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Agile methodology in the digitisation process of educational activities

ABSTRACT

Most organizations, during the emergency phase, limited themselves to replacing frontal teaching with remote teaching systems by adapting technologies created to manage teleconferences. It was soon realized that they were utterly inadequate to ensure routine business management.
Indeed, the digitization of educational activities requires a radical and paradigmatic change in processes, methodologies and technologies.
People and organizations are at the heart of this change; as a whole, they face digital development projects in increasingly uncertain, volatile, complex, and ambiguous conditions, trying to maintain competitiveness and grasp the changes in the market.
Teams across the value chain – from strategy and management to multimedia content production and related software – need to move faster and faster and experience many changes along the way.
Traditional methodologies, tools, workflows, and strategies need something new, adaptive, and iterative, something agile.
This paper intends to analyze, also by referring to the authors’ actual experiences, the theoretical and operational dimensions of the use of the Agile methodology in the digitization processes of educational organizations, in the design and development processes of e-learning content, in digital learning places, and in education communication processes.

INTRODUCTION

The pandemic event, as known, caused a substantial acceleration of the digitization processes of the economy.
These changes have particularly affected service companies and service functions in industrial companies, massively introducing forms of work and work organization, such as smart-working, which until recently were utterly residual.
In this context of radical economic and social change, the digitization of educational and training activities represents a strategic opportunity for the development of the e-learning sector but, at the same time, a survival strategy for many organizations.
The training companies that have been able to grasp and correctly interpret this phenomenon have observed extraordinary growth and capitalization rates increase.
On the other hand, company organizations, especially those of considerable size and with a high level of diffusion throughout the territory, through the digitization of educational processes, have been able not only to keep their internal training programs unchanged but also to build through online training a mechanism of cohesion and organizational glue. In a sense, e-learning represented an alternative to corporate culture, capable of supporting organizational cohesion even in those organizational contexts, such as those of service companies where suddenly all employees have found themselves working from home (Recchioni et al. 2021).
In this scenario, many organizations have embarked on a process of digitization of training by starting change processes that have not always produced the desired results. The transition to digital involves very complex systemic and radical changes that cannot be faced with working methods that have long been considered obsolete in other contexts.
In this scenario of strategic and organizational change, the agile methodology represents one of the few approaches to consider when the digital transformation process appears complex or when faced in complex and large organizations.
Furthermore the agile methodology finds application not only in the digitization processes of training systems, such as during the design and customization of LMS systems but also during the creation of the training course catalogue.

AGILE

Knowing how to navigate uncertainty is essential to survive in today’s ever-changing digital economies. In this revolutionary scenario, it is increasingly common to hear people talking and writing about agile methods, agile frameworks, agile practices and agile techniques to support and manage change processes. Agile is, therefore, not just a methodology; it is a way of behaving. It is a culture, a mentality, and a philosophy of managing change (Gannod 2018).
But what are the origins of the agile methodology?
In February 2001, at The Lodge at Snowbird ski resort in the mountains of Utah, seventeen software developers met to discuss alternative ways and find common ground for building software. What emerged was the Agile “Software Development” Manifesto (Fowler 2001).
The roots of the Agile movement can be traced back to the 1930s and 1940s at Bell Labs and Toyota, but the work at the Snowbird in 2001 proved to be a tipping point. The manifesto first coined the term Agile for software development and explicitly laid out four key values (tab. 1) and 12 operating principles that, since then, have underpinned the Agile mindset.

Table1. Agile manifesto

Fifteen years later, Agile has become a global movement expanding well beyond the software industry;
The Agile methodology addresses the uncertainty of change processes through the incremental work carried out by self-organized and motivated teams that adapt and respond to change.
Innovation and innovative processes represent the heart of the agile methodology.
The key idea is to have an incremental and iterative approach instead of in-depth planning at the beginning of a digital project (Balaji and Sundararajan 2012). Agile methodologies are open to changes in requirements and encourage constant feedback from end-users/customers.

figure 1. Waterfall vs Agile

In an Agile lifecycle, shown in Figure 1, there is no strict sequence of events to follow as the classic waterfall model has. The phases of the agile approach are flexible and constantly evolving, and some times parallel and could be represented as follow:

  1. Requirements analysis: involves many meetings with the managers, stakeholders, and users to identify the business requirements. The team collects quantifiable, relevant, and detailed information, i.e., who will use the product, and how;
  2. Planning: once the idea becomes viable and feasible, the team splits it into smaller pieces of work, prioritising and assigning them to different iterations;
  3. Design: the team looks for a solution for the requirements, together with a test strategy;
  4. Development: the features are implemented;
  5. Testing: the produced code is tested against the requirements to make sure the software is solving the customer needs;
  6. Deployment: the product is delivered to the customers to be used. But this is not the end of the project. It can be only a partial delivery, and new requirements could come.

Agile is a “Work Style” that includes the following principles:

  • Flexibility
  • Work closely to the customer
  • Final solution must meet business needs
  • Postpone decisions on details until the last moment

During the last 20 years Agile has given birth to several sub-methodologies to be used during an organisational change process and for managing specific digitalisation project. An example is represented by Scrum and by eXtreme Programming (XP)(Cervone 2011). Scrum and XP are really useful in the digilitasation process off educational activites.
Scrum is probably the most innovative and useful Agile methodology to deal with complex adaptive problems while offering products of the highest possible value of productivity and creativity.
It focuses on project management in situations where it is difficult to plan, with mechanisms of “empirical process control”. The feedback loops constitute the core element of Scrum and the activities are done by a self-organising team that develops the content (software, learning object or media) with “sprints” increments, starting with planning and final review. Then, the product owner decides which backlog items should be developed in the next sprint. Team members coordinate their work in a daily stand-up meeting. One team member, the Scrum master, is in charge of solving problems that might stop the team from working efficiently (Schwaber and Beedle 2002).
EXtreme Programming (XP) focuses on best practices for content development. Extreme programming (abbreviated to XP), an English expression for extreme programming, is a software development methodology that emphasizes writing quality code and responding to changing requirements. It belongs to the family of agile methodologies, and as such, it prescribes iterative and incremental development structured in short development cycles. Other key elements of XP are

  • Pair programming,
  • The systematic use of unit testing and refactoring,
  • The prohibition of programmers from developing unnecessary code,
  • The emphasis on clarity and simplicity of the code,
  • The preference for non-hierarchical management structures, and
  • The importance is given to direct and frequent communication between developer and client and between developers themselves.

These are the keywords of XP: planning game, minor releases, metaphor, simple design, testing, refactoring, pair Programming, collective ownership, continuous Integration, 40-hour workweek, onsite customers, coding (Lindstrom, Jeffries 2003).

Digitalization of educational activities

The digital transition process of educational activities is particularly complex and involves some paradigmatic changes. Some of the most important are included in the table.

Table 2. Digital evolution of traditional education: from physical place to digital space

Face to face education and training processes belong to the traditional domain of service companies, while digital education and training belongs to industrial ones.
In face to face education, the didactic unit is based on face-to-face lessons. In digital education, the didactic unit is represented by a digital learning object.
The face to face lecture is “unique” and “unrepeatable”; the learning object is “unique” but standard. Using a metaphor, between a face to face lecture and a digital learning object, there is the exact difference between a theatrical performance or a live concert and a film or an mp3.
This fundamental difference between traditional and digital education determines other equally important ones.
In the traditional lesson, the strategic focus on which the quality of the service depends is on delivery and, consequently, largely depends on the teacher’s performance. This paradoxically determines that, although the traditional education is unequivocally a service, with a natural intrinsic orientation to the user/customer, the teacher/educator is naturally oriented on focusing all the attention on the content of the lecture. So traditional education is one off the few case where the strategic focus in on the product (the lecture) and not on the student (the costumer). Everything revolves around the lesson and the teacher around it.
In e-learning, on the other hand, the quality of the education project depends on the planning and development phases of the educational content, where the teacher, in most off the cases, assumes the utterly different role of “content expert”.
The didactic quality will depend on the pedagogical/educational model chosen and not on the teacher’s skills. The strategic focus shifts to the digital educational design and development that should be based on identifying the educational / training needs off the single student.
The level of granularity of the digital teaching units combined with the capacity of the learning monitoring systems (so-called learning analytics) allows the creation of individual educational paths based on the specific user learning needed.
These are just a few examples of the radical changes underlying the digitalisation process of educational activities. This change process must be faced with an adequate methodology and governance approach for the project. Due to the complexity and vastness of the changes and the necessary operational actions, a traditional approach to implementing a new information system would prove to be wholly inadequate.
It is, therefore, a question of combining a systemic and multidisciplinary approach with the need to complete the change process in a limited time frame, keeping costs and quality control of the project.

AGILE DIGITALISATION OF EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES

As a result, as discussed above, the digitalisation process of educational organisation has to be focused on the student (marketing and communication, satisfaction, education results) and through an efficiently content design process (multimedia, software platform, usability)
The idea of designing with the “student at the centre” means the e-learning product is built to satisfy learner needs:

• “Using” the teacher as a content expert and instructional designer as an enabler that transforms the content with the learner in mind
Adopting digital marketing process and artificial intelligence for improving products and continuously observing the student behaviour with the goals of “total quality”
Controlling the quality.

In this sense, Agile (Scrum) represents the evolution of total quality processes.
When education activities are transformed from a service to a product, we need this methodology for implementing the total quality logic – zero errors – where each course component is built in this way.
In this perspective, the student can only learn.
This approach also allows digitalising, transforming, and delivering learning content as customized products. Tailor-made training courses are specifically tailored to the needs and structures of the organization. This way, the company can benefit directly from this bespoke course. And because the course is specifically designed for a particular organization, it is cost and time-efficient.
When all the content was made with Agile – learning pills made for total quality – in the training sessions, the learning system interprets the user data. It articulates and reassembles the paths in a customized way.
But how do you introduce the agile methodology into an educational organization?
We can summarize it in 6 main steps (Table 3).

Table 3. Agile methodology introduction main steps.

Only after these steps, we can move to introduce the Scrum methodology, defining the roles of the Scrum team (here in synthesis)

  • The Product Owner or customer Spokesperson is responsible for the work done by the Scrum Team. The tasks of the Product Owner are essential to serve the Stakeholders, optimise product value and manage the Product Backlog. It there must always be present.

• The development team, responsible for the product’s release, takes care of working on the product by developing the required characteristics. They serve the product owner, manage themself and provide the project evolution.
• Scrum Master plays the role of facilitator for the team and makes sure that the methodology is applied. The tasks of the Scrum Master are to serve the Product Owner and the Development Team, manage the Scrum process and remove impediments.

CONCLUSIONS

Agile is a style of work, in the belief that “work is an activity and not a place”.


Over the years, we have been able to experiment with the agile methodology in many diversified design contexts, both in the more traditional ones of software development and, with significant results, in the e-learning field. The contribution made by this approach extends and goes well beyond the desired results in the change project, contributing or activating irreversible processes of profound improvement of the organization as a whole, up to the point of modifying the system of values that are at the basis of the culture of an Organisation.
Agile constitutes a powerful combination agent at the disposal of organizations capable of supporting all instances of change, even revolutionary, prompted by the digital revolution.

REFERENCES
  1. Albeanu G. , Agile CMMI for e-Learning Software Development, Carol I National Defence University Publishing House, Conference proceedings of »eLearning and Software for Education« (eLSE), page 135-142, 5/2009
  2. Balaji S., Sundararajan M.. “Waterfall vs. V-Model vs. Agile: A comparative study on SDLC.” International Journal of Information Technology and Business Management 2.1 (2012): 26-30.
  3. Bishop J. , The Role of an Agile and Lean Project Management Toolkit for Assisting E-Learning Project Management Teams in Multi-National Organisations: Accounting for Inter-Organisational Architecture, Culture, Agility, and Change in Legacy Systems, in Contemporary Challenges for Agile Project Management, K. Bechkoum, IGI Global, 2022
  4. Cervone, H. Frank, Understanding agile project management methods using Scrum, OCLC Systems & Services: International digital library perspectives, 2011
  5. Dewi D.A., Muniandy M., The agility of agile methodology for teaching and learning activities, 2014 8th. Malaysian Software Engineering Conference (MySEC), pp. 255-259, doi: 10.1109/MySec.2014.6986024, 2014
  6. Dodero, J. M., García-Peñalvo, F. J., González, C., Moreno-Ger, P., Redondo, M. A., Sarasa-Cabezuelo, A., & Sierra, J. L., Development of e-learning solutions: Different approaches, a common mission. IEEE Revista Iberoamericana de Tecnologias del Aprendizaje, 9(2), 72-80, 2014
  7. Doherty I., Agile Project Management for E-learning Developments, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education / Revue Internationale Du E-Learning Et La Formation à Distance, 24(1), 91-106, 2010
  8. Fowler M., et al., The agile manifesto. Software development, 2001
  9. Gannod, G.C., et al., Establishing an agile mindset and culture for workforce preparedness: A baseline study, 2018 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE). IEEE, 2018
  10. Lindstrom, L., Jeffries, R., Extreme programming and agile software development methodologies, In IS management handbook, Auerbach Publications, 2003
  11. Lisi, M., Recchioni M., Roma I., How individual learning models and didactic methodologies will change after the coronavirus pandemic: the case of concurrent engineering, 2021
  12. Owen, H., Dunham, N., Reflections on the use of iterative, agile and collaborative approaches for blended flipped learning development. Education Sciences, 2015
  13. Recchioni M., Gamification nei processi olistici di sviluppo dell’apprendimento on line, Gamification lab Magazine, 2018
  14. Recchioni M., Formazione e nuove tecnologie, Carocci 2001
  15. Salza P., Musmarra P., Ferrucci F., Agile methodologies in education: A review. Agile and lean concepts for teaching and learning, 2019
  16. Schwaber, K., Beedle, M., Agile software development with Scrum (Vol. 1). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002
  17. Tesar M. , Sieber S. , Managing Blended Learning Scenarios by using Agile e-Learning Development, IADIS International Conference e-Learning, 2010
  18. Zubov, I. K. Gorin A. A., Shahgeldyan K. I., Berlova N. V, The Introduction of E-Learning Technologies Using Agile Software Development Methodology, International Science and Technology Conference “EastConf”, 2019

ESA Technology Development Element

Highlights 2022

Customer’s request
ESA needs a new and original look&feel to convey the result gathered by one of its flagship technology development program: the Technology Development Element (TDE). The last two editions of it were produced as digital brochure, but with old fashioned style that couldn’t help ESA to provide the feeling of great innovation that the program is indeed bringing to Europe and beyond.
Moreover since ESA Ministerial 22 was next to come, the customer also needs a printed version of the brochure that could provide the same innovation mood that will be implemented for its digital edition. Last but not least, since TDE is a TEC program, the customer asked also to produce a layout able to be included in the same identity hierarchy.

Our solution
ReMedia proposes, for the 2021 edition, to create a new style for the brochure that – while recalling the new TEC look & feel, could show a more inspiring image of TDE and its tangible support to innovation. To achieve this goal, we suggest to have a digital edition with animations and few simple interactions enhanced by some 3D design items to provide a visionary perspective of the projects realised with the support of this program.

Giovanni D’Ottavio

Born and raised in Rome, from a young age I have always played sport, which has presented me many challenges that have tested me and shaped me into the person I am now.

I have always enjoyed meeting people and engaging with them, which has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.

I look forward to the new challenges that will arise with the ReMedia team!

How individual learning models and didactic methodologies will change the Coronavirus pandemic: The case of concurrent engineering

ABSTRACT

Numerous scientific research studies have addressed the impact of social interaction processes on the mechanisms that regulate the levels of individual learning and on teaching methods.
The role of social interactions is particularly evident in concurrent and collaborative environments, such as the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), developed and successfully operating at ESTEC since 1998.
Concurrency and collaborative approaches are as much cultural as social mind-sets and a key factor in the success of concurrent engineering practices lies in establishing the right alchemy between technical challenges and social interactions.
The paper analyzes the effects on people’s processes and learning levels as a result of the transformations caused by the digital revolution and the global pandemic, highlighting some potentially positive evolutions.

INTRODUCTION

Numerous scientific research studies have addressed the impact of social interaction processes on the mechanisms that regulate the levels of individual learning and on teaching methods.
According to these theories, individual learning, considering the human being, in a systems theory perspective, as a living system dynamically interacting with its environment, does not depend only on individual factors [such as “motivation to learn” (Mo), “emotional convolution” (Em) and “memorization processes” (Me)], but also on the effects of “social interaction” (Is).
The level of individual learning (Ai) depends on the multiplicative combination of individual factors and social interactions:

Ai = (Mo, Em, Me) * Is

As shown by A. Bandura [1] in his studies on individual learning processes and on the impacts from mutual observation between individuals, learning depends on those contents of knowledge and technical skills (“know-how”) that people acquire by observing others. In other words, learning is based, “inter alia”, on strong competing social interactions.
The role of social interactions is particularly evident in concurrent and collaborative environments, such as the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), developed and successfully operating at ESTEC (Fig.1).

Figure 1: ESTEC concurrent Design Facility

Concurrency and collaborative approaches are as much cultural as social mind-sets and a key factor in the success of concurrent engineering practices lies in establishing the right alchemy between technical challenges and social interactions.
Nowadays we are faced with the need to reformulate our theories and best practices as a result of two paradigmatic and disruptive changes: the digital revolution on one side and the global social-economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the other. Both move in the same direction of change, amplifying its effects: virtualization/remotization of learning and working interactions and social distancing.
From a broad perspective, the pandemic, with all its tragic effects, is just accelerating an already existing societal transformational process: the progressive dematerialization and virtualization of many productive activities, mainly in the service sector.
The challenge we are now facing is that of extending this paradigm to activities highly dependent on intellectual interactions and knowledge-intensive: engineering, medicine, and education.

BASIC CONCEPTS AND DEFINITIONS

It might be useful to better define the meaning of three terms often used in this paper and to provide some definitions.
Concurrent engineering, as already stated, is a technical approach and mindset even before being a methodology. Concurrency means looking at the engineering of a product, system, or service with a truly systemic and holistic view, considering all aspects of the life-cycle: design, development, production, operations, logistics, and evolution (or retirement/disposal).
From a methodological standpoint, Concurrent Engineering (CE) emphasizes the parallelization of tasks (i.e. performing tasks “concurrently”) in the development of a new product and hence it is also sometimes called simultaneous engineering.
With its through-life perspective, Concurrent Engineering represents a drastically new paradigm shift as compared to the “traditional” engineering approach (also known as “waterfall” or “over-the-wall” approach), where tasks were performed sequentially and teams worked separately, in isolated “silos” (Fig.2).

figure 2: “Waterfall” vs. “Concurrent” engineering process

Collaboration among people is key to the success of a concurrent engineering process.
CE is intrinsically based on multidisciplinary teams, sharing a common teamwork culture, realizing good communication in a collaborative, co-operative environment and, we could even say, sharing the same empathy towards a common vision.
The role of collaboration in all contemporary industrial processes is becoming so important that a specific science, Collaborative Engineering, was developed as a practical application of collaboration sciences to the engineering domain.
Collaborative Engineering is defined by the International Journal of Collaborative Engineering as a discipline that “studies the interactive process of engineering collaboration, whereby multiple interested stakeholders resolve conflicts, bargain for individual or collective advantages, agree upon courses of action, and/or attempt to craft joint outcomes which serve their mutual interests.”.
It should be evident that Concurrent Engineering and Collaborative Engineering are not overlapping concepts and approaches, but that they support each other and are closely related.
The practical convergence of the “concurrent” view, more focussed on industrial processes, and the “collaborative” one, more focussed on people and human interactions, is in a Concurrent Design Facility (CDF).
The concurrent engineering approach is based on five key elements:

  • a process
  • a multidisciplinary team
  • an integrated design model
  • a facility (CDF)
  • a software infrastructure

It is in the physical facility, the CDF, that the non-obvious blend between technical and human factors has to successfully be realized.
This is quite evident in the definition of Concurrent Engineering that we have adopted for the Concurrent Design Facility is: “Concurrent Engineering (CE) is a systematic approach to integrated product development that emphasizes the response to customer expectations. It embodies team values of co-operation, trust, and sharing in such a manner that decision making is by consensus, involving all perspectives in parallel, from the beginning of the product life-cycle.”

COGNITIVE DYNAMICS, HUMAN INTERACTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOUR IN PRESENTIAL VS DIGITAL COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENTS

The digitization of workplaces involves some notable changes that we could even define paradigmatic.  One of these is undoubtedly represented by the transformation of the physical workplace, based on the “atomic” dimension of reality, into a digital workspace where “places” are dematerialized and made up of “bits and bytes” [2].  Paradoxically, this profound difference between the two “worlds”, the physical and the digital one, makes possible practicing “social distancing” and “interpersonal digital approach” at the same time.  That is, someone can be in different physical places at the same time, but in the same digital space.
In this context, one of the elements that have aroused the most considerable interest from researchers is the effect of this radical change on organizational behaviors and in particular on cooperative ones.
Organizational behavior consists of how a person behaves within a particular organizational context [3], such as in a concurrent engineering facility. Organizational contexts influence individual behaviors and the final result may also be profoundly different from the natural propensity of the individual. For example, people with an aggressive and competitive attitude will necessarily have to “behave” in a different way to survive in a social and collaborative context.
Research in psychology has agreed, more or less uniformly, that among all possible models of behavior, even regardless of the animal species in question, the “cooperative/collaborative” one undoubtedly represents the behavioral modality that gives the highest chances of survival.  Even in moments of necessary competition, collaboration, and cooperation, albeit temporary, can represent a valid strategy of success (competing cooperation or “coopetition”, [4]).
Studies also show that cooperative/collaborative interactions between subjects, compared to the activities carried out in a competitive and individualistic context, promote the achievement of superior results and have shown that cooperation has positive effects even when in the workgroup there are simultaneously operating subjects with different professionalism and experiences.  It is, therefore, reasonable to note that during the performance of group activities, some critical soft skills relating to problem-solving and logical analyses increase in a recordable way, for the benefit of all team members. So individual performances are attested on the levels of individuals with superior skills [5].
 It is now a question of verifying what happens when the physical place of cooperation and interaction is missing, and a digital space replaces it.
First of all, we must state that the only area in which research in this sense has been conducted, and where it is possible to make a structured analysis of the literature, is the “education” sector and in particular that of e-learning.  The effects on the individual behavior of the adoption of digital solutions in learning processes have been experienced for a long time.
The organizational and methodological changes required in the passage from “concurrent engineering working place” to “concurrent engineering working space”, as mentioned, is paradigmatic. For this reason, we need to experiment with innovative organizational methods or otherwise see the numerous advantages of team-working vanish.
If we did not adopt any organizational measures, the individualistic dimension of the team members, now virtual, would tend to take over with all its charge of negativity which would reflect negatively on the overall performance levels.
In the digital working/educational group, it is necessary to keep under control with a great emphasis on all communication processes, that physical distance modifies in depth.
In real places, communication, which is the basis of the cooperation and collaboration process, is enriched by all the non-verbal (e.g. body language) forms of expression and sometimes we understand each other by merely crossing the gazes or observing a particular expression on the face of one’s interlocutors.
In online processes, all this vanishes, and we have to integrate the natural communication processes with some surrogate technologies and methodologies.
In our research and professional experience in the e-learning world, we have adopted some solutions which, albeit by modifying the work processes, can help to reestablish the right communication flows in a work context.
First of all, it is advantageous to include a new professional figure in the various organizational processes, which we have defined as a “process tutor”, to whom we can entrust the specific role of encouraging the development of adequate communication flows between operators.  The process tutor works, obviously online, in a proactive way.  This role will be entrusted to young people with professional competence in the domain under discussion, graduates with a couple of years of experience, extroverts, with adequate communication skills and with specific skills in the use of social communication tools.  The tutor also verifies the state of functionality of the teleconferencing system, intervenes in the work process, or the educational process if it is an online training activity, encouraging participation and stimulating communication flows between operators.
The tutor also has the task of monitoring the chat discussion between operators. He moderates ongoing discussions and directly intervenes when he can do so.  Alternatively, he may, if so deemed necessary, re-focus the work requesting specific attention on topics emerging from the interactions of the team members.
Technologies today also allow to record meetings, place subtitles and index their contents, so that they can be reviewed (which is typical of e-learning), but also reworked to identify, ex-post, any weaknesses or planning errors in the organizational processes, to identify best practices to refer to in the future.
The frequent use of the proactive tutor and the tools outlined can allow the recovery of the dimension of collaboration and cooperation between individuals, albeit in a different form.  In this way, following the theory of interpersonal motivational states [6], it is possible to establish a new form of collaborative behavior, called phylogenetic theory.  Therefore, behavioral styles change based on new experiences and can generate stable (ontogenetic) changes in individual behavior that will constitute, in the future, the new standard.
In conclusion, we believe that if, on the one hand, the digitization of organizational processes involves radical changes in individual behaviors, worsening the level of interaction between people, on the other hand, technological evolution and people’s ability to adapt might compensate this worsening of the organizational conditions [7].   Indeed, new work situations might emerge in which, in different organizational and operational forms, it is still possible to benefit from the advantages deriving from the cooperation between individuals.
What seems important to underline is that we must not try, in a simplistic way, to translate physical environments into digital ones, but rather to exploit all available new technologies and count on the limitless evolutionary adaptation capabilities of mankind.

LESSONS LEARNED AT ESA CDF DURING THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC

In the last months, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ESTEC CDF had to hold its activities and design sessions in a virtual set-up, with participants remotely connected in audio teleconference (video was not adequate to ensure a good connection quality, given the available internet connection bandwidth and the number of engineers involved.
The experience was challenging, but at the same time very instructive. It confirmed that drawbacks from working remotely were somehow acceptable at the purely engineering level, much more serious and penalizing in terms of the creation of a common team-spirit and interpersonal communications.
Problems were evident in the first phase of a Study (team creation), mainly due to the difficulty in building a common team spirit. In general, the process was less concurrent, lacking, for instance, the spontaneous, relaxed side discussions occurring between team members (e.g. during coffee breaks or at the canteen).
Experts motivation and engagement were as much as possible compensated by planning ad-hoc splinter meetings (as a surrogate to spontaneous chats) where the CDF Systems Team would approach specialists in smaller groups, discussing technical issues but also establishing a human connection that in the CDF would happen exchanging a glance at the right moment. The essential role of the team leader was confirmed and his contribution as a facilitator was further appreciated, both from a technical and a human perspective
The invaluable soft skills of the leader had to be re-invented, with a redefinition of the senses to be used: it was no longer possible to look at the faces of the team members, attempting at decoding doubts, frustration or excitement, but words, pace, tone of the voice became the most important tool for the leader guiding the team.
And all this happened without a preparation but with a strong motivation and resilience, and with the willingness to challenge a situation that nobody would have ever expected.
The team of Systems Engineers involved in CDF Studies and other concurrent activities during the pandemic made time to reflect upon the experience, deriving the following main lessons learned:

  • Remote Concurrent Design Sessions were feasible at an efficiency that is comparable to the standard “in-persona” ones, however this required a significant extra effort from the team. In particular, the Team Leader and Systems Engineers – in their role of Study coordinators – faced a significant overload, having to define new processes and ensuring smooth execution of the sessions with a thorough preparation. Some positive side effects were also experienced, e.g. more efficiency in getting written reports from experts.
  • The Systems Engineering team has identified elements that would have been useful to facilitate the remote experience and increased efficiency. In particular:
  • A good digital connection platform, compliant to the IT security policies (e.g. firewalls),
    • a. allowing high quality audio and video capability,
    • b. envisaging the possibility to share multiple presentations (as a substitute to the CDF multiscreen setup) and draw on the same canvas (as a substitute to the CDF SmartBoard),
    • c. including side chats to establish 1-to- connections between specialists when needed
    • d. enhancing breakout rooms for virtual splinter meetings
    • e. displaying agendas, record of decisions, highlighting actions, etc.

to make the design experience as real as possible, and relieving the Team Leaders and Systems Engineers from the logistics tasks, so to focus on the design;

  • Higher allocation of resources to the session coordinators – or ad-hoc facilitators – ensuring support to the virtual team, helping the team members in the resolution of all problems (mainly, but not only, technical and logistics) that could impair a smooth proceeding of the discussions;
  • A well-detailed set of working environment guidelines and process procedures for members of virtual teams (which the ESTEC CDF Team started working on already at the first study conducted remotely, for the benefit of the following one).


In conclusion, the “virtual” CDF experience was not negative. Activities were not impaired by the confinement, although requiring more effort in terms of worked hours; new ways of working were defined “on the field”; in some areas, an efficiency increase was noticed (report writing from specialists that could take advantage from flexible working hours).
The main challenge remains, as expected, that of re-establishing in a virtual team the human “empathy” (e.g. deriving from our body language) that is often a source of “storming” in the team creation phase, but also essential in achieving a shared focus to accomplish common goals.
“Human beings are an ultra-social species (…) and our nervous systems expect to have others around us” [8] to work better.
Coping with social distancing is a challenging task and even if the Covid-19 experience has shown and is showing that human beings can adapt to extremely difficult conditions, this induces stress which cannot be sustained for a long period without consequences.
Technology should support as far as possible every-day life activities conceived for a “non-confined world” alleviating from unnecessary stress, and it will surely evolve towards new applications when the pandemic will be resolved. Difficult to make predictions, but hard to expect that all will just go back as it was.

TOWARDS VIRTUAL COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENTS IN ENGINEERING DESIGN, EDUCATION, AND TRAINING

The paper analyzed so far the effects on people’s processes and learning levels as a result of the transformations caused by the digital revolution and the global pandemic, highlighting some potentially positive evolutions.
In this respect, the pandemic, with all its tragic effects, was just accelerating an already existing societal transformational process: the progressive dematerialization and virtualization of many productive activities, mainly in the service sector.
The challenge we are now facing is that of extending this paradigm to activities highly dependent on intellectual interactions and knowledge-intensive: engineering, medicine, and education.
Incidentally, in the space sector, the idea of “virtual” academies is not new [9] [10].
Space industries, space agencies, and other space-related institutions feel a strong need to increase their performance through a better qualification of their personnel. This need drives towards a growing effort in training and education programs, with a continuous learning approach. Furthermore, the space sector, which has traditionally been organized along technology and programmatic lines, is facing challenges that require integrated approaches, involving specific business and systems engineering mindsets. To meet these demands, several post-graduate educational programs on space-related subjects were started, particularly in Europe. Existing programs differ, however, substantially in scope and characteristics, coverage and focus, quality, and organization. More importantly, these activities are not coordinated.
With these motivations in mind, some years ago a Virtual Space Academy was proposed, to coordinate space education for post-graduate students and professionals and realize cross-fertilization between the programs to enhance and stimulate space education. The vision was based on a large use of all the available tools for e-learning, such as teleconferencing, webinars, video-recorded lectures.
During the pandemic, traditional universities have managed in a short time to replace the traditional classroom teaching with a virtual one, betting on the possibility to find a valid alternative, through e-learning, to those educational activities, for which the physical presence was considered so far a “sine qua non” requirement. 
The effectiveness of these educational/training approaches (as well as that of remote engineering) will depend on how they will be able to take into account the importance of social interactions. One possible way to enhance the emphatic involvement of individuals could be the adoption of innovative technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality. Along with technologies, however, innovative approaches (e.g. at organizational and methodological levels) will have to be conceived and explored.

CONCLUSION

Numerous scientific research studies have addressed the impact of social interaction processes on the mechanisms that regulate the levels of individual learning and on teaching methods.
The role of social interactions is particularly evident in concurrent and collaborative environments, such as the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF), developed and successfully operating at ESTEC since 1998.
The paper analyzed the effects on people’s processes and learning levels as a result of the transformations caused by the digital revolution and the global pandemic.
A number of precious and rather positive lessons learned were collected. Many challenging issues, however, still remain to be solved.
In conclusion, if on the one hand the digitization of organizational processes,  in concurrent engineering and in engineering activities at large, involves radical changes in individual behaviors, worsening the level of interaction between people, on the other hand, technological evolution and people’s ability to adapt might compensate for these drawbacks and open new promising perspectives.

REFERENCES
  1. Bandura, A. (1977), Social Learning Theory, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
  2. Recchioni M. (2001). Formazione e nuove tecnologie. Tendenze evolutive tra organizzazione e mercato, Carocci, Torino;
  3. Fontana F. (1994), Lo sviluppo del personale, Giappichelli, Torino;
  4. Cozzolino A., Rothaermel F. T. (2017). Competing through Cooperation: How the Nature of Technological Change affects Coopetition, Academy of Management, New York;
  5. Johnson D.W, Johnson R. (1975). Learning together and alone: Cooperative, competitive and individualization. Englewood Cliffs, New York, Prentice hall;
  6. Liotti G. (2005). La dimensione interpersonale della coscienza, Carocci, Torino, 2005;
  7. Burke W., Recchioni M., (2010). Il cambiamento organizzativo, Angeli, Milano;
  8. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at The University of California, Berkeley;
  9. E. Gill, M. Lisi, M. Bousquet, W. J. Larson, “Virtual Space Academy”, 59th  International Astronautical Congress, September 29 – October 3 2008, Glasgow, Scotland;
  10. E. Gill, G. Chiocchia, B. Escuder, M. Lisi, H. Stoewer, F. de Bruijn, “Integrated Post-graduate Space Education and Training”, International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (ICERI), Madrid, Spain, 17-19 November, 2008.

Climate Change from space

Climate Change from space. 

Customer’s request
Cop 26 is the most important conference on climate all over the world. It’s a must for all scientists to be there to be updated on the most relevant results regarding the status of our Planet. Scientists and decision makers from an incredible number of countries (197) were expected in this edition of COP but the time to realise all the needed communication materials (presentations, social media animations, an interactive report), necessary to reach the different audiences, was incredibly short.

Our solution
ReMedia gave life to 28 pages of scientific contents, enriched with very attractive layouts and smart infographics in less than two-weeks time, thanks to the consolidated experience and very sophisticated design skills of its professionals working in ESA premises since 2002: the Earth Observation Graphic Bureau team. The most complete material realised for this occasion was an interactive brochure able to drive the audience among the most complex topics with a simple and straightforward approach. The concept of the cover recalls an eye’s iris: a watchful eye that keeps climate change under careful control. The inside pages provide strong visuals and infographics in support of the contents that explain the different results.

Three sections have been set to structure the overall content:

  1. UNDERSTAND: an explanation of what we call climate change and an introduction to the sources used to pinpoint the results gathered. Infographics are a very relevant part of this section and they have been used, in an animated version, also in social media to create ad hoc posts on COP 26.
  2. DISCOVER: Views of our Planet from Earth Observation satellites and analysis of these images are instead the main content of the Discover section.
  3. ACCESS: The last section provides direct access to the data to both professional users and the general public.

Less than two weeks to achieve outstanding outputs that you can judge with your own eyes downloading the report and looking at the following images of the other materials realised.

ESA TEC directorate website

An engaging B2B website for the European Space Agency fully dedicated to technology development:

The TEC directorate website

The customer’s request:

With more than 1000 employees, the TEC directorate is the greatest directorate of the Agency. Its activities cover all the branches of technology development, from its conceptualisation (years before its development) to testing, till the validation of all its quality standards. Unfortunately, at the start of this project, all these contents were spread on the main ESA website. Moreover the more technical information, for which a company or an Institutional interface such as a Member state, was in search of, was fully absent.

Our answer:

Remedia replies to this request by giving life to one of its most big web project, made of hundreds of pages, massive interaction, clear content structure and easy navigation, and by creating a unique point of reference for all the potential audiences who intend to discover the multitude of opportunities provided by ESA to build new technologies. 


The development of such a big web project through which presenting – in a clear and engaging way – all these massive numbers of contents required very hard work, dedication, passion and high-professionalism to manage the right development steps and priorities. For this reason we started our work by designing the website content structure, and then we moved on with the definition of all the functionalities the website would need to meet its goals: acquire new customers and engage them to take an immediate action. Each page has been built to provide valuable contents and provide a direct contact with the TEC experts. Original 3D images have been also designed to give a very unique identity to the Directorate and enhance the value of the most important topics proposed.
To keep the website live and appealing we also produced a dedicated Content Management System, as a  fully customized – behind-the-scenes – project. We chose this solution in order to have full control on  the future evolution of the website and be able to adapt to any of the users requirements. Our solution is developed on a very stable and market-oriented framework called React. React is one of the fastest and modern technologies available. It works with a JavaScript library for building User Interfaces. It is fast, simple, and scalable. It is simply a JavaScript runtime. A lightweight, fast and modern way to execute code on computers. It is organised in building blocks: stored in libraries, localized, available for use everywhere. Every section of the website is configurable through these building blocks and manageable with flexible layouts via a component-oriented approach that will ease the possibility to change the contents, the structure and even the template of each single page.
Thanks to this solution and the careful design of the structure and layout, the website provides fluent navigation among different types of resources, texts and info.


Last, but not least, the website is fully responsive and browsable from any browsers, except from IE.

New Space Stories: Journey to Astropreneurship

Space 2 Connect 2021

How a great communication mix could make memorable also a digital event

The customer’s request:

SPACE2CONNECT 2021 is the most important event organised by ESA’s TIA directorate. This was the first time that all the suppliers of the upstream and downstream of the Telecommunication sector have been taken together by the European Space Agency. Due to the Covid 19 Pandemia the conference has been rescheduled twice and at the end it was held from the 11th to 14th of October, 2021. The event occurred both as a digital and live event but ust for a small number of key attendees could take part in the event in presence.

ESA’s TIA directorate asked for a 360° support: from the website to the POP materials, including a Linkedin campaign to be created with a very tight deadline.

Our answer:

ReMedia proposed a storytelling communication strategy in which it creates stories around  the Space2Connect objectives and key points to be applied on different communication tools and media. 

The first step was to create a one page website which expressed the entire value of the conference, the 4 days programs with the details of the sessions, proposed also as an interactive pdf, and the production of a teaser to involve the audience.

In parallel with the development of the website we opened a Linkedin page that we populated for all the duration of the campaign and during the conference with ad hoc animations, videos, graphics and articles and an ADV campaign to reach the main European stakeholders and the look alike target audience.

Our main goal was to raise awareness on the event. Then, in a second moment, we created a retargeting campaign to increase engagement, conversion to the website and most of all to move the target to action: make a registration to the event.

For the  live event  we designed a communication material kit (badges, roll-up, flyers, backgrounds, panels, deskbanners, PPT templates, signages and totems) to decorate the venue and provide a strong identity also for the printed materials. Our team provided its support also directly at the on-site conference through the participation of two ReMedia professionals. 

The final number of the event tells about a great success: 900 participants, more than 80 keynote speakers, more than 250 in sync connections,  more than 100 industry virtually exhibiting.

Call us to reach the same results.