Forming effective culturally diverse work teams in project courses
Paper in proceedings, 2017
A culturally diverse student population at Master’s level is a reality at many universities today, as it is at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. However, a common issue is the lack of interaction between home and international students, which counteracts university goals of fostering intercultural cooperation.
This paper will discuss and evaluate a pilot project in one Master’s program in production engineering, where activities around group diversity were integrated into a company-based project course. Students were assigned groups where a mixture of backgrounds and expertise were prioritised.
The project used a number of group dynamics activities including a pre-survey of expectations of group work; negotiating a group contract; and continuous peer group assessment in order to develop and reflect on the skills required in a culturally diverse work team.
From reflective essays that students wrote, as well as interviews carried out, the project and tasks were evaluated. The following themes were identified: attitudes to diversity; the importance of well-functioning communication; and attitudes and roles within the group.
Results show that students found this a challenging but useful environment to work in and found the group dynamics activities helpful in negotiating this environment. Continuous peer group assessment, in particular, was seen as helpful in providing a forum for feedback and discussion on individual performance in the group and challenges for the group as a whole.
Recommendations include constructive alignment within the program in terms of clear goals, activities and assessment, in order to build up these skills and awareness, not only in a single course but throughout the program.
Culturally diverse groups