May 9, 2018

Teachers and students learn teamwork amidst diversity: 'This course ensures that good collisions happen'

How the renewed Academic and Research Plans shape learning at the University of Calgary
From left: Mea Wang, Frank Maurer, and Chad Saunders share in teaching the Software Entrepreneurship undergraduate course, a collaboration between the Haskyane School of Business and the Faculty of Science.
From left: Mea Wang, Frank Maurer, and Chad Saunders share in teaching the Software Entrepreneurship Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

As Mea Wang moves back and forth in Scurfield Hall 117 where she’s teaching the Software Entrepreneurship undergraduate course, her students have arranged themselves in groups to learn a critical component of success in the high-tech sector — teamwork.

A round table allows the students to sit in a circle, an apt symbol of the need to find complimentary perspectives while aiming for a common goal. They learn that working together is more than a strategy, it’s an advantage to create opportunities in a fast-paced world.

“The course is designed to foster entrepreneurial thinking through hands-on experience,” says Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, whose research focuses on the design and development of networking systems and algorithms. “It contributes to the development of our campus culture for innovation. Students are asked to step out of their comfort zone and their own domain of expertise.”

The combined course between the Haskyane School of Business and the Department of Computer Science practices what it teaches.

It brings together business students and computer science students who form cross-disciplinary teams to develop innovative projects — while merging the complementary talents of three teachers who bring their own experiences and perspectives to the front of the classroom.

“The university has a strong focus on entrepreneurial thinking and innovation, and this course lines up directly with the Academic and Research Plans,” says Frank Maurer, a computer science professor in the Faculty of Science and the head of the Agile Software Engineering (ASE) group at UCalgary, who is one of three teachers of the course. “Our goal is to equip the students to become entrepreneurs, where they can identify business needs and build the networks to help them be successful.”

Chad Saunders is an assistant professor at the Haskayne School of Business whose areas of expertise focus on the management and governance of innovation within organizations, leveraging social enterprises and the effective use of technology by professionals. As a part of the trio of teachers guiding students in the Software Entrepreneurship course, he says the course spurs innovations by recognizing real-world situations.

“We look at what industry demands of our students when they graduate, which is being able to work in diverse, interdisciplinary teams,” he says. “We know innovation comes from doing things differently and connecting with people you normally wouldn’t connect with, so this course ensures that good collisions happen — by bringing students together who would not have interacted otherwise.”

The course combines lectures and project work that includes research. It features guest speakers from software companies who have hands-on experience with entrepreneurship, as well as experts from the City of Calgary and the energy sector, where software is driving new capabilities. The project component requires student teams to develop a business concept around a software system.

While students learn the importance of teamwork throughout the course, the faculty members teaching it embrace the notion beforehand, hammering out their individual preferences and duties to arrive at a consensus. The three teachers meet before the beginning of term, each bringing their own vision for the course and proposing ideas to each other.

“As faculty members, teamwork for us is very important,” says Wang. “This course is cross disciplinary. Science and business have different cultures but we are open minded, we compromise and we work together. We talk things out and we explore, just like the students. Sometimes, we may even have the same collaboration issues as the students, but I think we are just more aware.”

Read more about the energized Eyes High Strategy or watch videos about its origins.

Read more about the energized Eyes High Strategy or watch videos about its origins.

Students, faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars at the University of Calgary move us forward every day in the work they do supporting our Eyes High Strategy 2017-2022. People in the Plans, a series appearing in UToday, explores how our people drive the success of the renewed Academic and Research Plans — the roadmaps to Eyes High.

The refreshed Academic and Research Plans are based on an integrated model, one that acknowledges the connection between teaching, learning and research. Each plan has three priorities with identified major goals and strategies. Both plans are connected through the value propositions of student experience and impact, and share a common priority of driving innovation. The five priorities included in the Academic and Research Plans will drive human, capital and financial resource allocations over the next five years at the university.