Global Teamwork “In the Cloud” Gives UMass Amherst Students a Competitive Edge

Filed in Featured, Innovation, Student Success by and on April 29, 2014

Photo by Zinj GuoPhoto by Zinj Guo

Since 2011, over 70 UMass Amherst undergraduate students have collaborated with peers from universities in Ireland, Egypt, and Russia as part of Effective Decision Making in the Age of Cloud Computing, a Biology course focusing on virtual teamwork in complex bio-technology or bio-medical organizations around the globe.

Students work together in virtual teams to review class materials and complete assignments. Teams consist of students from each university (U.S., Ireland, Egypt, Russia). The key foci of this class are to:

  • develop effective decision-making skills; and
  • gain an understanding of cross-cultural differences at play in international teams.

“In order to succeed, students must understand [..] the cultural and communication differences [among] team members,” says Gino Sorcinelli, the faculty member teaching the class at UMass Amherst. “Working in a virtual team environment is a learned skill and is important for students to grasp before going into the real world,” adds Sorcinelli.

Preparing Students for the Global Job Market

The cross-cultural exposure and issues students negotiate in this class provide them with a competitive edge upon graduation, preparing them for today’s global job market. With a small enrollment capacity (maximum 12 students), using advanced cloud technology, and assignments focusing on workplace decision-making, the ‘Cloud Course’* as it is informally known, is a close simulation of a real-work atmosphere. UMass Amherst students meet face-to-face twice a week, but communicate with team members and complete class requirements exclusively online.

“I believe that discussing my experience in the ‘Cloud Course’ during my interview helped me get my [full-time] job. The skills I practiced in class are directly relevant to my day-to-day work in the office,” says Jesse Moskowitz, 2013 UMass Amherst Graduate, Biology Major and member of the Commonwealth Honors College.

From a broader perspective, the ‘Cloud Course’ internationalizes students’ undergraduate experience, supplementing any study-abroad program they may choose. The class also provides a case in point for successful, innovative uses of instructional technology in international higher education.

Using Cloud Technology to Transform Students’ Learning Experience

Students use a cloud-based suite for all aspects of the class, including connecting with group members via email or video conferencing and sharing and submitting assignments. All class work is completed ‘in the cloud,’ which provides easy access to shared documents and resources from connected devices from different parts of the world.

Effective Decision Making in the Age of Cloud Computing was first offered in Spring 2011 in partnership with Murray Scott from the National University of Ireland.

As of Spring 2014, teams are comprised of students in areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and Business from UMass Amherst, National University of Ireland, Galway (Professor Murray Scott), American University in Cairo, Egypt (Professor Amr Badr El Din), and Novgorod State University, Russia (Professors Rinat Zalilov, Elvira Kaminskaya, and Viktor Lisitin). One or more Universities in Taiwan will likely join the class in Fall 2014.

UMass Amherst offers instructors support for setting up a variety of technology in their classes. The goal is to provide interactive tools and solutions to enhance the instructional and learning experience for all members of the campus community.

For more information about the ‘Cloud Course’ at UMass Amherst, visit or contact the UMass Amherst IT Communications team at


“I’m gaining international experience, which you only get if you study abroad. Even going abroad wouldn’t give the same level of quality that this class offers.” – Lindsay Parenteau, UMass Amherst undergraduate Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Major, Class of 2014


*Cloud technology refers to online services that provide convenient, on-demand access to shared data, storage, and online resources (The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing, 2011). Google Apps for Education, including Gmail and Google Drive, is an example of cloud technology.

Mell, Peter and Timothy Grance. The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (Special Publication). Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology, September 2011, available from

Photo Credit

The feature photo for this article is by Zinj Guo.

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