Project gives students global teamwork experience

University Park, Pa. — Working in global teams is an essential part of many jobs in the information technology field. Students in Rosalie Ocker’s IST 301 class (Information and Organizations) in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) will gain valuable experience in this area during a four-week Partially-Distributed Team (PDT) project that runs from Oct. 6 through Nov. 2.

Some 540 students from 13 universities around the world will work together to create a system prototype that first responders and citizens could use in a natural disaster, as well as a proposal for how that system would work. The project is funded by a National Science Foundation grant, and Ocker, an IST professor of practice, is principal investigator on the project.

The project will take place over four weeks, during which students will have to deal with time zone, language and cultural differences that could impede progress if not addressed.

"Working across continents and across cultures is a normal business practice, so this is a great way for students to gain real-world experience while tackling a problem that everyone in the project can relate to," Ocker said.

The PDT project began three years ago as collaboration between IST and students from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and has now expanded to include universities in Spain, China, Mexico, Germany, Finland and Lithuania.

Students will have the option of using an online collaboration tool created by Ocker's research team, or setting up their own communications on e-mail, Instant Messenger, Facebook and other outlets.

As part of Ocker's research, the students will complete personal reflections each week in which they discuss progress made and setbacks that occurred along the way.

"It's not so much about the final outcome of the task at hand, but it's what the students learn along the way about how to communicate and collaborate with each other," Ocker said.

Last Updated March 19, 2009