Together We Can Do So Much - Even Online: The Virtual Team Toolbox
Concurrent Session 4
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.
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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