Team debriefing session September 9, 2008


A Collaboration Process to Align Computer Education and Engineering Workforce Needs

Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, and the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW)

Management Team Debriefing/Reflection Session---September 9, 2008




Compiled by the C-PACE External Evaluation Team

Science and Mathematics Program Improvement (SAMPI)---Western Michigan University

Background.  C-PACE is a community-building project funded by the National Science Foundation to develop a collaborative process for engaging business, industry, and post-secondary education institutions to better understand and align computing education with the knowledge and skill development needs of the engineering workforce.  At approximately mid-point in the project, members of the management team gathered to formally reflect on their work completed to date.  The goals for the 1.5 hour session were to identify major strengths and limitations/challenges of the program and "lessons learned" about various elements of the project.  For each category of discussion, individual participants were given opportunities to make comments, which do not necessarily represent consensus among participants---the comments come from one or more individuals.  Below is a summary of comments.  A more detailed report is available from project coordinators.

Strengths/Accomplishments of the Project

  • Successful piloting of the employer interviews/surveys.
  • Wiki as a communication tool for project staff/management team.
  • Strong partnership with CSW.  Important as a "sounding-board."  Provides a perspective outside the "academic framework."
  • Partnership is strengthened by having both MSU and LCC actively participating.
  • Cohesiveness of the collaborative.  Pooling of strengths across partner members; allows for dialog and thoughtful planning and implementation; subgroups effective in completing tasks; a willingness exists to address issues and resolve them; magnitude of the project has been a challenge, but has been effectively addressed through the collaborative nature of the partnership.
  • Successful establishment of Advisory Board; productive first meeting and subsequent support for project activities by Board members; this element of the project has exceeded expectations.

Challenges/Limitations of the Project

  • Start-up was a lengthy process---Everything takes longer than you expect.  It took a long time to "get on the same page with everyone."  "Ramp-up" took longer than expected.  Project boundaries had to be established.  Common language had to be identified.  Unanticipated problems/issues disrupt time lines.
  • Answering the question, "Is C-PACE a model for other projects?"  Could someone else assemble the necessary elements to make it happen?
  • Sustaining the enthusiasm of the Advisory Board will be important and challenging---need to find ways to keep them actively engaged.
  • Is the time frame for collecting and analyzing the feedback adequate?

Lessons Learned

About the value and effects of the C-PACE partnership

  • Each partner brings skills and resources to the project. There are a good mix of perspectives, knowledge, skills, and networks represented in this partnership.  A willingness to share ideas and resources strengthens the partnership.
  • Establishing an effective partnership takes time because of different perspectives.
  • Effectiveness of the collaborative was reached when core outcomes and implementation strategies were well understood by everyone.
  • Being mindful of the needs of all partners strengthens the partnership.

About collaborating to develop/pilot project materials.

  • Establishing a "rhythm" takes time, but once there is agreement, finalizing the pilot materials is expeditious.
  • There was an effective system for allowing everyone to review and provide input into the brochure.  This allowed different perspectives to be heard and consensus-building to take place.  Final materials were then prepared by one of the partners.
  • Collaborative data collection instrument development took a lot of time.  Are there more efficient ways to accomplish this task?

About connecting with and conducting interviews/surveys with appropriate businesses, agencies, and organizations.

  • There is a wide spectrum of who is considered an engineer---not all who are considered engineers fit traditional categories or characteristics.
  • There is great value in broadening the number and kinds of participants.
  • Engineers must be included in the interviews.  Their perspectives are very important.  Need more than just HR perspective.
  • Interviewees seem very willing to share their ideas, insights, and perspectives.
  • Nature of the interviews were quite variable across sites.
  • It was very useful to involve the Advisory Board in helping connect the project staff with interviewees---they provided an entre to the participants.
  • It would be useful to try to determine why employers were so willing to participate and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

About the role and value of the Advisory Board.

  • Maintaining Board member enthusiasm for the project will be important for on-going and future efforts.  The Advisory Board can make a major contribution to the project if Board members are actively engaged.
  • Advisory Board members provide helpful insights into their businesses, organizations, and agencies. 
  •  Establishing an advisory board was one of the factors in the slow start-up of the project---turned out to be time-consuming. 

About engineering and computer education.

  • Employers place a high premium on critical thinking among their employees.
  • Although a key focus of this project is determining needed "technology" skills, there is also interest in having students prepared with "soft tools"---communications, team work, etc.
  • Students/employees must know which tools to choose for a particular situation.
  • Engineering courses may need to be a mix of computing and other skills, including modeling.
  • Some interviewees have identified "design for manufacturing" as an important component of preparation of students.