Forming Effective Culturally Diverse Work Teams in Project Courses

Forming Effective Culturally Diverse Work Teams in Project Courses

B. Bergman, A. Norman, C. Carlsson, D. Nåfors, A. Skoogh (2017).  Forming Effective Culturally Diverse Work Teams in Project Courses. 10.

A culturally diverse student population at Master’s level is a reality at many universities today, as it is at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. However, a recent survey carried out with Master’s students and teachers at Chalmers showed that there are issues with native and non-native students interacting in the classroom. This, in turn, has led to a number of initiatives concerning intercultural communication in the last couple of years focusing on getting native and non – native students to work together more successfully. One explicit goal is that “targets are set for insights related to norms, attitudes and values. The learning environment must foster intercultural cooperation and targeted support for international students must be available when there are disparities in conditions” (Chalmers internal policy document, 2016). Interviews carried out with international Master’s students from a range of cultural backgrounds at Chalmers have shown that one aspect of Swedish education which they react to as being different is the amount of group work included in the courses. Group work is a key aspect of engineering education at Chalmers, partly due to the fact that the ability to work in diverse groups has been seen to be crucial at company level. This is also evident in the CDIO Syllabus (sections 2 and 3) where the importance of engaging with diverse individuals and forming effective teams is stressed. This presentation will describe a pilot project in one Master’s program in production engineering where activities around intercultural communication were integrated into a company-based project course. Students are assigned groups where a mixture of backgrounds and expertise are prioritised. At the same time, support has been provided since more diverse groups can experience more conflict (Ayoko, 2007). The pilot project has worked on three levels. Firstly, the students completed a survey to show which factors they prioritised in a successful group member or successful team. Secondly, the students attended a seminar where aspects of intercultural communication were discussed in relation to group work. Thirdly, the students attended two workshops where they assessed each other according to existing group work criteria, problematised the criteria itself and reflected on their own role in the group. The presentation will focus on the insights gained from this pilot project with the aim of creating a model for working with intercultural communication as integrated activities in Master’s programs. Preliminary results show that concepts like respect and clear decision making processes are seen as important for group success but ideas about how these can be realised can vary.

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Proceedings of the 13th International CDIO Conference in Calgary, Canada, June 18-22 2017

Authors (New): 
Becky Bergman
Anthony Norman
Carl Johan Carlsson
Daniel Nåfors
Anders Skoogh
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Culturally diverse groups
project courses
team-member assessment
CDIO Standard 3
CDIO Standard 7
CDIO Standard 8
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