Годишно научнотеоретично списание
ISSN 1314-7714

Using Social Networks in Teaching Intercultural Communication

Using Social Networks in Teaching Intercultural Communication

Assoc. prof. Natalia Grishina
Saint-Petersburg State Polytechnic University
E-mail: grishinan@list.ru

Использование социальных сетей в обучении межкультурной коммуникации

Доцент Наталья Гришина
Санкт-Петербургский государственный политехнический университет
E-mail: grishinan@list.ru

Abstract: В статье анализируется упражнение, которое проводилось на занятии по межкультурной коммуникации. Студентов из Америки и России просили обсудить предложенные темы, используя социальные сети. Кроме того студенты записывали свои впечатления, анализ которых выявил, что студенты были очень заинтересованы в выполнении данного упражнения. Каждый вовлеченный студент отмечает, что стереотипные представления, составленные на основе их предыдущего опыта, поменялись. Статья предлагает рассмотреть проанализированные результаты, в рамках проделанного упражнения на занятиях по межкультурной коммуникации.

Key words: методика преподавания, межкультурная коммуникация, социальные сети, сотрудничество; иностранные языки; Россия; стереотипы; упражнение; социальная коммуникация; Facebook; Skype


The authors involved to the project are from different countries. One of the authors is from the US and another one is from Russia. They both taught Intercultural Communication with an emphasis on teaching students about business protocol in other countries. The idea was to involve students to participate in a cultural project.

The logistics were somewhat complex because each university had different calendars and time zone needed to be coordinated. The Russian students spoke English, while the US students did not speak Russian. The US students all worked full time in addition to attending classes, and many of the US students were parents of young children.

To introduce the assignment, the Russian professor joined the class by Skype to introduce herself and to respond to questions. Students in each class were randomly paired with a counterpart in the other country. US students were asked to provide Skype addresses and were given the email addresses of Russian students and asked to initiate contact.

In their individual courses, the students had studied various intercultural communication theories and had been exposed to information on customs. The instructions of this assignment were to discuss protocols and etiquette for doing business in the other’s country.


Theoretical basis in teaching Intercultural Communication

Two theoretical frameworks are discussed in this paper as ways of enriching the understanding gained from this experience. First, the students briefly reflected on Hofstede’s (Hofstede, 1991) dimensions to present expectations of cultural norms from the two countries. Then, we discussed the choice of technology used by students through the lens of the media richness theory.

In the Discussion section we will compare the expectations from a theoretical perspective with our results from this study.

When comparing cultures it is essential to have a uniform framework. In this project Geert Hofstede’s dimensions (Hofstede, 2014) are used as one of the theoretical basis for analyzing and comparing culture as a whole and at the level of business organizations. The dimensions considered by the students are the following: Power Distance, Collectivism versus Individualism, Masculinity versus Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-term orientation versus Sort-term orientation (Hofstede, 1991).

The students also look closer to communication and management styles, levels of formality, timing and scheduling (Hall and Hall, 1990)

Media choice

Media richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1984; Lengel & Daft, 1988) offers a perspective on the appropriate media choices individuals select for their communication. Media richness follows a continuum from high richness (i.e. face to face) to low richness (i.e. bulletin boards). In general, the most effective choice of media is that which matches the intended outcome for a specific message. For example, exchanges that are more complex, ambiguous or potentially sensitive are more effective when using richer media because it conveys both the data and relationship component of the message.

Shapiro, Buttner, and Barry (1994) confirmed the concepts of the media richness theory regarding the adequacy of a communication medium to provide enough cues (such as emotional intensity and nonverbal behavior) to match the intention of the message. Media richness theory proposes that the speed of feedback and the level of personal focus are factors in the choice of media. Timmerman and Harrison (2005) suggest that “from this perspective the use of email sends a mixed symbolic message: potentially more timely but also less personal” (p. 382). Media richness theory informs this study as a way of confirming or disconfirming the choices students made for their interaction.

Assignment methods

US students were enrolled in a class on Intercultural Communication and were mid-way through the semester. The university is a 4-year, private liberal arts institution. Students were primarily non-traditional students and as such had careers in addition to attending classes. In the US class, participation was voluntary – part of virtual C/NC assignment and 80% agreed to participate although only 50% completed the entire assignment.

   Russian students:

  • 2 male and 6 female
  • Average Age 20.7
  • Full time students


US students:

  • 1 male and 7 females
  • Average age 34.8
  • All students worked full-time and attended college part time



   Data Collection

In total, twelve students comprised eight paired conversation partners of Russian and US students.

Students submitted reflections papers of 1-3 pages in length. Two US students who participated in the communication did not submit the final papers regardless of repeated requests and the class itself was finished so there was limited contact with US students beyond email which did not receive a response.

   Data Analysis

The two authors exchanged students’ reflection papers and worked independently to determine themes that emerged. They shared input and wrote first drafts separately that were then exchanged for additional input.


Media and technology

The above analysis suggests that when the authors communicated across geographic boundaries, they used email to coordinate a convenient time and then used Skype to speak in real time, have access to video for non-verbal cues and tone of voice. Although we anticipated students would use Skype to communicate, and follow our process, they made a variety of choices for their communication. Specifically, of the total of eight matched pairs, three pairs used Skype, two used email, and one used Facebook. Of those using Skype, only one use the video feature, the other two pairs used text through Skype allowing a asynchronous chat exchange (no tone of voice or non-verbal cues).

  • USF1I initially contacted Olga via email last Saturday during class. She responded the next day, asking if we would be able to communicate through Facebook and that she was having problems with her internet. She referred to her ability to message through Facebook would be viable through her “smartphone.” I agreed and asked her if I could friend her on Facebook. It was actually kind of nice to be able to look through her photos and her page to get a sense of who I was speaking with. We also had the ability to message each other as it was convenient and sent questions back and forth. We have been communicating almost every day.
  • USF3 Social media is very popular in Russia and Ukontakte (translation: In Contact) is their equivalent of Facebook. Although, she indicated she does have a Facebook account and asked if I do.
  • RF2 there were troubles with technological side (there was not sound in Skype), but we overcame it.
  • USF3 we decided to use regular email to communicate, over about a 3 day period. Initially, we tried to set up a meeting to Skype but because of time differences and schedule conflicts we had to keep rescheduling, then Kristina got sick and lost her voice so we decided to go with email since we had been doing so all week already
  • USF 3 I initially contacted Ksenia via email twice, but did not get a response to my emails. She then emailed me with a new email address, other than what was posted on the list we received. She indicated she had been having issues with her email. We agreed to Skype on Sunday at 8:00pm Russia time. I have a desktop computer that does not have a webcam so we were just going to talk via Skype. Well, she could not hear me, even though I heard her just fine, so, we wrote back and forth through Skype. She was disappointed that we could not actually speak with each other, but she was then ok with the fact that we were still actually communicating.

The variety of media and technology choices were made to communicate: e-mailing, Skype oral conversation and typing, Facebook. It can bring us to a conclusion that technologies and different ways of their usage can be used to create assignments and social relations across boundaries.

Cultural Perspective

Communication across cultural barriers can be described and analyzed from numerous angles. In this paper we are focusing on individual traits and competencies understanding the Importance of not forming an understanding of the whole with one example. We are just looking for some patterns and trends to give a dynamic view on the creation of social relations within and between national boundaries.

  • USF1 She liked to hear that my sister was very interested in her culture
  • USF1 -She wanted to know if this was normal for us to have interactions with students from other countries and I told her that this my first experience.
  • RF1 – USF1 said to me that her sister loves Russian culture and that she has already been to Russia back in the 80’s. And … said she herself wants to go to Russia. I think it’s great that there are people in the world who are not afraid of different stereotypes about Russia and the Russians and want to come and visit Russia.
  • USM1 Re: [use of humor]. I asked her what I shouldn’t do when visiting Russia. She replied with “don’t talk to strange looking people, if anything happens to stay calm and don’t ride the subway on Monday morningsJ.
  • USM1 I did ask if America was liked and she said it was 50/50 as the older generation that lived in the Soviet Union still had issues with us. I asked if she would ever want to visit America and she joyously replied yes…
  • RF3 He was very polite and punctual; he wrote me 4 or 5 letters before we finally could get to talk. We discussed some other topics except for politics, for example art. I was a bit surprised when he said that Americans are not so much into Art and culture….


To conclude, I can give some thoughts about Americans that I’ve got after this conversation:

  • RF2 Americans know how to make business and they like it, work plays a huge role in their lives
  • RF-2 – Americans don’t find family as important as Russians
  • RF-2 – American’s knowledge about surrounding world and culture is quite poor and they know it, but don’t make any effort to change it
  • RF-2 – Americans are open people and they can easily talk to you about anything if they see some kind of profit in it
  • USF2 Gender roles are mostly observed in older generations, but they are dissipating with the younger generation.
  • USF2 Business practices in the private sector are becoming more westernized depending on the age group. She said there are still some old school managers.
  • USF 2 Our emails were somewhat formal in structure; they started with a greeting, paragraphs, and closing. The tone of our emails was more informal. One interesting fact about certainty or uncertainty is that she asked me to email her some questions; so, she can be prepared, but this may have nothing to do with it. Maybe, she was just thinking of how to respond in English, although her English is very proficient.
  • RF4 To tell the truth I was a little nervous waiting for our Skype-meeting, expecting some kind of a boring formal conversation. Nevertheless, my interlocutor turned out to be a very interesting, friendly and delightful woman.
  • RF4 (USF2) confirmed that Americans themselves are very individualistic, sometimes can be arrogant. They are also quite judgmental and may jump into conclusions before they hear all the facts and they are not very compassionate. But at the same time, relations are quite informal, whether it is business or socialization. But she also let me know that one has to consider that attitudes, customs, tendencies, and culture in United States in general can be very different from one state to another.
  • USF3 – FR2 indicated that there is a lot of bureaucracy in trying to set up a business in Russia. But, if you have a lot of money, you can own a business much easier. The Russian Foreign Ministry tries to attract foreign specialists to set up businesses in Russia, so it is easier to establish a business in Russia if you are from another country. (she) stated that power and wealth are very much connected. “If you have wealth you have power.” Russia has a very authoritarian type of power in business. The boss is empowered to make the decisions and the workers show deference to high level management. They have very high uncertainty avoidance, and operate with formal policies and procedures. Employees adhere to protocol.
  • USF3 I asked (her) what her thoughts were of the United States and doing business in the United States and her response was “United Sates is very powerful and doing business in the United States is easier than the Russian Federation.”
  • RF2 – It was very hard to describe some special features of running business in Russia, because I don’t work. (She) used terminology and it was also difficult to understand, but very interesting.
  • USF3 I asked how (she) would describe Russian culture, as collectivistic or individualistic, to which she said it would be somewhere in between. She was somewhat vague, but said that generally they tend to work as part of a group, and in the classroom setting students do more individual work because many of their classes are lecture and do not require working in groups. I was very surprised to hear that she has over 10 classes and she is basically in class most of the day, which is why she says it can be very hard to have a job; here in America we tend to work and make everything else fit into our schedules.
  • USF3 Kristina seemed very excited about the idea of talking with me and learning about American culture to an extent, however it kind of felt like it took a lot of work to get information about Russia and I had to lead the conversation, which I was fine with, but was concerned about neglecting any of her questions or thoughts that she did not say. I also tried to share some information about myself and asked if she could do the same and she really did not say much about herself which I can understand to a degree, but I was a little disappointed.
  • USF3For me having a better idea of who I am communicating with enhances the conversation. In reflection, I do think that I was more willing to talk about both the good and not so good aspects of our culture, where as I believe Kristina gave me one positive side.
  • RF5 Americans are a pretty diverse population because of a great number of immigrants. She said that traditionally Americans are more individualistic because people are held accountable to the actions of individual rather than as a group. And in business all of Americans like to take credits for individual successes and not sharing them with the group. But, on the other hand, there’re many influences from Asian immigrants and South American immigrants who prefer a more collectivist approach.


In this assignment the average age of Russian students is 20.7 and American students is 34.8. The range of the age groups is one of the indicators to be taken into account. Perception theories are based on the concepts of the primary image, the perceptual image, the image representation of unconscious inference. Primary image – a set of impressions formed without reminiscences, and past experience, containing what follows from the immediate sensations. Perceptual image refers to the perception, accompanied by relating reacting sensations and past experience. (Helmholtz). Most of the American students have working experience but participated Russian students have not. It influences the perception of the information they get while communicating.


Education and careers


  • USF1 She was very surprised to find out that I was 38, with a child who worked full time and went to school almost full time. She wanted to know if this was the norm of college students here in America. I explained to her that most people go to school right out of high school but there a quite a few people that go back later in life and finish. It was also interesting to find out from Olga, that in Russia, they don’t use a credit system in college. They go by classes and they don’t get to choose them, they are chosen for them. She said that most students do not have jobs because they will have to miss class. She said that she only has one friend that has a job in the evenings at a cafe. She said she is taking 14 classes right now and she is in school from approximately 10 to 4 or 6 every day. This is the amount of time each student spends in class a week for four years.
  • RF1 USF1 told me that she had a decent job but to move up she had to complete her education and get a bachelor degree…. (she) was very surprised that our educational systems differed so much.
  • RF1 – (USF1) told me … a lot of people in America don’t know what is going on in the world; they know only what’s going on in the US, their own state or their town/city
  • RF5 Firstly, we were talking about Russian and American educational systems and compared them with each other. Now I can draw a conclusion that American education is quite different. Typically, college students go to a class for 45 minutes to 1,5 hours and 2 or 3 times a week, and usually they take 4 to 5 classes term. So it’s not so intensive as it’s in Russian Universities. And as I know now many American courses require a lot of group work and projects to promote the idea of being a part of team and understanding the dynamics of communication with others in a work context.


Reaction to Assignment

  • USF1 We talked a little bit about the importance of having this type of experience and she agreed that is important these days.
  • RF1 …it has been a great experience for me to talk to a person from another country and another culture.
  • RF4 …such intercultural conversations are really helpful and cognitive. Due to communication with representatives of another country or culture, it is possible to learn more, to widen one’s outlook, and to gain new relations…
  • USF3 Overall, I enjoyed the conversation and am very happy to have had the opportunity to communicate with someone from another country, very far away.



In this article, we presented the research that is based on the Intercultural class assignment which required students to communicate across international boundaries. The results of the above insights can be discussed in relation to the following lesson learned by the authors:

Any students involved in learning Intercultural communication or Intercultural Business Communication must be involved in the process itself to get internal and external experiences of communicating across boundaries.

Both of the lecturers do the same course in different countries. It is one of the way to organize and manage the process of communication and analyzing results more efficient.

The assignment is the real experience to communicate and discuss different aspects of intercultural communication. The students communicate and get experience together with theoretical knowledge.

The students learn how to communicate and that is the objective of any communicative course. Students who participated loved it and were very enthusiastic.

This project broke stereotypes. It reinforces the key principles that are taught in the framework of the course. If students get below the media and it is a chance to see that people are very different that the images we are exposed to about other cultures. 

There is a connection at the humanitarian level that exceeds expectations and becomes life-changing.


Concluding remarks

This chapter has offered one of the pedagogical practices in teaching Intercultural communication. This sample is convenient but generalizable. Voluntary participation helps students to be free in communicating and giving reflections with the experience. In spite of the limited business experience of the students to focus on the assignment so much of the “doing business” comments are embedded in the cultural section. The English language used in this project for writing responses provides opportunity to share all information between students and lecturers. We are planning to continue Valuable experience for reinforcing concepts taught in Intercultural class and from a liberal arts perspective. All the engaged had to work against logistics (time/media/level of language use) and yet all the participants said it was valuable.


References / Литература 

  1. Daft, R.L.; Lengel, R.H. (1984). Information richness: a new approach to managerial behavior and organizational design. Research in organizational behavior (Homewood, IL: JAI Press) 6: P. 191–233.
  2. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh E., Nathan M., Willingham D. Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, January 2013; vol. 14, 1: pp. 4-58.
  3. Easton, S., Schmidt, Conaway, , Wardrope, W. (2007) Communicating Globally: Intercultural Communication and International Business, Sage Publications
  4. Grishina, N. (2013) Interactive technologies in teaching intercultural communication competence. Investigations in social science and humanities: science digest – SPb.: Publishing House of the Polytechnical University, 2013: P. 57-64
  5. Grishina, N. (2013) Development in multicultural discourse in Advertising / Investigations in social sciences and humanities: science digest / editors: Sergey Pogodin, Ari Lindeman, Soili Lehto-Kylmanen, Olga Bulavenko. – SPb: Publishing House of the Polytechnical University, 2013. – P. 107-111
  6. Hall, E.T., Hall, M.R. (2005) Understanding cultural differences. Intercultural Press
  7. Hofstede, G. (1991) Cultures and Organizations – Software of the mind. London: McGraw-Hill International
  8. Inglehart, R., Basaner, M., Moreno, A. (1998) Human values and beliefs: A cross-cultural sourcebook. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  9. Lengel, R.H., Daft, R.L. (1988). The Selection of Communication Media as an Executive Skill, Academy of Management Executive, 2
  10. Shapiro, D. L., Buttner, E. H., Barry, B. (1994). Explanations: What factors enhance their perceived adequacy? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 58, P. 346-348
  11. Timmerman, P.D., Harrison, W. (2005) The Discretionary use of Electronic Media. Journal of Business Communication. October 2005, Vol.42 Issue 4
  12. Van der Vijver, F. Leung. K. (1997) Methods and data analysis for cross-cultural research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
  13. Гришина Н.Ю. Проектирование когнитивной технологии обучения студентов технических вузов профессиональной иноязычной коммуникации // Научно-технические ведомости СПбГТУ. – 2006. – №4 (46). – С. 140-142. [Grishina N. Yu. Cognitive technology educational project designed to meet the requirements of instructing foreign languages professional communications at technical universities. Nauchno-tekhnicheskie vedomosti SPbGTU. 2006. № 4(46). Pp. 140-142. (rus.)]


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Русенски университет Ангел Кънчев