Collaboration in the ‘cloud’ helps develop key skills

Microsoft Lync, SharePoint, and other technologies facilitate collaboration across three continents for students in this innovative class.

Students work in cross-continental virtual teams to complete research assignments that focus on effective decision-making.

In today’s world, businesses are grappling with the need to equip their employees with state-of-the art technology—and the skills necessary to deal with the continuous information overload employees face.

As a faculty member in the Biology Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I speak for many of my colleagues when I say preparing our students for success in this globally connected world is a high priority.

We have to be diligent in ensuring our students have both the hard and soft skills needed to be successful. We have to make the time in our classrooms directly applicable to our students lives once they leave our campus.

Technology has the power to help us accomplish this high order. It continues to alter and increase the level of core competencies needed to succeed in the real-world of work.

More than 25 years ago, Shoshana Zuboff predicted this when she wrote in her 1988 book In the Age of the Smart Machine that “learning is no longer a separate activity that occurs either before one enters the workplace or in remote classroom settings. … Learning is not something that requires time out from being engaged in productive activity; learning is the heart of productive activity.”

This stuck with me and plays a big role in my teaching. We live in a global society where technology is erasing boundaries. Our students need to be ready to compete in this marketplace. Understanding how to use technology for collaboration with people around the globe ensures our students are ready.

Five semesters ago, I teamed up with Murray Scott from the National University of Ireland (NUI) and developed a senior-level course that connects the workplace and the classroom and provides students the valuable skill of global collaboration through the use of technology.

The goal of the collaboration is to provide students with a college-to-career experience where they learn to make effective decisions using real-word data while working with a global team.

Every week in this course, “Effective Decision Making in the Age of Cloud Computing,” students work in cross-continental virtual teams to complete one of seven content-based research assignments that focus on effective decision-making through collaboration. We try to simulate what a global team feels like.

To help ensure the experience is like what they will experience in their professional lives, our students use Microsoft-based technology they will encounter when they leave the classroom.

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