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A Case Study and Try Out of Brainspace in Internationally Distributed Teams

Kristi Agerup
InterMedia, University of Oslo
Visiting Researcher, Stanford University
June 2002


My study is in the field of learning. I focus on how persons who are working together from different cultures and using different media are able to learn from each other and create new products. My research is done in a master course in engineering at Stanford University, where students from there and other universities from different parts of the world are working together in teams. Their task is to create new products for different companies. I am trying out a method called BrainSpace for improving collaboration and innovation in distributed teams, which is a team with participants from different places. My research is important because the corporate world today faces ever-increasing demands in their attempts to collaborate with companies from other countries, it is important to develop new knowledge about how these internationally distributed teams can be improved for knowledge sharing and innovation.

The master course at Stanford has students from Stanford, other US Universities, from work context, and from Universities in Sweden and Japan. The corporate partners are big companies such as BMW and Volvo, which has products they want to be developed by the students. The team I am studying is working on a project where they create methods for interacting with a potentially sleepy/dull driver in order to maintain awareness while on the road. The team has 6 students, 3 from Stanford and 3 from a university in Japan. I am doing my research on a try out of BrainSpace. The method has been used for many years in companies to make different teams share knowledge and ideas very rapidly. The new addition that I am trying out is to use it in distributed teams. The first task for the team is to decide which topics they all think is the most important to discuss for their work. When they have decided the topics, they then have specific roles in the meeting, e.g. being in charge to discuss or as an observer to write down both the content of the discussion and also the way they are communicated. The observations will be shared on their web page after the meeting. One person is also dedicated to be the facilitator of BrainSpace, to lead the meetings, and in this case it was one of the teachers in the course.

I am focusing on how the team is building their Learning Community. A Learning Community is a concept that is used to describe a community of people working together and learning from each other by sharing knowledge by using the internet. The team is supposed to create a Learning Community, they have had one face to face meeting, but most of their communication is based on using medias such as teleconferencing, internet and videoconferencing. They have created a web page for their team, and use tools to share documents and send emails about their work.

My research questions are what the prerequisites to build and maintain a Learning Community in international distributed teams are, and how does the use of BrainSpace influence the Learning Community. In my research I am focusing on the structure for collaboration, their sharing of information and ideas, contribution, participation and social interaction, and if the use of the communication model BrainSpace is facilitating their Learning Community. I am using qualitative methods in my research, fieldwork with participatory observations and interviews. I also do observations of their web-site, where they have all their e-mails and shared documents.

While collecting my data I am doing my interpretation to find answers for my research questions. So far my findings show that the Brain Space improved their communication and sharing of ideas, especially from the first to the second and third meeting. In the first meeting where they did not use the method, the Stanford students talked most of the time. After trying out parts of the BrainSpace having the roles were they all after turn should be active in the discussion and were the most active sometimes had to be quiet doing observations, seemed to make the communication more equal. After these meetings they also were more active sharing ideas in their Learning Community.

To work in internationally distributed teams is very challenging and difficult and to try out new methods that can facilitate such teams is important. More research on use of BrainSpace is needed, and will be done at two Swiss universities this spring. My research is done in collaboration with these studies, and the findings will be published at an international conference in May 2003.