respectively) proved faster than the print-based subject method of faxing Singapore and then sending copies of the fax to all students by post. However, in using the BCN Online interaction facilities two main issues became apparent: the type of information delivered based on demographic and cultural nature of the students and effective orientation procedures.

Agostintinho, Lefoe and Hedberg (1997) refer to the ability of asynchronous and synchronous communication channels to promote discourse and aid the construction of knowledge. They and other authors (for example, Harasim et al, 1997), also support the idea that these channels encourage collaborative learning. It was found that in the context of BCN Online the noticeboard (asynchronous) and real time chat (synchronous) facilities only supported these claims when combined with an objectivist philosophy including an instructivist method of presenting information, provision of extrinsic motivation and a focus on goal orientation (see Reeveís Dimensions of Interactive Learning systems in Phillips, 1996).

For example, in the initial stages of the delivery, the facilitator used an open approach to noticeboard communication: after an initial welcome it was anticipated that students would use the noticeboard to ask questions of the lecturer and communicate amongst themselves. When a student commented that ìThere was not much to see on the noticeboardî it became apparent that this approach was insufficient. Two issues arose from this: the students wished to have more structured noticeboard interaction based on an instructivist pedagogy (Reeves in Phillips, 1997) and the expectations held by the facilitator were not communicated to the students before the delivery commenced.

The type of structured information requested by the students centred on their desire to have specific study strategies and general information on the assignments (despite a very detailed overview on the subject information page) and exam. For example, they would prefer that the facilitator initiate messages and reminders as to what they should be thinking about in their assignment. This was a reflection of both their culture (and was recognised in face-to-face workshops also) and the fact that the students were all working and often under extreme time pressure. Despite this structured approach, the ideal of the constructivism was also integrated. For example, dialogue could be drawn from the structured information to help the students construct their own views through conversation. This was particularly efficient using the real time chat facility (refer to appendix 2 for an example). In essence, instructing the student on technique and basic content and then helping them explore the information.

The second issue is the need to ensure that all students are sufficiently orientated to online learning and the expectations and requirements of this mode of learning. As with Baron, Thiele and Hintz (1995), Rimmington and Gruba (1997) found that students require orientation to new ways of learning. In the case of Singapore students this could be done during face to face orientation sessions which are held at the beginning of the course as well as via a printed manual. Orientation also involves training in the use of the facilities before starting the subject. In reflection this would best involve use of email as all students using BCN Online have an email address and use it in their work environment. A suggested process would be to contact all students enrolled in on-line delivery and ask them to leave a message on the noticeboard or reply to a welcome message placed by the facilitator. Conducting this exercise before the subject commences would decrease the anxiety experienced by students unable to work the system having started the course, and encourage student participation. This may be extended to include the facilitation of students testing all interactive components before the commencement of the subject. Greater participation during the course could be facilitated by a component of marks allocated to real-time chat attendance.

As well as the collaborative interaction via the noticeboard and chat sessions used in the above scenarios, facilitator-to-student interaction was enhanced via the Information ticker-tape seen on the front page of the site. This provided an extremely efficient method of sending students messages, for example, notification of a chat session or assignment due date reminders. Again, the Internet mode proved much faster for message delivery compared to the postal route for print-based students.

Appropriateness to Instructional Task

The aim of BCN is to provide students with the theoretical and practical tools to communicate and negotiate effectively in the workplace. Both the print-based and Internet-based modes involve the same course material and methods of assessment and, over several years, the course developers have spent much time in achieving a subject which successfully meets the aim of the subject (see Brown, Davies, Jensen and Sweeney, 1996). In transferring the material to the Internet, much effort went into ensuring that the aim of the subject was not threatened. The result is a mode of delivery which further enhances the purpose of BCN in that students are exposed to more ìcommunication in actionî through Internet discussions than their print-based counterparts. Moreover, students are able to explore this relatively new communication technology within a learning context and access reference information via the various sites on the Internet. This point is especially critical given the demographic nature of the students and their desire to find and discuss information as efficiently and effectively as possible.

As a subject which favours experiential learning the more ìexperienceî the students have with communication and negotiation the more effective the subject will be for student learning. Ryder and Hughes (1997, p ix) state that:

ìstudents are likely to learn best when they are manipulating, exploring, observing, using various sensory modalities, discussing, experimenting, or otherwise being truly involved in the process.î

Both the interactive components and the ability to access information from a variety of sources, for example, study guide material, lecture notes from the resources page, real audio topic overviews, links to other sites and synchronous and asynchronous communication provide the students with many learning contexts and, from student reports so far, demonstrate a more stimulating and fun experiential environment. This more than supports the instructional tasks chartered for the students.


BCN Online has provided a viable alternative to the print-based option originally offered to students. The subject attempted to foster personal construction of knowledge by setting an appropriate context for learning (Jonassen et al in Agostinho et al, 1997). This context combines the ideal of constructivism with the reality of the educational philosophy of a Confusion heritage culture and the demographic characteristics of the students. Facilitation of collaboration through the use of conversation (Jonassen et al in Agostinho et al, 1997) was provided through synchronous and asynchronous communication channels and stemmed from a structured approach focusing on the goals of the students: to move through the degree as efficiently and effectively as possible.


Agostinho, S., Lefoe, G. and Hedberg, J. 1997, Online Collaboration for Learning: A Case Study of a Post Graduate University Course [Online, accessed 1 Oct. 1997], URL:

Baron J, Thiele D, Hintz E (1995) Following the Yellow Brick Road, National Centre for Vocational Education and Research, (NCVER), Adelaide

Brown, L., Davies, J., Jensen, S. and Sweeney, S., 1996, Learning to Teach Communication and Negotiation, Paper presented to ANZAM, Woolongong, 3-6 Dec.

Connell, T.H. and Franklin C. 1993, ëThe Internet: Educational Isssuesí, Library Trends, vol. 42, no.1, pp608-624.

Feast, V. and Churchman, D. 1996, The CHC student success story: a case study in one Australian University, Proceedings of 1997 Annual Conference of Higher Education and Research Development Society of Australiasia (Herdsa), July 8-11 1977, Ramada Grand Hotel, Glenelg, South Australia

Harasim, L., Hiltz, Teles, and Turoff, 1996, Learning Networks: a field guide to teaching and learning online, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston.

Jones, D. 1997, Solving Some Problems of University Education: A Case Study [Online, accessed 1 Oct. 1997], URL:

Mazzarole, T. and Hosie, P. 1997, ëLong Distance Teaching: The impact of offshore programs and information technology on academic workí, Australian Universities Review, vol. 40, no.1, pp.20-25.

Phillips, R. (Ed) 1996, Developers Guide to Interactive Multimedia , Computing Centre, Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

Rimmington G and Gruba P (1997) "Constructivism in Communication and Informatics", Online-Ed, 3 October 1997,

Ryder, R.J. and Hughes, T. 1997, Internet for Educators, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey.

Simoff, S. and Maher, M. 1997, Web-Mediated Courses: The Revolution in On-line Design Courses [Online, accessed 1 Oct. 1997], URL:

Appendix 1

Web Server Access Log

The web server access logs provide an indication of how the BCN site is being used with the following listed in decreasing number of accesses:

  • Main Menu Page
  • Public Message Board
  • Student Profiles
  • Study Guide
  • Ticker Tape Messages
  • Private Journal
  • Activities and Assignments
  • Interactive Chat
  • Subject Information
  • Private Message Area

Of the 26,000 total number of accesses to the BCN web site, approximately 22,000 have been from the 32-bit Netscape Navigator (version 3.x, 4.x) web browser and approximately 2,000 from the 32-bit Microsoft Internet Explorer (version 3.x) web browser. There have been a very low number of accesses from 16-bit MS Windows of Macintosh browsers.

Appendix 2

Example from Real-Time Chat Session

15 October 1997

S = Student F = Facilitator

S About the literature review, can you explain what should be included in it?

F The literature review should contain the main definitions that you will use in the assignment...

F For example, hard bargaining, principled negotiation and any communication components you will include in the report..

F You do not have to mention all the theories covered in the course only those appropriate to your assignment

F Which theories do you think you will use?

S My situation is a hard bargaining one ... so I'll use hard bargaining.

F It is worthwhile discussing whether principled negotiation would HAVE been more useful or not alsoÖ

F So, analyse the negotiation using hard bargaining , then, discuss the merits of principled negotiation in your situation

F What sort of non-verbal behaviours did the parties display?

S Tone of voice was not friendly, almost towards the end, avoidance of eye contact.

F Good, any others?

S Posture was very erect and tense, as if going to war

F Excellent.



(c) Sonja Jensen, Allan Christie, Judi Baron


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