Together We Can Do So Much - Even Online: The Virtual Team Toolbox

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

Here we present our Virtual Teams Toolbox. To create our toolbox, we researched and collected/developed material and software tools to
support virtual student teams. The goals are to educate students on best practices for successful virtual teams and to provide a set of tools to support their experiential, team-based projects.


Dr. Piercy is a senior lecturer of MIS in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia and the Director of the UGA Online Master of Internet Technology program – Terry College's first online Masters program. He earned his Ph.D. in the Management and Decision Sciences at the Terry college of Business - University of Georgia. His primary research has been to improve decision making in the face complex decisions involving multiple objectives. Dr. Piercy also holds an MBA from the Terry College and a B.S. Electrical Engineering from Tennessee Tech University. He attended UGA from 1990 to 1997. After a 3 year stint as an assistant professor in the Computer Science department of Towson University in Towson, MD, Dr. Piercy returned to UGA as a faculty member. Prior to his return to academia, Dr. Piercy worked as a process improvement engineer in the Textile manufacturing industry for Milliken and Company. His duties included the installation and maintenance of production and testing equipment. He was his production facilities leader in implementing Milliken's TQM/SPC program which led helped the company earn the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in 1989. Dr. Piercy is a co-author and contributor to 5 information systems and business textbooks and is a creator of online educational media. He has also worked as a process improvement engineer, consultant and systems developer. He spends most of his free time with his family (he's currently a high school and elementary school dad :-), enjoying outdoor activities and making things.

Additional Authors

Extended Abstract

Teams are the key building blocks of today’s knowledge-based organizations (Leonard and Sensiper, 1998); they are also increasingly “virtual”, in that they are geographically dispersed and communicate via computer mediated tools (Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1999). Indeed, according to Ferrazzi (2014), of 1,700 knowledge workers surveyed, 79% reported working always or frequently in dispersed teams. In view of this, within our department (MIS), we consider collaboration and team dynamics skills as important components of student learning, and thus require team projects in almost all of our undergraduate classes as well as our graduate level courses. However, in our Master of Internet Technology program, which has moved to a fully online format just two years ago, the challenge of implementing team projects when students do not know eaach other and do not meet (in person) has been hard to tackle.

Traditionally, team skills are developed via experiential learning projects that require students to work together in a face-to-face environment. However, in the context of online learning, there are new challenges in conducting and supporting these experiential project teams. Online or virtual teams require new and different tools and team management techniques than those used for face-to-face teams. For this reason we put together our Virtual Teams Toolbox. This toolbox consists of software tools and content to support virtual teams. Content in the Toolbox comes in two flavors: (1) educational content about the best practices for working with teams and virtual teams in particular; and (2) basic tutorials pertaining to the suite of software tools provided in the Toolbox.

In this presentation, we will describe the components of our Virtual Team Toolbox and our reasoning behind our selection of each.

Our process for developing the Virtual Team Toolbox included the following activities:
* Discovery and evaluation of appropriate best practices and software tools
* Procurement and curation of the selected software tools
* Development of relevant content to include with the Toolbox.

Our initial target users of the Virtual Teams Toolbox were the students of our Online Master of Internet Technology program. Students matriculate in this program as a cohort. Each cohort begins in the Fall semester and graduates in the Spring (5 semesters later), after completing a total of 10 classes (2 per semester). During each semester (except summer), we have two ongoing cohorts, one in their first year and one in their second. It is estimated that the combined number of students (i.e., both cohorts) for Fall 2016 will be about 30 students. 

The Virtual Teams Toolbox is introduced near the beginning of a cohort’s first semester in our program (August 2016 for the first time). The toolbox is then utilized throughout the courses of the program to support team projects. The authors, Dr. Craig Piercy and Dr. Maric Boudreau, teach the first two classes within the MIT program, and are well positioned to introduce the Virtual Teams Toolbox to new students and evaluate its benefits from the very beginning. Team projects are not only used in these first two classes of the MIT program, but in almost all of the remaining ones. In fact, during their last two semesters, students complete their most significant team project, which is an experiential learning capstone project involving the development of a web-based (often mobile-based) platform to support a company's business activities.

In addition to supporting groupwork required by their courses, the Virtual Teams Toolbox will provide a lasting benefit to our students as they progress through their careers. Moreover, once established, we anticipate for all UGA students involved in online classes necessitating team work to benefit from the Virtual Teams Toolbox; our intention is to share this toolbox with UGA Office of Online Learning and the UGA Center for Teaching Learning, so that other units on campus (e.g. Terry’s online BBA) can take advantage of our findings. With this presentation, we hope to the toolbox can benefit others beyond our institution's boundaries.

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