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Transactive Memory Systems in Undergraduate Information Systems Student Project Groups

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1 Transactive Memory Systems in Undergraduate Information Systems Student Project Groups By: Lauren Taglieri, May 2010 Carnegie Mellon University College of Humanities and Social Sciences Information Systems Program ABSTRACT Today, group collaboration is becoming more and more vital in the workplace. Hence, undergraduate curriculums must be updated to include group project courses that help to prepare students for their post-graduation work. This research focuses on how the theoretical foundation of transactive memory systems (TMS), or the collective awareness of the group’s specialization, coordination, and credibility, influences a group’s overall performance. These influences were analyzed through the use of focus groups, a TMS survey, and follow-up interviews with student groups in an undergraduate Information Systems project course (67-373) at Carnegie Mellon University. It was found that although determining the strength of a student group’s TMS provides a small window into how that group is working together, TMS does not provide the whole picture of group collaboration. In order to be successful as a group, students must recognize the importance of the group formation process and understand that a group is a living organism that needs constant management over time. Therefore, if student groups focus on developing a structure that fits their initial needs and continually update this structure based on changes that occur over time, they will be more prepared to effectively collaborate on their project. INTRODUCTION Not long ago, information systems (IS)1 work was restricted to a small group of people within the technology department of large companies. Now, with the rapidly changing technological environment that we live in, technology and computing are not only large parts of our everyday lives but also greatly affect how organizations do business. Information systems has moved from a strictly supporting role (e.g., IBM servers administered by two people, or Technical Support at a company) to a function that is interwoven within every aspect of an organization’s business – from its business models and strategies to its communication and project management. Not only has technological advancement impacted business across many levels, it has also allowed organizations to take on larger and more complex projects. This general shift toward large-scale projects has changed how organizations approach and implement such initiatives. Consequently researchers argue that small teams of IS professionals can no longer complete 1While in some quarters a distinction is made between IT and IS, for purposes of this paper the term ‘IT’ is used to include the information systems profession and its workforce. projects alone; projects now require the collaboration of diverse teams that include IS professionals as well as professionals with backgrounds in other disciplines (e.g. Castells 1996; Lee, Trauth & Farwell 1995; Noll & Wilkins 2002). Information Systems is an interdisciplinary field that crosses a broad range of academic areas and professional industries. It encompasses information technology, business, communications, economics, and global systems, and can be applied to industries such as consulting, finance, manufacturing, and software development (just to name a few). Because the field of information systems crosses so many academic and professional boundaries, developing a comprehensive curriculum for undergraduate courses can be a daunting task. In order to be successful beyond graduation, IS students need to develop a broad range of skills during their undergraduate studies that span the technology, business, and organization disciplines (Noll & Wilkins 2002). More specifically, students must not only have the ability to apply technical concepts to novel problems, but they also must be able to communicate effectively and work collaboratively in groups (Lunt et al 2008).2 Hence, in order to meet the needs of companies and prepare students for graduation, university classrooms are beginning to include group collaboration in IS curriculums (e.g., Johnson, Johnson & Smith 1998; Joseph & Payne 2003; Mercier, Goldman & Booker 2006). Group collaboration allows students to take on more complex, real-world tasks during a course while learning to collaborate with others (Bransford, Brown & Cocking 1999; Mercier, Goldman & Booker 2006). These group interactions help students learn interpersonal communication, task responsibility, and teamwork skills that are vital to their post-graduation work (Tan & Jones 2008). Given that no two people are alike, groups are typically comprised of people with diverse knowledge and viewpoints. Each individual brings a different demographic and functional background, as well as different past experiences and knowledge, to the group. In order to be successful, a group must find a way to pull out and build on the unique experiences and knowledge of each group member during the course of their project. Most research on group collaboration and group performance focuses on general characteristics of successful groups, such as open communication, group cohesiveness, trust, goals, etc. (e.g., Crown & Rosse 1995; Huang & Huang 2007; Mercier, Goldman, Booker 2006). Although each of these characteristics is important for ensuring group collaboration, they are all impacted by and tie into the idea that a group must first understand its distributed knowledge in order to tackle a complex project. Since groups are typically comprised of people with varying backgrounds and past experiences, it is important for group members to be able to recognize each other’s expertise so that the entire group can benefit from its wide range of knowledge. Communication, trust and cohesiveness are just some characteristics that contribute to a group’s ability to identify and use its distributed knowledge. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the effects of the collective awareness of a group’s specialization, coordination, and credibility, or transactive memory system (TMS) development, on a group performance. Specifically, this study examines how TMS are developed and maintained in undergraduate Information Systems student project groups at Carnegie Mellon University. This investigation contributes to a stronger understanding of the role of TMS in student project groups and helps to


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