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Project-based courses are designed to provide learners with a unique opportunity to apply theoretical understanding to a practical outcome that can be implemented to meet a real-world need. Such courses can be challenging. It is even more challenging when the courses are conducted online with students from multiple locations across the nation (or overseas!) working on projects in teams. But, taking these courses can be highly rewarding. Below are the top 8 skills you can get from an online course in which students work in teams on real-world information system development projects.
1 - Teamwork
To be successful, the team has to work as one with the same common goal – to deliver a solution to a client. Working in a virtual environment with geographically located team members provided a unique challenge. A well-organized team is able to overcome such challenges by embracing a defined approach to managing meeting cadence and defined team member roles/responsibilities. The team should be meeting regularly to keep everyone focused on the activities, discuss accomplishments and any issues impacting progress.
2 - Ethical behavior
It has been said that ethical behavior is doing the right thing, even when no one else is around to witness it. As information technology engineers, for example, team members are exposed to critical, sensitive and private information – entrusted with “keys to the kingdom.” Each team member should hold themselves to high ethical standards – share information, and be accountable for high-quality deliverables.
3 - Time Management
Project-based team members are faced with multiple competing activities during the courses of the project – work, family, school – life happens! Team members may experience any number of life-altering challenges during the project. It is very helpful to set a schedule for meetings and deliverables that are aligned with the course schedule.
4 – Communication
This can be considered as one of, if not, the most important lessons from a project-based course. Poor communication can sink a project, no matter how good the team members are or how hard they work. In a team setting, everyone needs to have the same understanding of the project goals. Communication is important, but effective communication– using an effective medium to get the right information, to the right people, at right time - is paramount.
5 – Tools
Teams incorporate tools such as Google docs, Blackboard Collaborate, Canvas Conference, email, online meeting platforms, to effectively coordinate the work. Keeping documents in a centralized repository allows each member access to the most current document to view, edit, or update.
6 – Negotiation
In any project, there is always an opportunity to address change. Change can be requested by the project sponsor or team members. If not managed properly, this can bring the project to a halt, or even cause it to fail.
7 – Risk Management
A risk is an uncertain event that has a positive or negative effect on at least one of the project objectives (scope, schedule, budget, quality). If not managed well, risk can derail the project. Each team member should be responsible for looking at the project from various angles and identify risks to the project, which should be followed by a risk mitigation plan for each risk. A team member should be assigned to take responsibility for each risk response. This process ensures that each risk requiring a response has an owner monitoring it.
8 - Diversity
Diversity is important in all aspects of information technology. Phillips (2014) summarizes decades of research and concludes “diversity makes us more creative, more diligent and harder working.” In an online project environment, it could be difficult to gauge some aspects of diversity of the team - age, culture, thoughts, skills, attitudes, beliefs, and values. But the different perspectives from team members’ life experiences contribute to the effectiveness of the team.
Phillips, K. (2014). How Diversity Makes US Smarter. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
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