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ME Course Wins ComputerWorld Honors



Professor Dutta with Mayor Willie Brown and Derrick Cogburn of U-M School of Information

Global Product Development, an innovative course that brings together engineering students from England, Korea, and U-M, has received 2002 Computerworld Honors.

The award is given to organizations “whose use of information technology has been especially noteworthy for the originality of its conception, the breadth of its vision, and the significance of its benefit to society,” according to the awards Web site ( ).

Nominated by Cisco Systems and SBC Communications, the course was developed in 2000 by U-M Department of Mechanical Engineering Professor Deba Dutta, who spent 18 months studying global product development in industry before launching his course.

“This is a reflection of the world outside. You are making products to be marketed and sold globally,” said Dutta. “When you produce a product that is not culturally compatible-I call it ‘culturally-sustainable’-it’s bound to fail.”

Students were divided into global teams, each having students from each of the three participating countries. Students met in Oxford for one week at the beginning of fall term 2001 and one week at the end of the term. In between, they relied on videoconferencing and other collaboration technologies commonly used in industry for the same purposes.

The class was taught in Oxford by Dr Janet Efsthathiou, in Seoul by Dr Jongwon Kim, and at U-M by Dutta. Guest lecturers from the Law School, Business School, Psychology, International Institute, and Anthropology lectured on topics such as culturally appropriate innovation, global branding, and global products liability.

Developing products for global consumption may not be as easy as it sounds. Beyond the obvious barrier of language and time zone, there are technological difficulties and, most importantly, cultural factors to consider.

“We’re all engineers and the technology knowledge level is the same, but the approach to product development is different. It is so because of the context and concerns that each group bring to the problem” Dutta said.

The course forces students to get beyond their cultural differences quickly by giving them a mission and a timeline, and also by giving them a stake in the outcome-their grade. For the Fall 2001 course, their goal was to develop a product using the motto, “We don’t make the things you use; we make the things you use Internet-ready.”

Among the projects submitted were a plant-care system that is accessible over the Internet for vacationing houseplant-owners, a pharmaceutical dispenser with a remote ordering system, and an electronic learning toy that can be reprogrammed as the child’s skills improve. For the Fall 2002 course, Dutta hopes to attract some venture capitalists who might be interested in actually marketing one or more of the projects.

In addition to the usual course evaluation filled out by students at the end of the term, Dutta distributed an additional survey that he hopes will help him to improve the course.

“We asked, ‘Has this course changed the way that you view the world?’ 100 percent of the students said yes. That is the only question where 100 percent of the students said yes, and that gets to the heart of it,” Dutta said. “These are our future leaders of society. When they get into leadership positions, I hope the experience they gained here will help them make decisions that have a much broader impact on society.”

The Computerworld Honor’s Program Chairmen’s Committee, which made the awards selections, includes 100 chairmen, presidents, and chief executive officers of leading information technology companies from around the world.

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