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Virtual Work: A new skill needed in a post-pandemic world


The “new normal” of virtual and remote working for educators, students, and workers around the world has emerged and from the looks of it, it is here to stay. Taking the place of in-person classes and meetings, professors had to put their creative thinking to work to come up with ways to keep students engaged in their now virtual classrooms. ME 452: Design for Manufacturability is one of those classes and is taught by Kazu Saitou, a professor of mechanical engineering.

“The pandemic will not go away soon, and neither will remote collaboration. Effectively working as a part of a remote team has become an essential professional skill for many engineering firms,” said Saitou.

Pre-pandemic ME 452 was taught as a traditional design course with in-person lectures, a group project based on physical products, and in-person presentations, so physical presence on campus was required just like most pre-pandemic courses. As the pandemic hit and classes moved to a fully remote design Saitou, like the rest of the university, had to make adjustments to keep the quality of the course and lessons intact. 

“Recent comeback of domestic manufacturing after decades of off-shoring is posing a serious shortage of mechanical engineers with the knowledge of designing products for economical mass production in small hardware startups as well as large global manufacturers. This course fills that need,” said Saitou.

Students adapted to working remotely in groups creating their semester-end projects and presenting them virtually as well. This led to a collection of presentations on Youtube for classmates and other peers to view. In Fall 2021, a virtual “conference” was started for project presentations using Gather Town, an online space for virtual gathering and collaboration, to accommodate and enable the interaction of 100 students taking the course.   

These types of virtual gatherings and working groups are something seen not only in education but in industries of all types across the globe. Virtual work is here and is a skill U-M ME students are learning to use along with the tools to prepare them for a career in the growing field of manufacturing.

Faculty featured in this story