Student profile:
Students enrolled:

Dr Al Marshall
Peter Faber Business School
Masters of Accounting, Masters of Professional Accounting, MBA.
BUSN600 International Business Environment and MKTE600 Managerial Marketing
International students, mid-20s



The Peter Faber Business School has a partnership with the University of San Diego, the Catholic University of America along with Binus International University in Jakarta.

This case study explores how the School is working to embed their relationship with these partnerships in the curriculum, via the use of ‘Virtual Classrooms’.

The School uses the term ‘Virtual Classroom’ to refer to their approach of having teams of students at a university partner, work with teams of students from ACU on a common assessment in a particular unit.


  • Global connectedness through relationships with international partner universities
  • Internationalisation of the curriculum
  • Building real-world work capability of students, including cross-cultural collaboration skills
  • Strengthen the case for international course accreditations

ACU postgraduate priority areas

This case study maps to the following Objectives within ACU’s Postgraduate Strategy (2018-2020):

  • Objective 1: Global connectedness – global connections and partnerships
  • Objective 2: Real world capability – building students’ cross-cultural & collaboration capabilities
  • Objective 3: Leading with integrity – building partnerships with other catholic universities
  • Objective 4: Learning, teaching and service excellence – academic staff partnerships and shared practice

Market rationale

  • While international partnerships are a selling-point for potential students, often these aren’t well utilised and their potential remains unrealised. This Peter Faber Business School project aims to bring the spirit of true partnership alive, via shared assessments and multi-university staff collaborations.
  • It also embeds relationships with our catholic partner institutions
  • Employee cross-cultural capabilities are increasingly important for many organisations
  • True global partnerships within courses also strengthens the case for international accreditations currently being sought by the school. These key accreditations influence overseas students’ decisions when choosing business courses.

Learning and teaching rationale

  • Working in teams with students from overseas allows students to experience true cross-cultural work practices - including differing contexts, cultures, perspectives and time-zones.
  • Enhancing student’s abilities to solve problems in a variety of settings taking both local and international perspectives into account
  • Providing opportunities to practice communicating/negotiating across cultural boundaries.

Solution and approach

Relationships with academics

Dr-Al-Marshall-circleBuilding relationships with staff at the partner universities is essential for the project to work. This typically requires an initial visit to the offshore institution to establish relationships, brief the academic partner and discuss the shared student assessment task.

One way Dr Marshall (pictured) is able to encourage participation in the project by the partner academics is by designing the common assessment task and offering to write the brief for students. The partner academic is then invited to provide feedback on the task and the brief. This minimises the time involved for academic partners.

It is essential to ensure that lecturers at the partner institution:

  • fully understood the teaching ‘model’
  • have enthusiasm and commitment to the process
  • are able to convey the benefits to their students, and
  • manage the project from their end in terms of the assessment task, student brief and the timelines.

Motivating students

A key aspect of the preparation is ‘selling’ the concept of doing a cross-cultural assessment to all students involved. This is achieved by making the benefits of the opportunity explicit, such as how it can contribute to their CV’s by giving them an ‘international culture experience’. The students can also receive a certificate of participation in the project for their work portfolios (this is going to be trialed).

Pairing teams

Both the ACU academic and the partner academic need to create groups of 3-4 students who are matched with each other. The culturally diverse ACU students are paired with the more homogeneous American and Indonesian students into integrated teams.

The process that the academic follows to arrange students into teams is:

  1. Academic finds out the size of the overseas unit’s cohort, and matches with a single-campus local student cohort in a unit*. This has been necessary as the partnering institutions have had smaller numbers of students.
  2. Then the academic sets the group size (3-4), and students self-select into groups.
  3. Each group nominates a group ‘contact person’
  4. Each academic shares a spreadsheet with the partnering academic. The spreadsheet contains list of their student's names, with institutional emails, group allocation and group contact person.
  5. Each academic gives relevant team their matching team’s names, email addresses and contact person.

* Equity: obviously if an opportunity of this nature was only offered at one location on an ongoing basis there would be an equity issue for a multi-campus unit. The current solution is for the international cultural opportunity to alternate between cohort locations for the unit/s (e.g. Melb Sem1, Syd Sem2…). This is something that is continually being explored, and needs to be considered in future related projects.

Students chose their technologies

Students are encouraged to use whatever communication tools suit them (e.g. Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, Snapchat, email, Google docs etc). This does make it hard for the academic/s to monitor the student team’s progress on the projects, but the payoff is that the students feel comfortable and in control of the communication process for their project.

Contingency plan

The lead ACU academic ensures there is a contingency plan, in case difficulties eventuate for the partner academic in terms of timing and logistics of the project. In the Extended Unit Outline for the unit, the assignment has the major project details, but states that ‘further details will be made available’. Once the partner academic confirms their involvement in the project, it runs with the paired overseas teams. If the partner academic cannot confirm their participation in time, the ACU lecturer runs the project locally without the partner institution’s students.

Examples of recent assessment tasks

BUSN600: International Business Environment - the teams researched and analysed different business meeting and negotiation styles between countries. For instance, one integrated team researched, compared and contrasted US-China meeting and negotiation styles, whilst another team focused on Australian-Russian meeting and negotiation styles.

MKTE600: Marketing Management - the teams researched and analysed selected marketing case studies. Teams worked on cases as diverse as the Natural History Museum, London, Barbie in the Chinese market, and Apple’s approach to staying innovative.

Results and feedback

  • One by-product of these virtual classroom initiatives is that ACU and partner university students learn skills in cross-cultural management, including negotiating project tasks, working with others from very different cultural backgrounds, learning to critique each other’s work in culturally sensitive ways, and of course dealing with time difference and distance constraints.
  • These initiatives also allow lecturers at ACU and at partner universities to further internationalise their course content as well as develop useful teaching and research contacts with each other.


Al won the 2018 vice-chancellor’s postgraduate teaching excellence award for this initiative.

Lessons learned

Time zones and timetables

International universities have varying semester timetables, and their long summer break can occur at different times to Australia. These differences make it challenging to get sign-off and approval at the required time, as the timing of courses may not align.

Matching student numbers and equity

It is important that the units chosen have a ‘matchable’ number of students in order for there to be enough students from one university to pair with the other university. The current approach has been to pick one campuses' student cohort.

In multi-campus units, it is important to provide an equity of student opportunities. The current solution is for the ACU campus involved to alternate the offering across the unit's different campuses by semester.

Set up time

Considerable setup time is required in:

  • establishing the relationship with the partner university and its teaching staff
  • designing the common assessment item
  • briefing and motivating students
  • managing the project over the course of the semester
  • ensuring that the credibility and integrity of the university reputation is enhanced.

Stereotyped expectations

Many students from the ACU partner institutions had an expectation that ACU’s students would be domestic Australian students, (some have a ‘Home and Away’ type impression of what our students will be like.) They are surprised that ACU’s cohort for these courses is predominantly international students (at the postgraduate level).

Looking ahead

Scaling up

The greatest fit for international partnerships within units/course is with institutions that have an international or cross-cultural focus, or where an assignment item can be internationalised. The Peter Faber Business School is keen to continue the development of these initiatives right across campuses and with other partner universities. For instance, discussions are currently underway with the Paris School of Business.


The current approach relies on the passion and drive of the lead ACU academic. Therefore, to increase sustainability of the approach and scale it to other units, the Faculty of Law and Business is interested in involving other ACU academics, training them and building their enthusiasm and skill sets in this area.

Shared communication tools

Delivery of the shared assessment task would be easier if there was a shared learning management system (LMS) and prescribed/shared communication tools between the two partner universities. Having different LMS’s and having students using different communication tools makes it hard for the lecturers involved to track progress. Communicating a shared message is also difficult without a prescribed/shared communication tool.

Currently, all partnering institutions use a different LMS, managing this has involved communications between academics to facilitate updating each local LMS, with information relevant to each virtual classroom initiative.

Greater academic collaboration

In the future, the lead ACU academic is interested in lecturers from partner institutions sharing recorded lectures on each other’s LMSs and sharing synchronous delivery of materials eg. having online group lectures/workshop that both local and partnering overseas students can participate in (time zone dependent).

Page last updated on 27/02/2020

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