A preliminary investigation of the impact of geographic dispersion and degree of virtuality on engineering student team processes and performance



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As technology continues to expand capabilities of collaborating, there has been an increase in the creativity of the way teams collaborate. Particularly in universities, distance education has become more developing in offering more technical degrees than in the past. It is perhaps not surprising that the growth rate for student enrollment in online courses has recently outpaced that of face-to-face courses. As such, many courses are hybrid where it includes both students who are located on campus and other students who are geographically-dispersed. This interaction has typically been characterized as a virtual team. But with essentially all teams using technology, the use of technology alone does not accurately reflect a virtual team. In fact the term virtual team may not be applicable as a descriptor for a team. The more appropriate term is either partially distributed or geographically dispersed team. This terminology characterizes the team composition. In this instance, teams have to rely on technology whereas for a face to face team, technology is a-nice-to-have feature for collaboration. In comparison to other disciplines in US higher education, engineering students are on the low end with approximately 2% of students having experience in interfacing with global counterparts. Therefore, the objective of this research was to study the dynamics and outcomes in graduate engineering student teams that are considered partially distributed. The intent was to analyze how geographic dispersion and degree of virtuality influenced cohesion, trust, and creativity and the team’s satisfaction and performance. The field study found that geographic dispersion has a strong positive relationship with the degree of virtuality. However, the input factors did not have a significant relationship with the process factors - cohesion, trust, and creativity, all of which though had a positive relationship to satisfaction and performance. The reliance on technology was not proven to have a significant relationship on the team. Further research is recommended to understand what underlying aspects of geographic dispersion and virtuality that led previous research to indicate negative relationships to team satisfaction and performance.



Degree of Virtuality, Virtual Teams, Effectiveness, Partial Least Squares Path Modeling