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Geographically Distributed Teams in Engineering Design: Best Practices and Issues in Cases of International Teams Working from Different Continents

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Constanza Miranda Pontificia Universidad Catholica de Chile Orcid 16x16

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Constanza Miranda holds a PhD in design with a focus in anthropology from North Carolina State University. While being a Fulbright grantee, Constanza worked as a visiting researcher at the Center for Design Research, Mechanical Engineering Department, at Stanford. Today she is an assistant professor at P.Universidad Católica de Chile's Engineering School. There, she directs the DILAB: the engineering design initiative. Apart from developing the educational program in engineering design and innovation (Major IDI), the DILAB partners with forward thinking organizations to assess real life ill-defined issues. Past personal experiences involve work in industry and for consultancies such as Procorp Santiago, Cooper San Francisco and Continuum Milan. On the other hand Constanza is an entrepreneur in medical devices where she is continuously working in the detection of opportunities for innovation and development of new technologies. Her research work is focused mainly in the area of bio design, engineering-design education and design anthropology methods.

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David Leal Martinez Aalto University

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David holds a BSc in Electronic Systems Engineering from Tec de Monterrey (2004) a MSc in Space Science and Technology from Helsinki University of Technology and University of Luleå (2009) and is working towards his PhD in Automation, Systems and Control Engineering in Aalto University (planned for 2017). His areas of expertise comprise electronic prototyping, space technology and distributed robotics. His main role in Aalto University lies at Aalto Design factory, where he manages the electronic prototyping facilities that support mostly courses in new product development that usually are ran in partnership with companies such as Audi, Airbus, Kone, Nokia, Sako, Vaisala among others. He also created the Challenge Breakers Course, a course targeted to take the students out of the books and into applying their core competences and the scientific methods to put urban legends to the test and understand all sorts of phenomena.

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Maurice Forget Aalto University Orcid 16x16

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It is not rare to have engineering design teams in companies, working from different parts of the world on a shared project. This new addition to the working context has been triggered by advances in communication technologies and the knowledge economy. This begs the question, are today’s engineering students prepared to enter the workforce in this new international teaming environment? Most of the research that reports on geographically distributed teams or virtual teams is performed under industrial contexts. Thus, research is limited with regards to collaborative or distributed teams in educational environments (Dym et al. 2015). This is what motivates our study.

This paper investigates the challenges and benefits of partnering students located in different hemispheres under a problem-based, innovation driven, engineering design course. For this, we build on a previous experiences of teaming up students from Chile and the United States, as well as students from Finland and Mexico. In this second endeavor, we grouped 7 students from Finland and Chile to fulfill a semester long course. The students met physically during two specific periods of the semester and then worked remotely throughout the span of the project. Students followed the same curriculum and deliverables. Qualitative data analysis was performed on semi-structured interviews (taken at different points of the semester), blogs and other forms of self-reported data. The outcomes are presented as a case study.

The contributions of this paper are threefold. First, and aligned with the interest of accreditation institutions such as ABET, it provides insight on how to instill the ability to work within global teams to ensure that graduates will have the skills to enter the profession successfully. Secondly, we identify strategies to orchestrate the work of cross-cultural teams. These can be taken by any educator and can be translated to its own engineering teaching practice. Finally, we examine the potential pitfalls in cross-cultural teams. We assert that, as in the field of medicine, it is critical to discuss the issues and complications so that the intervention can contribute to the educational experience. Future work may involve the study of more cases with engagement of the community at ASEE.

Miranda, C., & Leal Martinez, D., & Forget, M. (2017, June), Geographically Distributed Teams in Engineering Design: Best Practices and Issues in Cases of International Teams Working from Different Continents Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28403

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