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A plethora of challenges confronts the modern university system, many of which may be addressed with the increased adoption of virtual organization models. From 1999-2008 several universities around the world, initially from South Africa and the United States and later expanding to include participants from India, Mexico, Canada, and the West Indies, participated in an historic exploration of geographically distributed collaborative learning in a graduate seminar on globalization and the information society. The underlying goal of the project was to better understand the sociotechnical infrastructure required to support cross-national teaching and learning models and to build human capacity for a knowledge-intensive global economy. This paper asks one overarching research question: To what degree can a suite of commercially available web-based technologies be used to create a globally distributed, synchronous and asynchronous, collaborative learning environment for advanced graduate studies between South Africa and the United States? In answering the question, we review good practices and lessons learned from ten years of delivering the Globalization Seminar. Data for the study include participant observation, narrative student evaluations, and limited post hoc surveys of student participants. Our findings focus on three areas: 1) technical infrastructure; 2) social processes and pedagogy; and 3) administrative infrastructure. The study suggests that with the right technology, training, administrative support, and pedagogical approach, globally distributed virtual learning teams can become valuable learning communities.
Date of Conference: 5-8 Jan. 2010