Research contribution on virtual teams and their challenges

Since 2018, we, the TEWI research unit, have been pursuing a research project in collaboration with the Swiss Distance University of Applied Sciences (FFHS). The aim of the project is to digitise a practice-based course at the FFHS, which is anchored in Valais. The particular challenge of the practice-oriented teaching of management consultancy for IT in Valais is that students from Valais want to cooperate with companies outside the canton or that students from Switzerland want to cooperate with companies in Valais. These collaborations require a high level of travel activity, which can possibly be reduced with the appropriate use of ICT.

The aim of the research project is to optimise the design of communication processes that take place between teachers, learners and practice partners. In doing so, the potential of ICT for computer-supported cooperation is to be used in the best possible way. Starting from theory-based explanatory approaches, such as the genre-based approach, the relevant communication situations are to be analysed and investigated for potential uses of ICT.

In 2019, the foundations for the project were completed. On the one hand, the concept of a practice-oriented course was refined in the course of several workshops, in which students are to carry out a consulting project in a team with a practice partner, which is aimed at a concrete IT problem. This practical project is accompanied by coaches who are to initiate and assess the application of the methods learned in the concrete project. The relevant communication scenarios will be specified and analysed. In this context, a useful use of technology is to be evaluated.

In a further work package, the applicable theoretical foundations for the given use case were examined. Based on a comprehensive literature analysis, the relevant approaches for digital cooperation in groups were compiled and systematically examined for their usefulness in the given case. The genre-based approach was identified as a promising method, which will serve as a theoretical basis for the ongoing analysis of the different communation episodes.

The evaluation period for the project was defined using milestones, as well as the communication flow between the participants. Thus, the time schedule with the exact contents during these phases is fixed. In addition, potential practice partners, SMEs based in the Canton of Valais, were approached and won over with commitments for the course. The aim here is also to have a longer collaboration with these practice partners beyond the research project.

In close cooperation with the FFHS, the project has now been advanced to the point where the course can be carried out in 2020, and the final empirical evaluation can be started.