Collaboration in the ‘cloud’ helps develop key skills

This semester, our virtual teams are conducting research projects that examine the “inner workings” of major companies on topics such as Business Intelligence and Social Media. Then, they analyze the decision making process for those companies and draft a business plan incorporating what they have learned.

To complete these projects with team members overseas, students use Office 365 Education for all aspects of their team assignments; Lync 2013 to video or audio conference; SharePoint Online 2013 to share and submit assignments; Word and PowerPoint 2013 to develop material; and Outlook to schedule and manage team meetings.

Today, our course has expanded to three continents: North America, Europe, and Africa. Our students work in cross-collaboration teams with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Business Information Systems (BIS) students from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway; and Management of Information Systems (MOIS) students from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. In 2014, we’ll be adding students from Novgorod State University in Novgorod, Russia.

Through pre- and post-assessments on student learning outcomes, students have reported increases in their set of “hard skills” when using the multiple components of Office 365 Education, and increases in their set of “soft skills” such as collaboration and communication used during their virtual team interactions.

These results are encouraging, because these are the skills our students need to be successful. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study  found that “soft skills” such as communication and collaboration—along with “hard skills” like Microsoft Office—are essential for high-growth, high-wage jobs of today and the future.

The success of our students has been inspiring, and the skills they gained from our course have proven valuable. One student from UMass Amherst cited the virtual collaboration skills he gained from this class in helping him get into medical school.

Another student thinks her experience with Office 365 helped her get promoted when her accounting firm deployed the software, because of her willingness to step up and help train her colleagues.

A student who graduated from the NUI campus in late 2012 leveraged his global team work and Office 365 experience to succeed in the IT department of the company he works for to troubleshoot problems with colleagues around the globe.

We have proof that our course is accomplishing our goal to prepare our students not just for a job upon graduation, but also for success in today’s globally connected and competitive economy, with the skills necessary to adapt as technology continues to alter the workforce and world.

Gino Sorcinelli joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the fall 1994 semester. Prior to his arrival at UMass Amherst, Gino spent six years in the private sector working as a human resource director for a large multi-line insurance company.