Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures is a classic in the intercultural and diversity fields. Learners work in groups to solve problems and complete tasks, improving their ability to work effectively in diverse multicultural teams in the process. The simulation can be played repeatedly for incremental learning and practice, as in contrast to most other simulation, play is different each time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, most of our world is either quarantined or socially isolated. We are having to work, learn and socialize virtually, online. Yesterday I received a message from Fernando Parrado, head of Global Minds a professor at universities in Bogotá, Colombia. He has used Cultural Detective with his undergraduate and graduate students for ten years, and Ecotonos for the last four. He texted me to share his delight that his first online play of the simulation went extremely well. He played Ecotonos during his normal evening class with his masters students and there were many advantages to the online learning, he told me. I asked him if we could speak and record his explanation of what he did, so that others might find inspiration. Below is that video and following that I’ll summarize in words what Fernando says.
Interesting to me is that Fernando plays Ecotonos as described in the boxed set, with a few customizations—a practice highly recommended with any tool so that it best suits the audience. He chooses five rules cards from the Ecotonos kit for each of the three cultural groups, but instead of Ecotonos-standard naming (Delphinius, Zante…), with these working professionals in the Masters in International Commerce evening program he names each group after a real country (Saudi Arabia, Japan and USA) and combines the Ecotonos rule cards with the Cultural Detective Values Lenses for that culture. I love this adaptation, to combine with a CD Values Lens! Genius!
Hundreds of universities worldwide have for over a decade used Cultural Detective Online in the classroom and now, increasingly and out of necessity they are using it for the purpose for which it was designed—in their online learning. It is proven effective, developmental and engaging. Fernando says he’s facilitated Ecotonos about eighteen times in the face-to-face classroom; yesterday was his first time to do so online. In his opinion, it had far better results.
Fernando used three different publicly available, free of cost online tools to run Ecotonos virtually.
- He used WhatsApp to share instructions and answer questions, particularly with group leaders (leaders were chosen for each cultural group, a practice often not done when playing face-to-face).
- The main class, with full attendance, was held in Zoom. Fernando gave out initial instructions, shared rule cards and Values Lenses, and later conducted the debriefing in Zoom.
- Each of the three cultural groups worked independently in their own Google Hangout. Fernando was able to drop into each team to monitor its progress and to facilitate as needed.
Fernando talked to me about flexible Latin time, and the online environment very much helped him with that. He was able to allow the students as much time as they needed to get their technology working, and to make sure that they spent sufficient time in each phase of the simulation (acculturation, monocultural work, multicultural work, debriefing). He reported to me that sometimes in a classroom situation it can feel rushed. His class normally ends at 9:30 pm, and Bogotá at that hour can be a bit dangerous. Since his students were in their own homes, in quarantine, he was able to stretch his class to 10:00 pm and the students were overjoyed at their learning and the fact they didn’t have the trek home after class.
More importantly and surprisingly, Fernando told me, was how much more immersive the virtual Ecotonos experience was. Fernando instructed the students to “make your Google Hangout feel like” Saudi, Japan or the USA. How the students would do that was up to them, but Fer told me that their creativity was amazing. Because they were at home, they used props, changed their attire, and jumped fully into the experience.
Debriefing is of course the key to any learning activity; it’s where we help the students make sense of the experience—make meaning and create knowledge and skill. Fernando’s group did the standard Ecotonos debrief, including drawing out the decision-making process used by their multicultural group and answering the reflection questions, summarizing them into a PowerPoint that was shared with the instructor and the class.
All in all, it seems Fernando sees more depth of learning and positive outcome in the online Ecotonos, though he says once things return to normal, he’ll of course continue to use the simulation and Cultural Detective Online in his face-to-face classes as well.