In 2005 an existing undergraduate course in project management was converted from face-to-face mode to wholly online mode. Wholly online mode means that there are no face-to-face classes at all, and all teaching and learning is facilitated through an online environment.
The revised project management course was designed with an underlying problem-based learning (PBL) pedagogy and used a simulated, fictitious telecommunications company, United Enterprises (UE), as a case study learning resource. The students worked in virtual teams to complete online learning activities and to solve authentic project management tasks for UE. Employees of UE were available online to provide direction and answer further questions about the tasks.
The overall research study used an action research methodology in which feedback was elicited from two groups of stakeholders involved in the project management course - students and teaching staff. The feedback was used to plan, develop and implement the new Information Technology (IT) Professional Practice course.
This paper reports on the findings of three anonymous student surveys that were conducted after each of the main project management topics and tasks were completed. The surveys sought feedback in a number of areas. However, the feedback reported here relates specifically to student opinions about their experiences of working in virtual teams within the learning environment. Other aspects of the research, including student perceptions of UE and feedback from the teaching staff, are not reported here.
Across the three surveys, most students indicated that they valued the opportunity to discuss various aspects of the course with peers and teaching staff online, and to interact with real-life employees of UE. Although discussion forums were the prescribed method for communication other forms of communication such as email, chat and face-to-face meetings were also used. According to the students, the best things about online group work were that it provides the flexibility of time and place; it allows communication and participation to be recorded; and is an ‘efficient’ way of working. The worst things about online group work were that communication is more difficult and that team members leave participation and submission to the last minute. While up to 15 percent of students did not like the experience of online group work at all, overall students were generally satisfied with this style of learning and enjoyed the experience of working collaboratively within a virtual team.
The research has highlighted a number of areas where improvements can be made to the student experience of working in virtual teams. These improvements will be adopted in the development and delivery of the new course as part of the action research study.