Using Cultural Detective Online in a College Class

BCCUNYhoriz_PMS288_PMS286A guest blog post by Dr. Elisabeth Gareis (Communication Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York)

With many colleges increasing their online course offerings, there is a great need for training tools that can be used as segments in online classes. Last fall, I was looking for such a tool for my graduate class in International Business Communication. In previous face-to-face renditions of the course, I had used Ecotonos with great success. When I couldn’t find a simulation game for online asynchronous settings, I decided to try the Cultural Detective Online (CDO).

One course assignment involves student groups investigating a country of their choice through readings and interviews, focusing on sub-topics such as oral and written communication, business customs, and business-related news events. In the end, the groups create webpages on their country, complete with narrated slideshows on each sub-topic.

Last fall, I assigned the CDO only for exploratory purposes. Before the students embarked on their adventure, I gave a screencast lecture on training tools, covering differences in type (e.g., simulations versus games), giving examples of specific ones (e.g., Barnga, Ecotonos, Diversophy), and discussing different uses (e.g., training versus coaching). The students had various levels of exposure to intercultural communication: some had overseas experience and others were new to the subject matter. None of them had used a training tool before.

Ellissa Corwin (COM 9656 Fall 2013)
The students all obtained a one-month subscription to explore CDO as an example of a training tool, and, at the same time, to get started on their country research. Their assignment was to view the video tutorials and then to complete the CDO package for their target country (i.e., to explore all sections, including the Lenses, proverbs/sayings, daily life examples, negative perceptions, and all incidents). In the end, they analyzed and discussed the experience. Here are some representative responses:

  • “The interface is easy to use.”
  • “The dashboard is a great way to orient the user at the start of their cultural investigation. It can be very helpful to write out what your aims are when doing research.”
  • “I think the Cultural Detective does a very good job of outlining primary Lenses. I particularly enjoyed the in-depth materials associated with each lens and learning from the interactions. I also appreciated that they include both positive and possibly negative perceptions of each trait.”
  • “I like how the Lenses are organized. I especially like the proverbs and daily-life examples.”
  • “I found it useful to begin learning about my group’s particular country and a good starting point for further research.”
  • “This type of in-the-moment skill-building practice really helps reinforce learning and build user confidence. The Cultural Detective also helped bring our textbook to life and clarify learning.”
  • “I liked the fact that all of the site’s sources are listed. This can really help someone who wants to dive deeper into a particular country.”
  • “Very organized and user friendly!”

Exploring the CDO gave the students insight into the world of intercultural training and coaching, and provided them with quality information on their target country. As it is self-paced, it is easily integrated into asynchronous online college classes.

I am using CDO again this semester, but this time a little differently. In addition to exploring the tool, students’ final presentations will include using their research findings (readings and interviews) to design an activity that is modeled after the incidents in CDO. In other words, each student will contribute an issue from his/her sub-topic to a scenario or dialogue, which will then be analyzed by other classmates. Not only will this better integrate CDO into the course, it will also allow students to directly apply their learning.

Cultural Detective Online is a great tool, and I recommend it highly. Students greatly enjoy their learning via the CDO.

A note from the Cultural Detective Team:

Please contact us if you’d like to learn how to integrate CDO into your classroom experience.

Coming soon—exciting new CDO functionality will allow members of a “group” (e.g., a class or a team) to collaboratively create critical incidents, which can be submitted to the group administrator (professor or team leader) for approval, and then shared with other group members for analysis and discussion.

Have you joined us for a free webinar to see how Cultural Detective Online can be integrated in your academic or business setting? We hold them twice a month—attendance is limited so register now: Cultural Detective Online Webinar


11 thoughts on “Using Cultural Detective Online in a College Class

  1. Walden University is looking for such tools. Thank you for this informative blog.

    Best regards, Pixie Martin Contributing Faculty, Walden University Independent Consultant

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you found it helpful, Pixie. We are happy to speak with you about possible ways to incorporate the tool into classwork, or with faculty or staff. I’m confident that Elisabeth or one of our other university clients would be happy to discuss as well. Just let us know. Thank you for building intercultural competence in this world of ours!


  2. The annual dinner for Asia Society’s northern California chapter in San Francisco on May 12, will feature presentations and teacher awards on “education in a global era” with an emphasis on the U.S.- Asia connection. Also, a special event in the afternoon on Global Education in a Global World.. well worth attending if you’re in the area! Info at:
    Best regard,


    • Thank you for this information, Louise. Unfortunately I won’t be in the area then. I’d be happy to get you some literature or discuss how to proceed if you are planning to attend. Asia Society would be a terrific CD partner, win-win all around, I would think.


      • Unfortunately, I am will not able to attend the Asia Society dinner this year.
        I would be most willing to present CD materials, but I don’t believe this event would be the appropriate venue. Your product would likely be compatible with Asia Society Partnerships for Global Learning. This month’s issue is on Technology, and lists various products for purchase under “Global Learning Apps”. for info:
        schools/partnership-ideas/app. Also, look them up on Facebook under
        Asia Society Partnerships for Global Learning. This is primarily for education in schools, and the focus is on developing Global Competence.
        Asia Society would be a terrific partner for CD, so I wish you all the best!
        Please keep in touch,
        Best regards,


      • Just to clarify Dianne, I didn’t intend to imply that CD would not be appropriate for this venue, “Global Education in a Global World”…when in fact it would be perfect, if you were making the
        presentation, with your wonderful energy, knowledge and presentation skills. However, it would not be appropriate for me to attempt a presentation, especially since I was not invited, and I don’t have the recognition in this field, in which you are a known expert. That being said, the program is the afternoon of May 12, and appears to still have openings for speakers, so it may be worth a try get one of your people there, if you can’t make it. The annual award dinner is a formal event, so the afternoon workshop would be the only opportunity to present your product. As previously mentioned I do think that Asia Society-Partnership in Global Learning, may be promising for marketing CD. I am a member of the Asia Society, and would love to have you join us…just sign-up online!


  3. I am a big fan of CD, but I am curious how professors handle the feature of CDO that provides students with sample answers. I am struggling to get my students think before clicking on sample responses and simply retyping them in their answer sheets. Any insights?


    • Dear Jolanta, thank you for this input! I am really sorry to hear that 😦 Definitely defeats the purpose. You could upload custom incidents into your group area, and have the students debrief those. You could even copy and paste an existing incident into the custom worksheet for a new incident. In this way, there would be no “sample answer” for students to view. Another idea I’d have is to tell students you’ll grade them down if they don’t have more than two original answers in each quintile. I am happy to speak with you anytime to brainstorm, or to refer you to some other university professors who are using CD Online. Just give me a call. 913-901-0243 Best, Dianne


      • Thanks, Dianne. I wonder if there is a way to program the system so that instructors can enable or disable sample answers feature. It would be a great option for online learning environment! Students could first attempt their own best responses and then compare them with sample answers. Undergraduate students in particular are often looking for shortcuts and although uploading or creating worksheets is an option, it may not be the most efficient one and puts the burden on the instructor. Just a thought, but I think something like this would be a welcome improvement of the online version of CD.
        We are currently testing CDO in our undergraduate learning commerce trips (with the group travelling to Japan ), and this issue came up in our discussions. I am happy to talk more.


  4. Thank you, Jolanta. Yes, let’s talk more. That is definitely a feature we could put in future versions, if other instructors feel it would also be worthwhile. We appreciate your sharing your experience, and we are so happy the system is helping your diversity of students!


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