It began as a mistake. I hadn’t prepared. But a great idea was born, and I ran with it. The assignment was to create and develop a product or service for an English-speaking market. The great experiment has run for almost a month now, and I have learned many lessons. Here are a few of the highlights…
- Chinese students can be very creative. The first day, we had a brain-storming session. I gave them two instructions: First, generate. Second, connect. To get them to generate ideas, I wrote “Products people use” at the top of the black board, then started saying and writing whatever came to mind, “comb” “toothpaste” “watermelon”. Then I prompted the students to join in. They started like a sprinkling, but I reminded them that it’s called a “storm” for a reason, and they started getting into it. Soon the blackboard was filled. For the second part, the connections, I had them work in groups of three to make connections. “How could we combine chocolate and mittens?” “How could we combine a blackboard and a computer?” Ideas started to pop up. We did the same for “services people want.” Eventually, each person presented a product or service idea to the whole class, and we all chose the best idea of the group for them to persue in their project. Best ideas were: a compressible dust bins, electronic whiteboards, an animal service center, an online nutritionist service, a new accessory bag for athletes called the iPocket, and a consulting company for entering the Chinese market.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition. Though I teach English, and I am constantly reminding my students to speak “ENGLISH ONLY” in the classroom, they forget the part that the project is for an English-speaking market. They come up with great ideas for a Chinese market. Then I remind them that most foreigners in English-speaking countries…have a car, use air conditioning, don’t use chopsticks, etc. It’s very interesting to see them automatically apply their experience to the rest of the world, instead of questioning how things work in other places. One student, very bright and well-read, wanted to describe her market as “families in the upper-middle-class”. She said their income would probably be about $500-700 a month. I suggested she do a bit more research. When she found out what the poverty level is, she was shocked. Most middle class families in China make about two-thirds what she thought would be upper-middle in America.
- Make them do the research, don’t assume they will just be curious. Two or three students (who had already adjusted to using the Internet in English) have done independent research online. Every other student has required a lot of encouragement and grade-based assignments. “Find three companies that are in your industries, or which could supply your company. Send me the links. This is 10% of your grade.” It will also help them find the one person OUTSIDE China with whom they have to communicate.
- Push them over the edge. They will fly. Next week the are presenting business plans to “investors”. I gave them a lot of research to do to include in these presentations. In addition to the summary of their product or service, they have to do a market analysis, create fictional biographical information for their team that includes appropriate education and experience, financial information and convincing conclusion. The kept asking “do we have to include ALL this information?” Yes, I told them. Look for it. If you can’t find it, then just think about it a bit, ask me for help, and then if neither of us can come up with a good answer, make it up. They are flying with it.
- Be adaptable and flexible. And never rely on technology! A good friend, David Truss , suggested that we use VoiceThread.com to develop the presentations and rehearse. As it is a tool that allows participants to record their voices as “comments” and allows for collaboration, I became an instant enthusiast. I pushed and pushed my students to register and upload their presentations. The most eager students were the first to try. And try. And try again. But their university Internet connection is just too slow. I was heart-broken. But I got over it. (My next lesson is going to be about how to write a letter of complaint to officials.) Now I’m asking them to record their presentations using their cell phones, which all have recording devices.
- Go in with an open heart and no expectations. This has been a lesson throughout my experience in China. This coming week I will see the fruits of their labors at the half-way point. I know some will soar and some will flop. But I know that none of them will go away without learning anything. That is what keeps me going to work. Watch in the next few weeks for me to post the best PPT presentations here. I will even get them to record themselves on VoiceThread so they can get feedback from the world.