VIRTUAL TEAMS AND BLENDED LEARNING
Research on how to develop effective virtual teams addresses many of the same issues as lecturers working with students in a blended or online environment. Virtual teams are ‘teams working towards a shared purpose who rarely if ever meet face to face and hence use some form of technology to interact’ (McCarthy 2007). This is similar to blended learning students who meet periodically for face to face workshops but otherwise work at a distance, rather than sitting together in the same physical environment in regular weekly classes. It is useful therefore to consider what lessons can be learned from the literature on virtual teams which can be used with blended learning students.
This paper first discusses research on virtual teams and eLearning. One of the key lessons to emerge from this review is the importance of the relationship as well as the intellectual aspects of learning, in order to foster trust. Trust is associated with increased commitment, performance and satisfaction (Powell et al. 2006), problem-solving, communication and ability to adapt to change (Stahl and Sitkin 2005), increased team members’ confidence in their relationships with each other, more exchange of useful information and lower transaction costs (Jarvenpaa et al. 1998). A further benefit of trust, according to Greenberg et al. (2007), is that people are more tolerant of mistakes by fellow team members. The paper next discusses the application of learning from virtual teams research to a postgraduate class in an Australian business school. Student satisfaction with various aspects of the course is reported, based on surveys completed at the end of each subject and post-course completion.
The implementation of an authentic on-line assessment task is also explored. Authentic activities are engaging for adult learners who want to be able to apply their learning, not merely acquire knowledge for its own sake (Westrup and Jack 1998; Knowles, Holton et al. 2005).
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