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Experience and Reflections on a Global Collaborative Course, Sky Classroom – Global Project Team Course, from National Taiwan University

  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Experience and Reflections on a Global Collaborative Course, Sky
Classroom Global Project Team Course, from National Taiwan
Yi-Fen Li1, Ci-Jyun Liang1 and Shih-Chung Kang*1,,
1 Department of Civil Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
Abstract: Rapid changes in technology have made communication easier and more instantaneous in the
twenty-first century. The ubiquity of Internet access has eliminated the barriers of region and time, thereby
creating various opportunities for globalization. In the current study, the authors attempted to cultivate students
in advance to make them competitive for the future. In 2014 and 2015, the authors participated in a global
project-based course involving seven universities in five countries. This paper aims to document the experiences
and reflections of students at National Taiwan University. The authors summarize the results in terms of five
common phenomena, note five main problems with goals, technical issues, timing, skills, and team building, and
report suggestions on communication, project process, tools, and techniques. Given the great amount of global
cooperation in academia and business today, it is hoped that the findings of this report can assist people in global
Keywords: Global Collaboration Experience, Virtual Network, BIM, Global Team Suggestion.
The rapid development of information and
communication technology (ICT) has changed work
patterns in the engineering field (Mejia-Gutierrez et
al. 2014). Globalized work has become the way
people collaborate in the last decade (Hinds et al.
2011). This change has also occurred in the
Architecture, Engineer and Construction (AEC)
industry (Iorio and Taylor 2014a). For instance, the
Oakland Bay Bridge was designed and manufactured
in China and then shipped to San Francisco, where
the final fabrication work was completed (Barboza
2011). The team for the Taiwan High Speed Rail
Project was composed of experts from Taiwan,
Britain, India, Denmark, and other countries
(Schroepfer 2006). With the growth of global
collaboration, engineering education needs to be
modified (Syed Khuzzan et al. 2015). Therefore,
training in global collaboration experience is
necessary in engineering education.
Global collaboration usually occurs on virtual
networks (Hinds et al. 2011), and Building
Information Modeling (BIM) (Volk et al. 2014) is
used to share models and information. Therefore,
digital tools are important in global collaboration
(Iorio and Taylor 2014a). Fruchter (2014) utilized an
immersive 3D virtual environment to facilitate global
collaboration. Anderson and Dossick discussed the
effects of the Avatar model for global collaboration
(Anderson and Dossick 2014; Anderson et al. 2014).
In addition, some discussion has focused on methods
for improving collaboration, such as messy talk
(Dossick 2014; Dossick et al. 2015; Dossick and Neff
2011). Iorio and Taylor (2014b) compared the
leadership experience and the leadership behavior of
members of virtual teams to facilitate the selection of
the right leader for a virtual team. Real world case
studies have also been analyzed to propose guidelines
for global team projects (Schroepfer 2006).
Since globalization is a rapidly spreading trend in the
AEC field, the authors participated in a global
project-based course, Sky Classroom Global Team
Project, involved seven universities in five countries.
All the instructors designed the project background
and project goals together, and they discussed the
course process online bi-weekly during the course.
This paper aims to document the experiences and
reflections of students at National Taiwan University
and share how they cooperated with the global virtual
team over the past two years.
Course Background
The construction industry requires interdisciplinary
cooperation and relies on teamwork. Since
globalization is a major trend in the construction and
education fields, the authors attempted to cultivate
students to be more competitive in the workplace in
the future by giving them experience with a global
project-based course before graduation. The
instructors arranged students in groups and made
everyone responsible for school-based duties. They
were advised to hold online meetings at least once
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
per week to discuss their projects in Sococo, which is
a network platform for online discussions.
In this paper, we use an example from the Sky
Classroom - Global Team Project Course. This
course involves seven universities in five countries:
the University of Washington (UW) and Washington
State University (WSU) in the US, the Indian
Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-Madras) in India,
Twente University (TU) in Netherlands, Yonsei
University (YU) in South Korea, and National
Taiwan University (NTU) and National Cheng Kung
University (NCKU) in Taiwan. Each school was
responsible for school-specific modules.
Global Team Project
The major project of this course was house redesign
in disaster areas. The teams were required to redesign
a house after a flood or earthquake in the disaster
area; to create a complete construction plan including
a schedule, cost estimates, and 3D and 4D models;
and to propose the final work. In the virtual
environment, teams were required to use Sococo and
other cloud spaces to share and discuss their work,
including models, schedules, and estimates.
Course Design
From 2014 to 2015, the course design underwent
changes in both quality and quantity. In 2014, a total
of 44 participants from five universities enrolled in
this course, and they were distributed among 5 teams.
Each team had to design a two-story flood-safe house
for Orissa, eastern India, where flooding is a serious
problem. In 2013, 85,000 people in that region were
evacuated and 40 people were killed. However, it is
not easy to recover a place once it is flooded. The
best way to protect life and property is to have a
well-designed and safe house that can withstand
In the course project, students were grouped
into five teams. Each global team had members from
UW, IIT-Madras, YU, NCKU, and NTU. Each team
member played a different role. Those from
IIT-Madras provided 3D modeling; those from UW,
4D modeling and the preliminary schedule; those
from YU, cost estimates and schedule arrangement;
and those from NCKU and NTU, safety analysis. The
IIT-Madras and UW teams conducted a preliminary
3D design effort in February, and then the YU,
NCKU and NTU teams joined in early March due to
the different semester system. The teams then
discussed their work to complete the final model
design, safety analysis, construction schedule, and
cost estimates. At the end of the virtual team
cooperation, students gave presentations separately at
their own schools. Even though the project was based
on the same requirements, the designs of the teams
were still quite different. There was also a team to
produce a graphic animation to show the evacuation
plan during a flood.
In 2015, this globalized course grew in size to
203 participants. The participants were divided into
twelve teams. Furthermore, they were separated into
subgroups for two projects, one for the design of
housing in India, and the other, for the design of
housing in Taiwan. Both designs were to be deployed
to quickly rebuild temporary and permanent
structures after a flood or an earthquake.
In the India project, IIT-Madras was in charge
of providing design guidelines, referencing
information on the region, and designing 2D and 3D
models. Then UT finished the construction schedule
and cost estimates based on the model provided by
IIT-Madras. In the last part, UW completed the BIM
execution plan and 4D model. In the Taiwan project,
the progress of cooperation was based only on the
different design locations. NCKU was responsible for
providing design guidelines, referencing information
on Taiwan, and completing the 2D and 3D models.
YU was in charge of developing a construction
schedule and cost estimates. WSU completed the
BIM execution plan and the 4D model at the end.
In 2015, NTU played a special role as a
facilitator of team building and communication in
both subprojects. The global team worked together
for seven weeks and developed the project results (for
example, Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the 2D and 3D
model designs of 2015) at the end of March.
Figure 1. 2D model by Team 2 in 2015
Figure 2. 3D models for India (left) and Taiwan (right)
by Team 12 in 2015
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
The Research Methodology
Since the first time that NTU and NCKU joined this
unique course was in 2014, the authors kept
participation small for the trial; only eleven students
from NTU and NCKU participated. The eleven
participants included two PhD students, three
graduate students, and six undergraduate students,
who were distributed into five teams with participants
from UW, IIT-Madras, and YU.
In 2015, the number of participants and changes
to the project made the project more complicated.
There were twelve participants from NTU, including
two PhD students, eight graduate students, and two
undergraduate students. These participants were
distributed among twelve teams with participants
from UW, WSU, IIT-Madras, TU, YU and NCKU.
(1) The design of the questionnaire
Based on the global collaborative and web
conference experiences of the authors, the authors
thought that the meeting quality was the fundamental
factor in the success of the global teamwork.
Therefore, the authors developed a questionnaire to
collect feedback on the global team meetings with a
focus on the quality of two domains, technology and
communication. The part of the questionnaire on
technology was used to assess the quality of the
Internet, video, sound, and platform. The part on
communication was used to assess differences in
language, specialties, culture, and cognition.
The authors asked the Taiwanese students from 2014
and the NTU students from 2015 to complete the
self-developed questionnaire online after global team
meetings. Students were instructed to give feedback
on each category on a four-point Likert-type scale (3:
no problems; 2, slight problems; 1: serious problems;
and zero, failure) based on their experiences during
their meetings. Questionnaires were to be filled after
every meeting.
The authors collected 25 copies of the
questionnaire from 5 teams in 2014 and 41 copies
from 12 teams in 2015. However, there were 3 teams
completed the questionnaire less than two times
during the seven-week course in 2015, because they
forgot to fill the form after every meeting. The
authors decided to exclude those 3 teams for analysis.
The questionnaire data changed to 36 copies in 2015.
(2) Questionnaire results
In the questionnaire session, the authors calculated
the average score of each item in the technology and
communication domains for each team and the
overall average. The authors also calculated the
averages of the technology domain, communication
domain, overall scores, and discussion time.
In 2014 (see 錯誤! 找不到參照來源。 for
the questionnaire survey results in 2014), the Internet
had the highest score, 2.78, in the technology domain,
indicating that the teams encountered almost no
problems or very few problems with the Internet. The
score for the video was the lowest in the technology
domain, at 1.47, indicating that most of the teams
encountered numerous minor and major problems
with the video. In the communication domain, culture
had the highest score, 2.69, indicating that cultural
differences caused almost no problems or only minor
problems. The score for language was the lowest, at
2.38, indicating that most of the teams had some
problems in that respect. In addition, the score for
communication (2.52) was higher than that for
technology (2.22), and the overall average of 2.37
indicated minor problems in the overall meeting
experiences. The average discussion time ranged
from 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 48 minutes.
For 2015 (see Table 2 for the questionnaire
survey results for 2015), the authors also compared
the average scores in the technology and
communication domains. The Internet had the highest
score (2.81) in the technology domain, indicating that
most of the teams experienced almost no problems or
only minor problems with the Internet. Video had the
lowest score (1.22) in the technology domain,
indicating that the teams encountered many minor
and major problems, or complete failure, of the video.
In the communication domain, culture had the highest
score (2.89), indicating that cultural differences
caused almost no problems or only minor problems.
Language had the lowest score (2.50), indicating few
or no problems in that regard for most of the teams.
In addition, the score for communication (2.70) was
greater than that for technology (2.15), and the
overall average was 2.43, indicating few problems
with the overall meeting experiences. The discussion
times varied greatly; the average discussion times
ranged from 40 minutes to 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Five common phenomena occurring in virtual
work were found for both 2014 and 2015.
The quality of communication was better than that
of the technology.
In 2015, the average score for communication was
2.70, which was greater than that of technology, 2.15.
The same result was found in 2014; the
communication score of 2.52 was greater than the
technology score of 2.22.
The video and sound were problematic or prone to
In 2015, the average scores of video and sound were
1.22 and 2.03, respectively; in 2014, they were 1.47
and 1.96. These scores indicate that the teams
encountered minor problems, serious problems, or
complete failure of the video and sound.
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
The Internet and culture scores were the highest in
the technology and communication domains,
The average scores for the Internet and culture were
respectively 2.81 and 2.89 in 2015, and 2.78 and 2.69
in 2014. The Internet and cultural differences caused
few or no problems.
The overall average discussion time during the
meetings was approximately 1 to 1.5 hours.
The average meeting time was 1.22 hours, or 1 hour
and 13 minutes, in 2015; the average meeting time
was 1.37 hours, or 1 hour and 22 minutes, in 2014.
Motivational factors triggered meetings.
i. The participants were easily motivated
during the first week and every time a new
member joined; for instance, in 2015, UT
joined in the third week and YU joined in
the fifth week.
ii. All teams held meetings in the first week,
and in 2014, over 60% of the teams met
twice in that week.
(3) The design of open discussion
After the global project was completed, the authors
attempted to record the experiences for future courses
in following years. Since the students encountered
many problems with the technology and
communication during the global teamwork period,
the authors decided to summarize all the problems
and the ways that students overcame them. The
authors arranged opportunities for open discussion,
with one session for problems and one session for
The students discussed the problems they
encountered in 2015 and brainstormed to develop
possible solutions, providing suggestions based on
their experiences. The instructors also facilitated
students to summarize their ideas for the sake of
concision. All participants discussed the problems
twice, summarized the five main problems, and
provided three suggestions. The first meeting to
discuss the problems and solutions was in early
March, during the project period, and the second was
in the middle of April, after the global team project
was finished.
In the first discussion, the students brought up
the problems they might encounter or had already
experienced during the project. Then the instructor
helped them to focus on five main problems, which
included goals, technical issues, timing, skills, and
team building. In the second, based on the five
problems, the students proposed three suggestions
based on their global team experiences and pointed
out what a global team should and should not do in a
list of “Do’s and “Don’ts” (see Figure 3 for images of
the open discussion of the course).
Figure 3. Open discussion in Room 401, Civil
Engineering Research Building, on April 14
(4) The results of the open discussion
In the open discussion by students and an instructor
at NTU, all the participants summarized the main
points of their discussions as five main problems:
goals, technical issues, timing, skills, and team
building. In addition to noting problems that they
encountered, the students also provided suggestions
for overcoming those problems covering three
dimensions: 1) communication, collaboration and
coordination; 2) project process; and 3) tools and
Five main problems
(1) Goals:
Not all the teammates well understand the goals
of the project, their roles, or their responsibilities.
The definitions of the goals for each school were
The schedules of the different schools made it
difficult to follow the progress of the project.
(2) Technical issues:
When their teammates used different languages or
versions of the software, such as Revit, nonsense
characters were displayed.
The numerous amended versions of the files made
the management of file sharing difficult.
The Sococo platform was not always stable.
(3) Timing:
Since the schools were located in different time
zones, sometimes with a difference of 16 hours, it
was hard to find a perfect time for every
teammate to join the online discussions.
The course began in January and spanned the
Chinese New Year vacation.
(4) Skills:
The different levels of specialty or experience
caused confusion during the discussions. For
those lacking familiarity with other fields, it was
difficult to provide suggestions or express
The students were unfamiliar with the software
such as Revit and Naviswork. This unfamiliarity
made it hard to review files shared by their
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
(5) Team Building:
The short duration of the project made it difficult
to build relationships. Most teammates treated the
virtual team as part of the course, taking no
responsibility for or having no interest in making
any connections at all.
Everyone had different senses of responsibility, so
cognition problems arose easily, especially in the
virtual work.
Differences in cognition were caused by
differences in language, culture, and specialty.
These differences indirectly influenced the project
A great variety of information was shared, and
everyone needed different information at different
stages of progress in their different roles. The
chaotic file-sharing arrangements caused chaos in
team building.
Three Suggestions for Global Virtual Teams
Unlike a traditional cooperative project, the global
virtual teamwork posed more challenges to overcome
during the whole process. Especially in cross-country
collaboration, the participants could not arrange
face-to-face meetings due to regional and time
barriers. In order to solve the problems that students
raised in the problem session of the open discussion,
students provided three dimensions of suggestions.
Each suggestion included tips on what should
teammates should and should not do, or Do’s and
Don’ts, in global teamwork:
(1) Communication, collaboration, and
DO be active; follow up the processes actively.
DO prepare before every meeting, including
setting and agenda and sending it to attendees, as
well as checking the equipment, platform, and so
DO develop connections between teammates; try
to talk about life or common interests to build
DO NOT display negative emotions. Especially,
be careful of the messages communicated, such as
in emails, messages, or texts, in meetings. Due to
differences in the ways people from various
countries talk, and differences in phrasing, it was
easy for misunderstandings to arise.
DO NOT just forward emails to your teammates
directly; try to organize or highlight relevant
points for them.
(2) Project process
DO be a good project manager; know the whole
project well and understand the status of the
project and your teammates.
DO provide a clear plan for the processes and
tools that your team might use.
DO engage in discussions regularly. At least once
a week, leave the meeting open to any opinions.
DO NOT be silent in meetings. Even though the
information or discussion is not connected to you
directly, give feedback to show respect for the
DO NOT delay your work. Every part of the
entire project is connected, so the overall process
will be encumbered if one step is delayed.
DO NOT play your role on your own; get help
from your teammates, which is how the real world
(3) Tools and Techniques
DO require the same file denomination rules.
DO install the same software versions and same
kinds of tools and files before execution.
DO implement software training before execution.
DO NOT use multiple, similar tools or platforms
to manage or share information.
Based on the analysis of the questionnaires, five
phenomena were identified: 1) the quality of
communication was better than that of the
technology; 2) the video and sound were problematic
or prone to failure; 3) the Internet and culture had the
highest scores in the technology and communication
domains; 4) the discussion time of global meetings
averaged about 1 to 1.5 hours; and 5) motivational
factors triggered meetings. Furthermore, five
problems and three suggestions were identified in
open discussions.
Questionnaire analysis
The quality of communication was better than that
of the technology.
Despite the rapid advances in technology today, the
virtual teams still encountered many problems with
the technology. The problems appear to have been
related to the quality of bandwidth in different
regions. In addition, some files were too large to
share directly and need to be transferred via data
The video and sound were problematic or prone to
Due to bandwidth issues, students were forced to
abandon the use of video or sound functions during
the meetings. The other reason was that after the
meetings, the students treated the text as the meeting
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
minutes. However, confusion and misunderstandings
resulted easily when the teams communicated only
by text or email.
The Internet and culture had the highest scores in
the technology and communication domains.
This finding contradicts the finding of the problems
with bandwidth, which reduced the willingness to use
the video and sound functions. The authors speculate
that the bandwidth problems happened in other
countries, not in Taiwan. Therefore, the students did
not see the Internet itself as the problem.
On the other hand, the global project lasted for
only 7 weeks, which was insufficient to reveal
problems due to cultural differences.
The discussion time was about 1 to 1.5 hours
during the global meetings.
Because of the time zone issue, the meeting times
were in the middle of the night or later in some
countries. For this reason, it was not appropriate for
the meetings to last a long time. Furthermore, since
the work on the project was distributed to every
school, the students needed to provide only progress
updates in most of the meetings.
Motivational factors triggered meetings.
The project time in 2014 was only 5 weeks, so the
teams had to fit their discussions to a tight schedule.
This tight schedule forced students to try to meet
every week if possible. In 2015, the NTU students
participated earlier and had 7 weeks to finish the
project, and the work was distributed more clearly, so
most teams shared progress updates by email or
messages rather than in weekly meetings. However, it
was noted that teams always held meetings in the first
and third weeks in order to meet with newly-joined
team members (e.g., those from TU and YU, who
joined the course in the third week), and in the last
week to discuss the final presentation.
Open discussion
In their open discussions, students also brought up
the technical problems, as shown by the questionnaire
survey. Other problems were more closely related to
the course design. For instance, every school was
assigned different duties for the project, but the
different semester systems could cause delays in the
project procedures. The other major problem was the
level of student engagement. Students were not
willing to develop their software skills before the
course, nor was such individual development
required in the curriculum. Finally, the course was
too short for the members of the teams to build strong
The suggestions based on the students’
experiences during the project led to a list of Do’s
and Don’ts that might help course participants in the
Given the rapid developments in technology, people
can explore more opportunities to connect with others,
and advances in communication also provide more
possibilities for dealing with problems without the
problems cause by regional and time barriers. In the
Global Project Course, the authors collected the
feedback and experiences of participants in real
virtual teamwork for use as a reference in designing a
course for next year.
In the future, the questionnaire could be
extended to collect data on student engagement, and
the survey base could be extended to all of the
participants in the course worldwide. Such
information could facilitate the identification of
specific differences in multiple cultures. The authors
will continue to hold open discussions to summarize
the ideas and experiences resulting from different
course designs every year.
This paper aims to share the experiences of the
last 2 years. The authors attempted to research deeply
the following two dimensions: 1) student assessment:
how to evaluate the efforts and contributions of the
different roles of a global team; and 2) the
experiences of the instructors; in collaborating with
their global team partners, the instructors faced the
same difficulties and problems as the students in the
Global Project Course. We hope to identify
differences by comparing the survey results of the
students and the instructors.
Today, global cooperation is common in
academia and business. We hope these results will
aid people who would like to experience global
virtual teamwork.
This research was supported by Ministry of Science
and Technology in Taiwan (MOST, 102-2511-S-002
-010 -MY3). We would like to thank the MOST for
the financial supports. We would also like to thank
the professors and the participating students from the
cooperating universities, including Prof. Carrie Sturts
Dossick from University of Washington, Prof.
Ashwin Mahlingram from Indian Institute of
Technology Madras, Prof. Ghang Lee from Yonsei
University, Prof. Timo Hartmann from Twente
University, Prof. Anne Anderson from Washington
State University and Prof. Jiin-Song Tasi from
National Cheng Kung University.
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
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Table 1. The questionnaire survey results in 2014
(3: no problem; 2: minor problems; 1: serious problems; 0, failure)
Technology domain
Communication domain
time (hr)
Fourth International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, October 30-31, 2015, NTU
Table 2. The questionnaire survey results in 2015
Technology domain
Communication domain
time (hr)
(3 represents no problem, 2 represents little problem, 1 represent serious problem, 0 represent no operated)
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Information technology is radically and rapidly transforming the way the AEC industry operates. Large, globally operating firms are often out of necessity on the leading edge of implementing advanced IT-tools because their ability to prosper depends more and more on their ability to use technology to augment industry-wide effectiveness and innovation. To maximize the benefits that lie in company-wide highly integrated information and to foster internal collaboration, such companies often rely heavily on the use of IT supporting their practices. As global projects have become the main sources of revenue for many large AEC firms, geographically distributed project teams and human networks have become more and more common. A wide array of tools is available for IT-based collaboration. Global teams and networks face difficulties that are different from those of teams and networks that are not geographically distributed. These difficulties are usually caused by national, cultural, and organizational differences within the organizations and the multitude of markets they are serving as well as the peculiarities of virtual collaboration. This paper examines these phenomena using the Germany-based Hochtief Group, one of the world’s largest AEC companies, as an example. It presents a case study of global virtual teamwork in a recently completed large-scale project in Asia. It then moves on to describe Hochtief’s participation in a larger research effort initiated by Stanford University’s CIFE (Center for Integrated Facility Management) that examines virtual collaboration in the AEC industry. The results of both the case study and the joint research project are analyzed and presented. They suggest a number of important guidelines for global virtual teamwork in the AEC industry, including the suitability of particular IT-tools as well as the coordination of team members with different national, cultural, and organizational backgrounds over multiple time zones. Keywords: global teamwork, IT-based collaboration, design collaboration, global design practice, global construction practice, AEC project management.
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Engineering teams collaborating in virtual environments face many technical, social and cultural challenges. In this paper we focus on distributed teams making joint unanticipated discoveries in virtual environments. We operationalize Dossick and Neff’s definition of “Messy Talk” as a process in which teams mutually discover issues, critically engage in clarifying and finding solutions to the discovered issues, exchange their knowledge, and resolve the issue. Can globally distributed teams use “Messy Talk” via virtual communication technology? We analyzed the interactions of four distributed student teams collaborating on a complex design and planning project using building information models (BIM) and the CyberGRID, a virtual world specifically developed for collaborative work. Their interactions exhibited all four elements of Messy Talk, even though resolution was the least common. Virtual worlds support real time joint problem solving by 1) providing affordances for talk mediated by shared visualizations, 2) supporting team perceptions of building information models that are mutable and 3) allowing transformations of those models while people were together in real time. Our findings suggest that distributed team collaboration requires technologies that support Messy Talk--and iterative trial-and-error--for complex multidimensional problems.
Conference Paper
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Conference Paper
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