Learning by working in teams

My first study period at Chalmers is approaching its climax, after 6 hasty weeks that have gone by with the lectures and assignments, with one more week to go before I take up my exams. I must admit time has been on the scarce side, and because this was the first tryst with the system here the time used up in getting used to things has eaten into more productive use of it.

While I hold back the whining about time crunch for later, an observation about the manner in which both courses are being conducted is worthy of comment. Both the courses I have taken up, beyond the lectures and assignments, have clear emphasis on one aspect beyond learning the technical concepts – working in teams. As I have come to understand this is one of the fundamental principles of education at Chalmers – to allow students to collaborate and learn, rather than strive individually.

So, what is special about working in teams here?

While one course is more of classic working in groups, for the many many hours that we have to invest together, it did not require us to any extra skills except patient hearing to each other.

On the other hand, the project in the second course has taken working in teams to an all new different level. This course apart from giving heavy emphasis to the project work (40 points out of 100), has attempted to simulate a corporate environment for delivering the project, and it has worked quite well in exposing the environment.

A set up with a customer company, CEO, manager and the vendor company with CEO, manager and us the students as the work force. Teams were assigned to keep the teams as heterogeneous as possible based on the course backgrounds and nationality to mimic the nature of global teams one might end up working in when engaged in a multi-national project.

Working in this project involved us to look at the tasks as more than a technical challenge,for instance, by expecting us to work out “Team Values” – about how the team would meet, if we could take calls/text during meetings to will we be a hierarchical team or a flatter one, had to be documented and were expected to adhere to it.

Even other tasks like working to match the specifications stated in the RFP by the customer with our proposal specifications, working out estimated time we would spending, cost estimation (with fictitious payments), handing out weekly time reports, deviation reports, test report, and if necessary escalating issues to manager or CEO had to be done, and I was quite surprised that we did most of it, and with a lot of seriousness. The construct of simulating a corporate environment did help most of us to collaborate and learn from other team mates. I sense that for students who did not have any prior work experience this project has done well in handing out that exposure of working in industry – my own work experience helped me validate the simulation.

During the course of this project, I have learnt many nuances which no course or lecture can teach, but only inculcated by working in a project such as this one in a well constructed environment. My courses and of course Chalmers in general seems to be a conducive platform to encourage learning to working in teams.