A reflection on the first run of the Runestone Project at Tongji University: observations on cross cultural distributed teams vs face to face teams
China has long been an education import nation, so non-commercial and mutually beneficial collaborations between Chinese and Western universities are rare. Nevertheless, the School of Software Engineering at Tongji University in China has developed mutually beneficial collaboration with several Western universities; among them the most important partner is Uppsala University. In spite of the great challenges encountered by both sides during developing and conducting the collaboration due to their sharply contrasting cultural backgrounds and different educational and political systems, the collaboration between the institutions has been deepening and widening steadily and continuously. Following successful student and teacher exchange programs, the Runestone project was launched between Uppsala and Tongji Universities in 2009. It was taken as a triumph that the Sino-Swedish globally distributed Runestone teams fulfilled the course requirements. However, it was also noticed that some advantages of cross cultural collaboration in learning which were observed in the face to face teams were not realized in the Sino-Swedish Runestone teams. The students in the cross cultural face to face teams displayed evident complementarities in their work. This positive effect of the different cultural backgrounds seemingly disappeared when the students moved from the face to face teams to the globally distributed teams. This report records observations on students’ work in the two types of cross cultural teams. In addition, on the basis of these reflections on the experience, some practical measures and areas for research are suggested in the hope of helping improve such global collaborations in future.