Team work and hands-on learning, international style
March 6, 2020
In the internet age, it’s common for collaboration to occur among members of a business team who are based in different countries. But such team members aren’t usually undergraduate business students.
In a recent Pamplin College of Business course, nine seniors participated in a project with one of Asia’s top business schools, Singapore Management University (SMU), to develop software it wanted to aid student learning.
The project was part of “Business Analysis Seminar in IT,” a capstone course for the decision support systems concentration in business information technology, Pamplin’s most popular major.
The endeavor ignited last spring when Alan Abrahams, associate professor of business information technology, won a $2,500 grant from Pamplin’s international programs office. Last summer, he flew to Singapore to plan the course with SMU faculty members Venky Shankararaman and Swapna Gottipati.
SMU wanted a multi-platform app, Abrahams said, that its students could use to monitor their progress, as shown in peer reviews, across each project the students would undertake.
The software would be developed using the Agile Sprint method, he said. In that fast-paced method, a software component is fully described, designed, developed, and demonstrated to the client every two weeks, a period called the “sprint.”
“Agile” requires small teams, so Abrahams divided the nine students into two teams. Members were responsible for their own specific phase throughout the course, whether it was designing, coding, or testing.
At the conclusion of each sprint, SMU would provide feedback via video, Abrahams said. The goal was to have a “minimum viable product” at the end of each cycle. Ultimately, the teams became so efficient that they delivered their final sprint in half the allotted time, he said.
Speed was not all the students learned. “It was great for them to get exposure to the way system development operates overseas,” he said. “It also gave them a deeper appreciation for cultural differences.”
For example: “Students got exposed to different modes of assessment. They began to understand that, at least in this overseas location, there is a heavy emphasis on self-assessment — internal developmental goals — not a course grade.”
Communication Crossing Boundaries
Then there were the practical issues of communications and time zones — Singapore is 12 time zones ahead of Blacksburg. Keeping up contact was crucial, Pamplin senior Yunhe Li said, and timing, work synchronizing, and employing different means of interacting, such as video or email, were all part of the real-world international experience.
Svetlana Filiatreau, Pamplin’s director of international programs, said that a few Pamplin undergraduates had studied at SMU in 2018 and 2019 through the college’s new study-abroad program in Singapore.
But this was the first international project to follow the Collaborative Online International Learning model, she said. “Pamplin hopes to educate more internationally informed professionals, graduates who are versed in how to do business across cultures and are well prepared for an increasingly global workplace.”
Pamplin’s office of international programs and international programs committee have piloted an embedded study-abroad model, Filiatreau said. “Some required courses offer an opportunity to integrate a short-term, faculty-led, study-abroad component.”
The global learning seed grants, like the one Abrahams received, are intended to facilitate this, she said. In the past two years, more than 10 faculty members have received these awards.
Filiatreau especially appreciates Abrahams’s innovation. “Many students may never leave the U.S., but through collaborative online international learning, they can get a little international experience without leaving campus.”
– Mark Filiatreau