Paulus, T. M., Bichelmeyer, B., Malopinsky, M.P. & Rastogi, P. (2005). Power distance and group dynamics of an international project team: a case. Teaching in Higher Education 10(1), 43-55.

Paulus, Bichelmeyer, Malopinsky, Pereira & Rastogi (2005) clearly state that they intend to address the challenges of teams of international students working on project-based learning activities. The purpose of this study was to explore these challenges in the context of a graduate design team and “determine whether or how one component of culture, power distance, could provide insight into group dynamics.”

Paulus et al. (2005) take a case study approach and collect data through observation, interview and questionnaire data, and analyzed using an affinity diagram technique to organize. There seems to be sufficient data collected for their narrow focus because these teams are small and these methods would likely elicit insight into power distance stances in their interactions.

The participants are members of an elective course in graduate design at a large Midwestern university in the US, including both US and international students. They do not discuss the sampling procedure because it seems to be a convenience sample (the researcher’s own class).

Paulus et al. (2005) discuss the results in relation to two levels of power distance: low and high. The described the activities of the groups and cross-referenced with low or high power distance indicators to show where groups fell in different group dynamic topics, e.g. roles, decision-making, etc. They found that low power distance was revealed within group interactions of international students and high power distance was revealed in inter-group conflict between international students and US students.

Do I think the conclusions are valid? They apply the power distance construct consistently and provide descriptive examples to arrive at the conclusions, so it seems to be a valid interpretation.

I do not think this study makes a very important contribution to advancing knowledge in Instructional Design & Technology, but it is not without value. It is interesting to see the power distance construct applied in this context, but I am pretty familiar with the literature on power distance and this case study doesn’t reveal anything new about how the dynamics are at work in this context- it just shows them at work here. I see studies like this as interesting, even useful for reflection or maybe as a teaching aid, but not necessarily an important contribution.

What I did not like about this study: This type of study, the application of a widely used and well-studied construct to a new context, is just not my favorite kind of study. It reminds me of assigning literature students to apply a particular critical approach to a text of their choice- It’s fun, it’s interesting, but it’s often just rehashing- In some cases, the authors then do something interesting with it in the context, show some new complexity, contradiction or show how applying that construct led to the design of a new solution or alternative paradigms. But when the study simply says “Look! Here it is again! Boy, that construct sure does show up a lot and it’s ‘informative’ to see it here, too.” then it seems to be a case study in another sense than as a research methodology; this seems more like a case study as an example that could be very useful in teaching the concept of power distance.

This study does seem trustworthy. They triangulated their methods.

This study related to my research project directly because I am interested in international teams. It helped clarify for me that I am not interested in the specifics of team dynamics; I want to stay focused on design process, but I recognize team dynamics may be an important part of what happens.