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New COINs Seminar Provides Cross-Disciplinary, Cross-Cultural Experience

Christine MillerTechnology has made the world “smaller” and has presented not only the opportunity, but the necessity to communicate and collaborate with teams globally. More and more, companies need employees with the skills to effectively and efficiently work with team members in other disciplines, as well as from other countries around the world.

To help graduate students better prepare for that team dynamic, or to enhance the work they may already be accomplishing in their respective industries, Christine Miller, Clinical Associate Professor of Innovation at IIT Stuart School of Business, has been teaching an exciting new special topics course this fall that provides students with a truly cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural experience.

Global Partners Across Disciplines

Offered in partnership with MIT, Aalto University Helsinki, University of Cologne, and University of Bamberg, Germany, MBA 595: Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) Seminar follows the COIN (Collaborative Innovation Networks) model of innovation, collaboration, and communication within and across global virtual teams.

Ten 4-5 member teams, which include 18 IIT Stuart students in the M.B.A. and dual M.B.A./M.Des. programs and students from other participating schools, have been working on a range of projects involving social media and trend analysis, predictive analytics, analysis of email networks, and viral marketing using web mining and dynamic Social Network Analysis (SNA) tools and methods.

In addition to preparatory readings that introduce social network theory, the course work has included client-based global virtual team (GVT) research projects on topics such as crowd intelligence, behavioral economics, organizational network analysis, and network analysis on Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia.

Miller has been overseeing two student teams; one studying the networks and practices of self-enhancement of biohackers, and the second exploring ways in which networks can be formed around at-risk expectant mothers to provide support and deliver services that enhance the health of their infants and the wellbeing of families.

As part of the course, global faculty coordinator Peter Gloor from MIT Sloan School of Management has served as a guest speaker for the COINs class and has conducted training sessions for the students.

The 3-step process of progress in a fledgling COINs includes innovation, collaboration, and communication. According to the COINs website, it is common for group members with a “strong business gene” to excel at the communication phase of the process. Miller says many IIT Stuart students are indeed showing strengths in that area, although she said there are students who are innovators, the initiators of a COIN. COINs are self-organizing and self-regulating. Collaboration among COIN members is critical for their success.

Miller believes that one of the most integral aspects of the course has been the opportunity for students to learn how to organize as a team when working virtually. She says students must develop a “swift trust” in their fellow team members to complete tasks and to deal with challenges in order for the teams to move forward.

As an anthropologist and founding member of the COINs conference, Miller is especially focused on the practice of multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration. “The teams are made up of computer programmers, engineers, designers, M.B.A.s, and students from other areas of study,” she explains. “They have to communicate effectively and demonstrate what it is each brings to the group that will help make the project great.”

Looking Ahead to Continued Multicultural, Multidisciplinary Learning

This spring, Miller will be teaching the MBA 595 special topics course Innovation through Project Oriented Learning: Telecommunications from Morse Code to the Cloud. The course is part of a global study platform known as a Project Oriented Learning Environment (POLE), which utilizes communication and information technologies to encourage cross-cultural and multiple disciplinary collaboration among international university students.

IIT Stuart is partnering with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland and other universities to collaborate with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva, Switzerland on the Internet of Things (IoT). The work of global student teams will be incorporated into the ITU’s exhibition to visualize the history and future of telecommunications from Morse code to telephones to satellite communication and beyond.

IIT students and faculty will travel to the Swiss University for the formation of global teams and to Geneva for project launch meetings with industry sponsors. Through virtual teaming and a face-to-face working session in Switzerland, IIT students will experience unique opportunities to apply their disciplinary knowledge in a real-world project while developing their ability to work on multicultural, interdisciplinary teams.