Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2003Kellogg School of Management
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Teamwork takes a virtual twist

After just a few weeks at the Kellogg School, students are already seasoned pros when it comes to working in groups — “regulars” in the second-floor meeting rooms of the Donald P. Jacobs Center who are adept both at parceling out work and taking in assignments. Most groups use a flurry of back-and-forth email messages to figure out who is working on what and when, but sometimes the technology isn’t sophisticated enough to coordinate the actions of four or five students and multiple document versions.

That may be about to change, as students this spring test new software that promises to take virtual teamwork to the next level.

Administrators and students are cautiously optimistic about this trial, but note that experiments with several other tools in the past five years have failed to meet student needs fully.

The software being tested now works a bit like a customized Web site, allowing groups to gather notes, paper drafts, Internet links and data in a place accessible to all the members. When someone is working on a document, the software can bar others from accessing it, and the tool can help students track their progress, chat with one another and engage in ad-hoc collaboration.

“In a sense, it’s like sharing the same file drawer,” says Catherine Grimsted, Kellogg School associate dean of finance, planning and technology. “You’re working on a project and everything you have is right there at your fingertips.

“The technology and the tools have to come together with the ways that people actually behave and process information,” Grimsted adds. “At Kellogg, we don’t say, ‘Here’s your tool. Now change your behavior.’”

But with some 1,300 Kellogg students each involved in multiple group projects at any moment, it’s worth seeing what the latest generation software has to offer, says Derek Yung, a second-year student who is vice president of technology for the Graduate Management Association and is working on the pilot program.

If the pilot proves successful, real-time group collaboration could become part of life at Kellogg within a year.

Yung remembers a particularly difficult finance class with weekly multiple assignments. The night before one tough project was due, group members signed off on a final version around midnight — or so they thought.

Ten minutes before class, a group member showed up with a revised version of the paper. He had continued working well past midnight, unbeknownst to his peers.

“We didn’t know which version to hand in,” Yung says. “If we had this tool, we would have known someone was still working on the paper.”

— KR

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University