Computer Science and Engineering: Learning to Work in
International and Multicultural Teams
Alberto Fernández-Bravo
, Ignacio García-Juliá
and Olga Peñalba
Escuela Politécnica Superior, Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, Carretera
Pozuelo-Majadahonda Km 1.800, 28223 Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain
Keywords: International Skills, Higher Education, Project-based Learning, Scrum.
Abstract: The world today is a global world. This means that our students, the professionals of the future, should be
able to cooperate and work together with people from other countries, with other languages and cultures. And
that implies much more than being proficient in English or other foreign languages, it implies developing a
high level of international and intercultural skills. To do so, new activities and approaches should be
incorporated into the official curricula of higher education institutions. In this paper, we show an initiative
carried out as part of the Software Engineering course, consisting of an international project developed in
teams made up of Dutch students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences and Spanish students from
Universidad Francisco de Vitoria. Scrum is the paradigm chosen for the development and monitoring of the
project, which has been developed using online collaborative tools.
It is increasingly common for universities with a long
tradition of face-to-face teaching to adapt their study
programs to specific experiences involving their
students, based on four factors: internationalization,
for a long time, as an integral part of their study
programs and always guided by their professors.
These virtual exchange initiatives are based on the
Communiqué of the Conference of European Ministers
responsible for Higher Education, Leuven and
Louvain-la-Neuve, 28-29 April 2009, which explicitly
states that "By 2020, at least 20% of people graduating
from the European Higher Education Area should have
completed a period of study or training abroad".
But international mobility alone does not
guarantee the development of linguistic or
intercultural competences of our students. A
"maturity" on the part of the student is necessary to
learn from the experience and from his or her capacity
to absorb the "culture" of the destination country.
Both of these needs can be met if the student works
on a project that has consequences for his or her
qualification and, in turn, does so in a collaborative
manner with students from other cultures, other
interests or other skills.
There are various initiatives in this area of online
training, some aimed at students, others at teachers,
and both on public or private initiative. Among these,
we can highlight:
Erasmus + Virtual Exchange EU public initiative
for students from various universities (Erasmus+
Virtual Exchange, n.d).
E-Tandem, a language learning method that
consists of two people communicating online in
order to learn each other's language
(ETandemLearning autonomous language
learning with a partner,n.d).
Teletandem, an online language exchange
programme, where foreign language students in
one country are paired with native speakers from
universities abroad where the target language is
spoken (World Studies Media Center, n.d).
Cultura, an intercultural project that connects
groups of students online to help them understand
each other's culture (Welcome to Cultura, n.d).
Evaluate is based on virtual exchange for teacher
training (Daswell, n.d).
Fernández-Bravo, A., García-Juliá, I. and Peñalba, O.
Computer Science and Engineering: Learning to Work in International and Multicultural Teams.
DOI: 10.5220/0010497803460352
In Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2021) - Volume 2, pages 346-352
ISBN: 978-989-758-502-9
2021 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
There are also other private initiatives that seek
the same results as the above: training by language
immersion, participating with other institutions in
specific projects, whether in language learning,
specific academic training or cultural exchange.
Higher education cannot ignore today's labour and
social trends:
Markets are constantly changing, with tight
budgets and fast time to market requirements.
There is a growing trend towards globalisation
where the ordinary is to run international projects
where customers, providers, and even
development teams are likely to belong to
different cultures and must rely on sophisticated
collaboration methods and communication
The need to have an interdisciplinary approach
considering the scale and complexity of the
problems we face.
All these factors together pose to our students a
much bigger challenge than the ones faced in the past,
when everything seemed better controlled, and
lectures and labs provided in our colleges were
deemed enough for our professional development.
Nowadays the situation is very different. The
number of IT companies that are able to progress
without a global vision is low, and the new IT
professionals must quickly adapt themselves to new
cultures and tools.
This project aims to provide our students with that
"training plus" that otherwise they would be required
to develop later, once they are involved in their
professional careers, within a more stressing context,
probably less friendly for reflection and where
mistake correction might be more difficult.
The Hague University of Applied Sciences (NL)
(from now on THUAS) and the Universidad
Francisco de Vitoria (SP) (from now on UFV) start
this pilot project with the aim of making it an ordinary
part of our programmes in one or two years, therefore
hoping that what today seems a cutting-edge
challenge soon becomes a standard part of our
academic proposals.
The project seeks to develop jointly the practical
contents of the Software-Engineering-related
disciplines, imparted in both THUAS and UFV
during the third year of their respective degrees.
For the time being, the alignment of the
theoretical training is left out of the scope of this
collaboration, which, despite being quite similar, will
remain specific to each institution. It is in the practical
part of the course where we see the opportunity to
establish an international collaboration experience
through the set-up of teams made up of THUAS and
UFV Software Engineering students.
Although the development of a project and having
to work in teams is in itself a challenge, the project
main goal is to help our students to develop conflict
management skills, learn to collaborate with different
cultures in an international environment, as well as
learning to organise and develop a project within tight
time limits and learning the challenges associated to
communicate with their peers through tools when
face-to-face interaction is not feasible.
In addition, our students will become familiar
with Agile methodologies, which are showing great
results in the industry today and are becoming the
common standard for development teams. The
adoption of these methodologies constitutes in itself
an asset for the students. Specifically, the selected
Agile methodologies for this activity are DevOps and
Scrum for THUAS, and Scrum (Schwaber and
Sutherland, 2020) for UFV.
2.1 Project Goal
The differential value of this project lies in providing
the students with a set of conditions that allows them
to understand the challenges and the opportunities
associated with working with people from different
countries. Both THUAS and UFV wanted to create for
our undergraduates an experience where future
professionals discover and acknowledge that even in
close countries like ours -both European and belonging
to the EU- there are cultural nuances that you need to
deal with if you want to collaborate successfully.
The project thus caters for this purpose, but it must
not neglect that we want to educate future IT engineers.
Regarding team collaboration, and in the spirit of
experiencing Agile practices, we agreed to take
advantage of the Scrum framework, not only for its
accredited success in helping to develop complex
products faster in various domains, but, as well, for its
effectiveness to structure non-hierarchical
collaboration. Together with commitment, focus and
courage, Scrum promotes the values of openness and
respect, which fitted perfectly with our purpose and
helped us to lay the foundations for proper interaction.
Finally, we also needed to specify what would be
the concrete aspects of the collaboration, it’s tangible
outcome. The project should reinforce software
Computer Science and Engineering: Learning to Work in International and Multicultural Teams
engineering concepts in the areas of architectural
design and modularity, testing, maintainability,
security and configuration management, among
others. In this respect, we agreed that the teams had
to develop a web application according to a set of
minimum requirements:
A readable and maintainable Web-based
application, developed in C#, and architected
according with the Model-View-Controller
(MVC) Web pattern (Fowler, n.d). The outcome
must be sufficiently documented, so that it could
be handed over to a different team to maintain and
evolve it.
The application must be accessible from different
devices according with responsive design
The application must support open authentication
through at least an external identity provider (i.e.
Google Identity Provider or FaceBook). It must as
well conform with General Data Protection
Regulation (GPDR, n.d) requirements in relation
with personal data.
Data persistence will be provided by means of a
SQL relational database, containing at least one
one2many and a many2many relationship and
supporting CRUD operations.
Version control of the code will be done in GIT
through the Azure DevOps environment
The students must develop automated test suites
and user acceptance tests to verify and validate the
application, being the quality of these tests a key
factor for evaluation.
These are technical or implementation aspects that
definitely affected more the Dutch participants who
are evaluated on software development as well as
Scrum practices. However, many of them need to be
taken into consideration by the Spanish students in
their product owner (PO) role (see 2.3.1).
2.2 Project Organisation
2.2.1 Preparations
In order to run the collaboration project smoothly, it
is important to have things planned ahead.
Firstly, as mentioned in section 2.3.1, it is of
utmost importance to ensure that both university
programmes are compatible and that both parties can
meet their goals and expectations.
Once this point is solved, it is important to agree
on the schedule and the set-up for the project. In our
case, we decided to run it over a ten-week period,
using one-week Sprints. Special attention must be
paid to make bank and mid-term holidays visible, as
they are likely to differ between both institutions and
capacity must be adjusted accordingly in the weeks
affected. If, as it was our case, the academic load
differs significantly, it is also important to make clear
the availability of the students with a lighter
programme involvement.
Material aspects, as infrastructure and tool
support, also deserve attention. In our collaboration
project, this was provided by THUAS through their
partner Delta-N (see 2.3.4).
It is important as well to agree on the tools and
approximate schedule to have coordination between
teachers, independent of the coaching sessions held
with the students. The breadth of available choices is
enormous, and it is not complicated to find a solution
that will fit your needs. We decided to use Slack to
have separate channels for each group and a general
one, which proved to be a satisfactory approach to
collect feedback from the various coaches and
coordinate efficiently among us. In addition, we had
meetings over Skype every other week.
2.2.2 Selection of Candidates
Though the Preparations section could cover this point,
we believe it deserves special attention, because a
wrong choice would affect not only to the participant
but as well to the other students in their team.
An obvious requirement is that the students must
be able to communicate comfortably in English. In our
opinion, B2 is a strict minimum, but the students will
take full advantage of the experience if they have a C1
level or higher. Please bear in mind that the participants
need to deal with cultural nuances frequently expressed
verbally. If they are not fluent, there is a high
possibility that they will become more introvert and the
overall team performance will be affected.
The students should have a sound academic
record (with particular attention to the competencies
involved) but even more important is to select
candidates with an attested sense of responsibility
who can commit to the success of the experience. The
project demands a significant effort, and some of our
students have to make their studies compatible with
part-time jobs, so they will need to manage their
schedule tightly and make sure they keep the pace of
the team.
Following the above requirements, 50 THUAS
students and 10 UFV students were selected.
2.2.3 Project Execution
The project spans over ten weeks of the term
CSEDU 2021 - 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
corresponding to the affected courses. The weekly
programme is as follows:
Week 1: This week is mainly devoted to team
allocation. Each university groups and balances the
candidates in various teams. Attention should be paid
to team size for effective collaboration. Scrum, for
instance, recommends no less than three and no more
than nine people per group for this purpose. We
decided to have teams composed of seven people
(two product owners
, one scrum master and four
Though the students will meet face to face, it is a
good idea that they get in touch with each other (e.g.
by exchanging a short clip where they introduce
themselves) as this will help to accelerate the team-
building phase during the second week.
This week can be used to hone the final
administrative arrangements, like creating the accounts
in the support systems, so that students can start
working smoothly right after the kick-off meeting.
Week 2: This week is when the students meet each
other, and we believe it is crucial for the success of
the project. It helps in generating a friendly
atmosphere among them, as well as among the
teachers (who should participate in the event at least
the first year you run the project).
We highly recommend having a face-to-face kick-
off meeting. Despite the convenience and breadth of
collaboration tools available today, we believe that
the opportunity to meet personally is irreplaceable,
not only because interaction around the project is
much easier when people sit together in a single
room. Having access to a whiteboard, stickers, and
other non-electronic devices certainly make ideas
flow more easily. The students will share their
proposals and will agree on which of them they will
carry forward. It is the time to put some flesh into the
vision and start building a first draft of the product
backlog that will drive their efforts.
Besides, it opens the opportunity to socialise
around breaks, and, if possible, allows for having a
specific social event (e.g. a casual dinner) where the
participants may talk beyond the academic purpose of
the collaboration.
In our case, two teachers travelled
to the Hague
with our students. This time proved to be an excellent
investment and helped the students to develop the
trust and commitment needed to feel more relaxed in
the coming weeks when they have roll-up their
sleeves and discuss the specifics of their projects.
Please see section 2.3.5 for clarifications on the decision
of having a dual PO role
Weeks 3-9: These weeks represent the core of the
project, where the students interact remotely using
several collaboration tools.
For practical reasons, it is better to have a fixed
development framework. In our case, THUAS
proposed using DevOps Azure, which is an excellent
environment for our courses. It allows the students to
have a single tool to support most of the activities
required. It provides product and Sprint backlogs,
which connect seamlessly to Sprint goals, acceptance
tests, etc. The team has access to a variety of boards
that allow them to track their performance. Finally, it
is very simple to deploy the increments for inspection
and approval by the stakeholders, helping the students
to familiarise with the reality of Continuous
When it comes to other collaboration tools, the
teams were free to choose whatever suit them better,
so some of them decided to hold meetings using
Skype, Zoom or Discord. The only relevant criterion
here is convenience. On the teacher’s side, we
decided to collaborate using Skype for video
conferencing and Slack for asynchronous
communication, as well as to record significant
findings through the project.
Apart from developing the code, this period is
where the students shall get familiar with Scrum
practices and events. At the very least, all students
must set aside some time to participate in Sprint
planning, review and retrospective meetings. Daily
Scrums are only mandatory for members of the
development team. Additional time must be reserved
for backlog clarification and grooming.
Even with four groups as we had, providing
constant support can be challenging for the teachers,
so it is good to agree on how many meetings they will
participate as stakeholders. In our opinion, it would
be advisable to support them on at least two review
and retrospective meetings. More than with planning,
the students tend to struggle with understanding value
and how it is delivered. They also need some
guidance to reflect on their performance and to
identify potential improvements to include in the
subsequent Sprint.
Week 10: This week is devoted to the presentation of
each product. The teams shall work on a slide deck,
where they must communicate the original vision, the
actual outcome and providing a roadmap on how they
would proceed if the project were to continue.
With this event, the students get the opportunity
to enhance and complete their training by showing
Computer Science and Engineering: Learning to Work in International and Multicultural Teams
their ability to defend and market their product,
beyond the technical, collaboration, and management
skills acquired during the project.
The exercise is held facing a committee composed
of THUAS and UFV teachers, together with Delta-N
representatives, thus providing the academic and
market views. The defence is public, and all the teams
can watch their contenders. The set-up could be
somewhat intimidating for some students. Therefore,
and to provide a meaningful experience for all of them,
we advise finding a balance between academic rigour
and positive atmosphere so that constructive feedback
flows to all participants. One way we found to achieve
this goal is by running a poll by the end of the event to
find out the application preferred by the audience.
2.3 Project Challenges
In the following sections we would like to comment
on various challenges that are worth considering
when establishing a similar collaboration project.
2.3.1 Course Alignment and Integration
One obvious challenge is to find a partner University
that has a compatible course/programme not only
regarding contents, but also having an academic
calendar which can be aligned with your own courses.
In our case, we were lucky to find THUAS, which
mostly met the aforementioned requirements. We
have a substantial syllabus overlapping that allows us
to consider and establish the collaboration. We both
introduce or develop Software Testing, Software
Evolution, Software Reuse, Configuration
Management and Agile practices to our students in
the same year and semester. For the latter, we both do
so with special attention to the Scrum framework and
managing the product backlog with user stories.
Taking into account the courses involved, we both
decided that the best way to establish the teams was
to have UFV students playing the product owner (PO)
role and THUAS students playing the Scrum Master
(SM) and Development Team (DT) roles, though we
had to make minor adaptations to adapt to the reality
and circumstances of the participants (see 2.2.4).
2.3.2 Credits Involved and Expectations
On THUAS side, they run this project integrating
several courses (IT Operations, Global Cooperation
and Process and Project Management) totalling up 15
ECTs. For us the only course involved is Software
Engineering II, accounting for 6 ECTs.
The academic load difference between the Dutch
and Spanish components is not a minor challenge for
a project spanning over ten effective weeks. The
Dutch students have a projected capacity of 25 man-
hour per week, while the Spanish would have 10 man-
hour per week.
This fact presents some challenges, but, if properly
exploited, they can enrich the team experience. The
problem might arise from the larger group, with a
higher dedication, expecting that their remote
colleagues should be as available as their local ones.
As we mentioned, the academic load is quite different
for the two groups, which turns out in Spanish students
not being as available as Dutch ones. In practice, this
meant that that the SM and DT need to adapt to the
PO’s schedule. On the other hand, POs need to be very
efficient in their interactions with the team if they do
not want to impact the Scrum team performance. Both
situations reflect quite well the environment the
students will find when they start working in a real
company, as these situations are commonplace.
The situation is also good for the students to flesh
out some of the theoretical notions they learn in their
courses. For instance, you have to perform with the
resources you are given, both in terms
of people and
time. Moreover, they see Tuckman's model for team-
development ideas in practice and funny concepts as
storming, norming, etc., acquire, all of a sudden, a
real meaning.
The project certainly demands an extra effort
from the participants, but the feedback got from them
is that the experience is certainly worth the pain.
2.3.3 Collaboration and Coaching Sessions
In our opinion, the main challenge here is to
accommodate schedules and to dimension capacity.
In our case, courses were held in the morning for
Dutch students and in the afternoon/evening for the
Spanish ones.
Once the project is running, for the most part,
collaboration among teachers can effectively be
carried out asynchronously, using tools such as Slack.
The main point is to be attentive to issues that may
pop up at each site and share it quickly so that the
corrective actions can be timely applied. Once the
teachers get familiar with the tools, you rarely need to
organise videoconferencing sessions, though you can
still run them if you deem it appropriate.
Collaboration tools allow you to decouple the
individual's schedules, which is not a minor point to
neglect, as it is not easy to find time slots when
everybody is available. Besides, all the teachers get a
record of the significant events in the project, which the
different parties can include in reports as they see fit.
Capacity, to give adequate support, should be
another concern, which largely depends on the
CSEDU 2021 - 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
maturity of the students and the number of groups
involved. It is true that juniors (third-year students)
are largely autonomous, but anyway we are dealing
with skills that are not usually honed until you have
some years of professional experience.
Sprint reviews and retrospectives offer an
excellent opportunity to coach the teams. The first
event focuses on how value is being incorporated into
the project, while the second is centred around the
performance of the collaboration within the group.
However, if you consider one-week Sprints as we
did, and eight teams, it might be unfeasible to attend
these events for each group and every Sprint, unless
there are a lot of teachers/coaches involved, which we
believe is not commonplace. Even for the parameters
considered, two or three teachers from each site are
needed to guarantee minimal support. It is therefore
important to foresee two or three milestones in the
project timeline where this support should prove more
effective and reserve some additional time around
them to make it work.
2.3.4 Tool Support
In a technical discipline like Software Engineering,
where part of the project is the development of a web
application, having the right infrastructure and tools
support for the students is critical.
In our project, one key factor for success was
counting on the THUAS partner Delta-N who
provided a Microsoft Azure DevOps platform for the
students plus lectures on the DevOps practices.
The Azure DevOps environment is a perfect
option for running this type of project. Besides
offering all the development tools, it provides a lot of
product management and collaboration tools. In
particular, for the POs, they could easily manage their
product backlogs. The environment allows them to
hierarchically structure the user stories, assign values,
priorities, collect estimations with the DT using poker
planning, etc.
2.3.5 Methodological Adaptations
The creators of Scrum emphasise that “Scrum’s roles,
events, artefacts, and rules are immutable and although
implementing only parts of Scrum is possible, the
result is not Scrum. Scrum exists only in its entirety and
functions well as a container for other techniques,
methodologies, and practices.”. These advised-against
adaptations are sometimes referred to as ScrumButs.
Although we wanted to implement the framework
as close as possible to its original design, we detected
that minor changes were required if we wanted to take
into account the circumstances of the participants.
In particular, when it comes to role descriptions,
the Scrum Guide dictates that the PO must be a single
person. Without questioning this point in real
organisations, we agreed, after some discussion, to
relax this requirement for pedagogical purposes. As
mentioned in 2.3.1, Dutch students play the SM and
DT roles and the Spanish ones the PO role. Putting
just one student amidst 6 or 7 peers could be
somewhat intimidating, especially when they have
not met before. Besides, Agile practitioners often
acknowledge that this type of collaboration is better
suited for professionals with significant experience, a
condition rarely met in undergraduates. Therefore, we
decided that two students would play the role but
ensuring that they interacted with a single voice with
the rest of the Scrum team. According to the observed
results, we can confirm that the change did not
negatively impact the project, neither in the ability to
deliver the product nor in the Scrum framework
learning experience.
2.3.6 Performance Assessment
Another challenge is how to evaluate the activity
academically, considering the way the project
integrates with the affected courses. It seems to us
that the easiest and fairest approach is to set clear
criteria that match the contents of the course(s)
involved and to decouple the appraisal from your
partner university as much as possible. We believe
that it is valuable to share those criteria and get
feedback from your peers, but, in the end, each site
needs to define how the activity helps the students to
attain the competencies associated to the course. In
our case, we decided to focus on three areas:
A general one, related to attitudes and
A second one, associated with the product owner
role, and
A final one, assessing the students' ability to
communicate what they had achieved.
As just mentioned, each site should be
independent to meet their local requirements.
However, we experienced the benefits of sharing our
criteria, and we got valuable feedback to articulate
our product owner assessment, aligning it better with
the Scrum guideline.
As we have seen in the previous sections, adapting to a
virtual learning process, like the one shown in this
collaboration does not come without challenges, not
Computer Science and Engineering: Learning to Work in International and Multicultural Teams
only for the students but for the faculty too. We have
mentioned different academic load, schedules, cultural
nuances, courses and programmes compatibility and so
on, add up to a context where none of the participants
communicates in their native language.
Our experience shows that a fluent
communication between teachers aimed to create a
friendly and respectful atmosphere among the
participants will remove most of these potential
obstacles. Such an environment soon triggers in the
students a sense of excitement that encourages them
to move forward despite the additional workload
associated with the project.
The feedback we get from our students is very
positive and encouraging to keep promoting this kind
of experience. For most of them, this is their first
experience working with Scrum in a highly
autonomous way. They were particularly encouraged
by the sense of responsibility of having to mould and
prioritise the product and see how it came to reality
as part of a collective effort.
An aspect that may not be so evident for them but
that to our minds has a lot of importance is that the
participants could experience in a controlled
environment many of the situations they will find
once they graduate. For instance, some of the groups
were affected by different circumstances, which
reduced their initial capacity, forcing the teams to
adapt on the fly to the new conditions. In some cases,
this meant that they had to lower their original
ambition, focusing on what was essential and giving
up other user stories, which might be fancy but not
that critical. Learning to identify the critical-to-
quality aspects of the product, to identify the right
criteria for prioritisation, as well as doing this
preserving the team cohesion, seems to us an
excellent take-away from the project.
Finally, another fact that is also telling is that once
the "experiment" was over, the students from both
universities made plans to visit their respective
countries and meet again, an unmistakable proof that
the relations between them were not only academic or
professional, but also aroused cultural interest.
The experience presented in this paper shows that
there are new approaches that can be used in the
training of the engineering students which are closer
to ways of working that they will find in their future
professional environments. These activities and
methodologies allow, on the one hand, to more easily
develop the competencies that the companies are
searching for and, on the other, to provide a more
motivating and engaging learning context for the
Specifically, we have focused on the international
skills necessary to work in a globalized world,
incorporating international projects (developed in
collaboration with students from other foreign
universities) as an evaluable activity in a Software
Engineering course. The learning experience and the
quality of the results obtained by the students show
that the proposal works. We are going on with this
initiative, incorporating metrics to obtain and analyse
quantitative results to validate it from a more
objective perspective.
We would like to thank professors Gerda V. Geld,
Loess Tromp and Job Habraken from The Hague
University of Applied Sciences for leading this
project together with us and for the opportunity to
carry out this experience for two consecutive years.
We would like as well to thank Mr Fokko Veegens
and his company Delta-N for the excellent support
and coaching provided with the DevOps Azure
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CSEDU 2021 - 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education