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Cultural Accommodation in Virtual
Engineering Academic Teams
Andras Gordon, Penn State
Rick Schuhmann, MIT
Richard Devon, Penn State
Mike Erdman, Penn State
Ahmad Atieh, Taibah University
Peter Dietrich, Corvinus University
Agenda
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Objectives
Drivers
Approach
Constraints
Sample Results
Conclusions
Future
Objectives
• Course
– Introduce students to international/cross-cultural virtual teams solving
real-world problems
• Multidisciplinary, multi-university, primarily junior/senior year
• Real-world projects with remote clients
• Study
– Assess how students accommodate cultural differences while working
on projects
– Use results to improve instruction and course content
Drivers
•
•
•
•
Global economy, global business, virtual teaming on the rise
Critical skills for tomorrow’s leaders
Promote mutual understanding across cultures
Limited exposure in standard engineering courses
Approach
• The course – International Leadership of Engineering &
Development
–
–
–
–
–
Offered at Penn State (USA), Taibah (KSA), and Corvinus (Hungary)
Project oriented, non-local clients, emphasis on delivery
Virtual teams 2-way and 3-way, typically 4 to 6 members
Students given introductory lessons on cultural accommodation
During semester - working sessions via electronic media: Skype, email,
social networks, cloud services, ...
– Formal video sessions bi-weekly
via Polycom
– After the semester: face-to-face
meetings in Budapest
(finalize report, oral presentation)
• The Study
– Based on G.Hofstede (bi-polar cultural dimensions), E. Hall
(communication context), and R. Lewis (cultural interactions)
– “pre” survey – measure personal attitudes, preferences, convictions
before virtual collaboration
• importance of 9 cultural factors in personal life of each student (on
Likert scale 1 through 5)
– “post” survey – similar questions - measure how student’s experiences
(result of virtual collaboration) affected cultural attitudes
• importance of 9 cultural factors in virtual collaboration for each
student (on Likert scale 1 through 5)
– Not a “this vs that”, rather “how important is this factor in your life” often a dichotomy
– Data sorted by university and individual teams
– Questions were interpreted into Hungarian and Arabic
Study how 9 cultural factors affect students
performance in international teams
1)
Power distance
2)
Uncertainty avoidance
3)
Individualism / collectivism
4)
Competition/ cooperation
5)
Indulgence / restraint
6)
Value of trust
7)
Harmony in discussions
8)
Achieve goals / relationships
9)
Time flexible / structured
At the end of semester Penn State
students reflected on their
experiences:

Understanding of projects

Communication

Trust in teams

Project results
Bottom line – does this course
help students adapt to cultural
differences in virtual teams
Constraints
• Sample size –
– 3 universities; culturally diverse
– Total of 36 students
– Total of 7 teams
• 11 weeks of interaction
• No face-to-face until after end of semester & post survey
Sample Results
5
4
2
3
Solid – Pre
Dash - Post
Likert Scale 1-- very low importance
5 – very high importance
1
Pre - How important is it in your life?
Post - How often did you think about the above
during international virtual collaboration?
Q3- Being independent (except in immediate family) or belonging to
cohesive and protective in-groups (PSU students)
Student Number
Sample Results
5
4
3
2
1
Pre - How important is it in your life?
Post - How often did you think about the above
during international virtual collaboration?
Q3- Being independent (except in immediate family) or belonging to
cohesive and protective in-groups (PSU, TU, CU students)
Sample Results
5
4
3
2
1
Pre - How important is it in your life?
Post - How often did you think about the above
during international virtual collaboration?
Q3- Being independent (except in immediate family) or belonging to
cohesive and protective in-groups
Averages
PSU – pre – 4.23, post – 3.15
TU -- pre – 4.78, post – 3.11
CU -- pre – 3.92, post – 3.55
Conclusions
• Prior example (Q3 – independent/belonging)
– Majority were concerned at the start
– Decrease in concern by the end of the semester
– Apparently course experience was effective in reducing concern about
this dichotomy (independence vs belonging to a group)
Sample Results
5
4
3
2
1
Pre - How important is it in your life?
Post - How often did you think about the above
during international virtual collaboration?
Q4- Being assertive and competitive or more modest, caring and
cooperative
Averages
PSU – pre – 4.08, post – 3.38
TU -- pre – 5.00, post – 4.00
CU -- pre – 3.62, post – 3.42
Conclusions
• Prior example (Q4 - assertive/caring)
– TU and PSU were more concerned at start
– Decrease in concern by the end of the semester
– Apparently course experience was effective in reducing concern about
this dichotomy
Other Conclusions
Based on survey data, project results & student reflections
• The course and experiences affected the teams in a way that, over the
semester, normalized their expectations in
– Time management and organization/team structure
– Being independent or belonging to a group
– Expressing their opinions freely
• The course and experiences were not as effective as desired in
– Avoiding disagreements in discussions to maintain harmony
– Being comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity
– Shared understanding of project objectives
Observations
• Clarify course objectives with all university participants
• Cross-cultural experience while accomplishing project
• Setting high standards for team performance
• Multidisciplinary team makeup
• Share syllabi, coordinate milestones
Future
• Based on feedback from surveys, some changes indicated
– Develop team contracts at start of semester to assure processes are in
place & understood for how teams will communicate and resolve
issues
– Clearly identify and get agreement on deliverables at start of semester
to assure expectations are commonly understood;
– Assure students understand that changes in customer expectations do
occur, must deal with them
– Improve team communications
• Have teams work and correspond independent of formal videoconferences
• Have formal videoconferences as report to faculty (as if management or
customers)
• Set expectations to encourage and reward constructive feedback at
videoconferences
• Continue measurements
1. Stress and anxiety in relation to
persons and institutions of authority
over you:
1. How often did you think about the
above during international virtual
collaboration?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently
Very frequently
‫ بالنسبة إلى المؤسسات و الشخصيات ذات‬,‫القلق و التوتر‬
- :‫السلطة‬
‫مدا األهمية في حياتك الشخية‬
‫مهمة‬
‫جدا‬
‫مهمة‬
‫متوسطة‬
‫األهمية‬
‫أهمية قليلة‬
‫ليست لها‬
‫أهمية‬
1. Stressz és szorongás olyan személyekkel és intézményekkel szemben, akik hatalommal
bírnak ön felett:
1. Mennyire meghatározó az ön életében?
Egyáltalán nem Kevéssé
meghatározó
Közepesen
meghatározó
Meghatározó Kifejezetten
meghatározó
Other Conclusions
Based on survey data, project results & student reflections
• The course and experiences affected the teams in a way that, over
the semester, normalized their expectations in
– Time management and organization/team structure
•
•
•
PSU – pre – 4.08, post – 4.00
TU -- pre – 4.78, post – 3.78
CU -- pre – 4.08, post – 3.92
– Being independent or belonging to a group
•
•
•
PSU – pre – 4.23, post – 3.15
TU -- pre – 4.78, post – 3.11
CU -- pre – 3.92, post – 3.55
– Expressing their opinions freely
•
•
•
PSU – pre – 4.00, post – 4.15
TU -- pre – 4.78, post – 4.22
CU -- pre – 4.54, post – 4.25
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