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Developing Global Competence Through Cross Cultural Virtual Teams: Preliminary Observations

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Global Engineering Education: Intercultural Awareness and International Experience

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Page Count


Page Numbers

15.385.1 - 15.385.11



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Paper Authors

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Alan Parkinson Brigham Young University

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C. Greg Jensen Brigham Young University

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Holt Zaugg Brigham Young University

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Spencer Magleby Brigham Young University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Developing Global Competence through Cross-Cultural Virtual Teams: Preliminary Observations


A number of credible voices within the engineering community have expressed the need for engineering graduates to develop global competence. Many colleges of engineering have addressed this need by developing various technical study abroad programs. Typically these programs are resource intensive and only reach a fraction of students. However, it may be possible to develop some attributes of global competence without travel through cross-cultural, virtual design experiences which take place via video conferencing and internet-based collaboration and engineering software tools. This paper presents some of the issues associated with this approach. Preliminary observations are made about the effectiveness of an advanced CAD modeling course which involved virtual teams.


The NSF summit on the globalization of engineering education called on educators to “integrate global education into the engineering curriculum to impact all students, recognizing global competency as one of the highest priorities for all graduates.”1 The development of global competence for all (or even most) engineering graduates is a very challenging task. First, as discussed by Parkinson et al.,2 the term “global competence” encompasses a broad range of attributes and skills. Second, a scalable blueprint is needed to guide the modification of engineering curriculum so that it combines engineering fundamentals and practice with global competence development. This second challenge may well be the greatest considering the constraints of a typically overloaded engineering program. Traditional approaches to developing global competence, such as faculty-supervised study abroad programs, while potentially effective are resource intensive as course sizes are necessarily small and faculty must be away from their normal duties. Thus scaling up or expanding these programs for more students is typically difficult due to the corresponding scaling of scarce faculty resources. Alternative approaches should be examined as a complement to traditional programs.

One alternative approach is cross-cultural, virtual design teams. These types of teams are usually defined as being geographically dispersed, spanning several different countries or cultures, being composed of team members with little prior association or common background, and communicating through electronic means. In the experiences we report here, the teams are composed of senior level engineering students from various universities who must complete a design project. Team members communicate using various software and hardware tools such as email, audio and video conferencing, shared design documents, and CAD design models.

For the past three years, faculty at Brigham Young University (BYU) have coordinated the efforts of student teams across the globe, including teams in Canada, China, India, Korea, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, in a large scale design-and-build project. Building on those efforts, we recently initiated a National Science Foundation sponsored research program to develop and assess the effectiveness of global collaborative design experiences in developing attributes of global competence.

Parkinson, A., & Jensen, C. G., & Zaugg, H., & Magleby, S. (2010, June), Developing Global Competence Through Cross Cultural Virtual Teams: Preliminary Observations Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15904

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