By Cindy McCarthy, an instructor in the School of Business
As an instructor, I always seek to push my students in new ways. I want them to engage in new tasks that they find truly challenging. For this reason, I partnered with colleagues at the Universidad de Europea Madrid (UEM) more than a year ago to create a comprehensive, Global Studies group project for our Design and Innovation course.
The concept is fairly straightforward: Small groups of Kendall and UEM students are paired up and asked to collaborate online to develop a new product. Not only do they have to research, design and test their concepts, they also have to collaborate to write a final paper and give a simultaneous two-continent presentation. The project is a significant portion of their final grade for the course, which is why they begin the discussions with their colleagues in Spain during the second week of the term and present on the seventh week.
Although you may initially think that this project centers only on innovation (the product itself)—it actually transforms how the students in Chicago communicate with their peers in Madrid. Each team is asked to choose a primary communication platform, be it Glip, WhatsApp, Facebook or Google Drive to host their team discussions. The only caveat is that the professors must be included in any group they establish. Once the teams are selected and the projects are assigned—the sparks start flying.
Last term, one team’s project identified new ways that students can access part-time work opportunities (beyond what is offered on campus). They proposed an app that would allow people in the greater Chicago area to post job opportunities, like babysitting, dog walking or technical computer support, and students to request work.
This group was in a state of constant discussion—which was reflected in their well-written paper and live presentation. They explained why it was hard to find work off campus, laid out how the process would work from start to finish, and created an app and logo.
This is just one example that demonstrates how this international group project allows our students to adapt to new circumstances, work with individuals in another time zone, increase their use of critical thinking and manage a project across time zones—and cultures—to produce well-written papers and presentations that feel more like real-world business pitches.
At the beginning of the project, we see a lot of wide eyes (and answer a slew of questions!), but at the end, we can see it in their faces: They are all so proud of how much they are able to accomplish with their team mates. It’s not simply completing a successful project, it’s forming and building relationships with peers they never imagined meeting who live across an ocean.
Ultimately, this project is not just an assignment, it’s an experience. I’m always pleased when I see students add details about it to their LinkedIn profiles, because it shows they realize it underlines both their hard and soft skills: Not only can they contribute to an innovative team project, but they can also collaborate effectively with colleagues who are based in another country, a skill they will need more and more in our world of ever expanding connections.