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Virtual Peer Teams: Connecting Students with the Online Work Environment

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Virtual Instruction and Collaboration

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1704.1 - 26.1704.19



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Paper Authors


Thalia Anagnos San Jose State University

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Dr. Thalia Anagnos is a professor in the General Engineering Department at San Jose State University, where she has taught since 1984. From 2009 to 2014 she served as co-Leader of Education, Outreach, and Training (EOT) for the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a consortium of 14 large-scale earthquake engineering experimental facilities. As co-Leader of NEES EOT she also served on the leadership team for the NEES REU program.

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Alicia L. Lyman-Holt Oregon State University

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Ms. Lyman-Holt has been the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory since 2005. She manages and leads the diverse outreach and education programming at the laboratory which serves over 5000 visitors per year, including K-12 students, undergraduate, graduate students, media outlets and the general public. She managed the NEES REU program from 2008 to 2014, developing and implementing programing for the distributed REU program. She is dedicated to increasing engineering literacy among the general public, interest in STEM among K-12 students, and interest in research and professional development among undergraduates. She holds a BS in from Whitman College, and MS from Oregon State University.

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Sean P. Brophy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Virtual Peer Teams: Connecting Students with the Online Work EnvironmentThis study examines use of online collaboration tools and development of Virtual Peer Teams(VPTs) in a geographically-distributed research experience for undergraduates (REU) to supportresearch outcomes and student cohort development. A 10-week REU program consisted of anetwork of research facilities that each typically hosted three to six undergraduate students towork on research projects. These small local cohorts of students formed cohesive communities,but a larger cohort of 30 to 40 students across the network of facilities was slow to form. Initialattempts to use telecommunication methods (e.g. web meeting methods) to connect all the localcohorts had little impact in broadening the students’ social and intellectual network. The use oftechnologies to support collaborators has many challenges associated with developing a level ofcohesiveness between its members. Our conjecture was that students across the network neededan extended time period and targeted projects with common goals to develop a level ofcohesiveness that began to approach the level of the peers that were co-located.The VPTs mimic geographically dispersed virtual teams that are now common in industry.VPTs consisted of four to six students from multiple REU sites around the US who were askedto experiment with various collaboration and social network technologies to complete specifiedresearch-based and social tasks (e.g. Skype, WebEx, Google Hangouts, LinkedIn, CourseManagement System, InterLACE, Google Docs). The VPTs were studied over two REU cyclesone year apart. Surveys were used to collect formative and summative feedback. Significantchanges in tools and tasks were made between year 1 and year 2 based on student feedback.Students agree their VPT experiences were significant in their professional development andbroadened their network of colleagues. Further VPTs increased their ability to comfortablyprovide feedback to their peers, learn about other research projects in the network, and develop anetwork of colleagues beyond their local research facility. In addition, earlier assessments ofREU cohorts indicated that students have gained competencies with social media for connectingwith friends and family, but need more practice with IT tools that they will see in the rapidlychanging work environment. Students indicate that they have continued to use onlinecollaboration tools and skills learned through the VPTs when they return to their homeuniversities after completion of the program. This paper will describe the VPT model, the tools,student reactions, successes, and lessons learned. It should be of interest to faculty andresearchers interested in running an REU program and the development of undergraduates’professional skills for working on geographically distributed projects.

Anagnos, T., & Lyman-Holt, A. L., & Brophy, S. P. (2015, June), Virtual Peer Teams: Connecting Students with the Online Work Environment Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25040

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