Global Syndicates

This project was not designed for foreign language learning, it was part of an interdisciplinary seminar on Globalization involving graduate students at two universities in the United States and two in South Africa. However it offers a model which could be replicated in foreign language learning telecollaboration projects.

Each semester, students were randomly assigned to one of five global virtual teams, global syndicates, with no more than two team members from each university. A collaboratory infrastructure was developed for the seminar using a suite of commercially available web-based tools, and included a virtual seminar room, a collaborative file management system and archived e-mail discussion lists. Over the course of a semester, each team was given a series of tasks (ranging from simple to theoretically complex) that required global collaboration to complete.


Main Focus:

Content Learning

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Dominant form of language production:

Target Competences:

Intercultural Skills
Online Communication Skills


How long did the project last?

13 weeks

How was the project organized?

The project director, Dr. Derrick L. Cogburn, holds faculty appointments at each of the participating universities (with the exception of the University of Fort Hare) and was ultimately responsible for the seminar at each location.

At the beginning of the semester, the professor randomly assigned students to the course’ s five Global Syndicates (virtual teams) by selecting names off each participating university’ s list of registered students in alphabetical order. Each GS reflected a unique stakeholder perspective (i.e., multi-national corporations, developed country governments, developing country governments, non-state actors) in the globalization and emerging information society debate. GS team members decided on an institutional identity consistent with the assigned stakeholder perspective in the course’ s opening weeks.

The course consisted of the following elements, in chronological order:

(1) assignment of students to virtual teams constructed as Global Syndicates
(2) introductory training sessions on the technologies used in the seminar, the rationale behind the distributed learning environment, and training on the culture and practices of virtual teams

(3) an introductory presentation, which allows the students to become even more familiar with the technology by introducing themselves to the seminar participants

(4) a Global Syndicate pilot project, which encouraged the GS to get moving on its protocol development and administrative matters

(5) a mid-term paper and presentation that allowed the students to present their individual perspectives on the seminar material

(6) a final syndicate paper, presentation, and debate bringing together all of the material and perspectives in the seminar.



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What worked well?

The Cotelco environment was found to be a ” successful” learning environment for the delivery of an advanced graduate seminar between
the United States and South Africa.

Our review of the Global Syndicate cases identified the following factors that helped teams become learning communities: the presence of at least one person who brought group dynamics skills to the GS experience the active participation of at least one South African team member who overcame serious technological challenges through a commitment to the group learning process and the use of enthusiastic, supportive, and positive communication by most members of the Global Syndicate.

What did students think of the project?

The majority of students (n=34, 76%) reported that their GS became ” a ‘ learning community’ e.g. assisted each other with understanding the material and concepts in the seminar,” with a large number (n=13, 29%) even asserting that the GS was ” a critical component of the learning. Further, a large number (n=9, 31%) said that ” in addition to my GS,” other learning communities emerged in the seminar.


Nearly all of the students (n=41, 91%) felt that the Global Syndicate approach was valuable, with a large number (n=22, 49%) of those students responding that there was ” tremendous” value in the approach. A majority of students (n=28, 62%) believed that the Global Syndicates had helped them to understand the ” challenges and opportunities of global virtual teams,” with several of those (n=13, 29%) responding that they felt ” ready to participate in one” professionally.

What challenges did you face?

Within Global Syndicates, factors that inhibited the development of learning communities included the absence of group process skills, occasional low levels of participation by South African teammates, uneven distribution of work across team members, and inadequate communication between teammates due to technology problems and the time difference. Moreover, insufficient opportunities for social communication and bonding, the time constraints and personal problems of some team members, failure to respond to the initiatives of individual team members, and cross-cultural differences in communication, academic expectations, and work ethic hindered the building of learning communities.

What did the teachers think of the project?

Our Global Graduate Seminar experiment resulted in both faculty learning and institutional learning, especially in the realm of technological knowhow. It is important not to overlook the learning that goes on among faculty and administrators as well as technology providers at each of the sites.

What kind of institutional support did you receive?

This project was set up by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Information who established in 1999 a Collaboratory on Technology-Enhanced Learning Communities (Cotelco) with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), the Alliance for Community Technology (ACT) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Cotelco is designed to facilitate research that enhances our understanding of the factors contributing to successful distributed knowledge work between developed and developing countries. Using a suite of commercially available webbased collaboration tools, Cotelco brings together faculty, staff, and students from the four universities involved in this project.

There was also substantial institutional support at each University (University of Michigan: the Alliance for Community Technology American University: School of International Service University of the Witwatersrand: Learning, Information, Networking and Knowledge (LINK) Centre and the University of Fort Hare: Department of Computer Science and Communications).
A computer lab on each campus was reserved to conduct the seminar, and a site coordinator was appointed at each location. Each lab
also included a data projector to display a standard audience members interface to the global seminar room. The technologies used to support
the Globalization Seminar involved a suite of commercially available web based tools rather than a single, integrated package. This allowed us to use the course website as a portal, creating an integrated environment of the most robust tools&mdash best of breed&ndash for the required function (rather than settling for close approximations integrated into a single package).