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Innovations in Education and Teaching International

Vol. 43, No. 3, August 2006, pp. 313–324

Gironacel®: a virtual tool for learning


quality management
Empar Méndez, Martí Casadesús* and Quim de Ciurana
University of Girona, Spain
MartíCasadesús
Innovations
1470-3297
Original
Taylor
302006
43
marti.casadesus@udg.es
00000August
& Article
10.1080/14703290600750853
RIIE_A_175048.sgm
andFrancis
(print)/1470-3300
in Education
2006Ltd and Teaching
Francis (online) International

This article describes the Gironacel® project—a virtual learning environment produced by the University of
Girona. The purpose of this tool is to make it easier for students studying quality management courses within
engineering schools to understand what the ‘quality culture’ is and how to implement the ISO 9001:2000
standard in a very practical way. The tool creates a fictitious virtual company, called Gironacel®, that is used as
an example. The original aim was to provide companies using the tool with all kinds of information concerning
the challenges that the Gironacel® company faces during its evolution—and all the difficulties and consequences
that come with these challenges. In this paper we explain how this new tool was designed and implemented. We
also outline the nature of the results that we expect to gain from its use.

Introduction
The authors of this article teach Business Management in the Engineering School at the Univer-
sity of Girona in Spain. This is a new university that is only 10 years old and is situated in the
city of Girona in Catalonia—which is the most industrialized region in Spain. The university has
more than 10,000 students and is divided into different schools, one of which is the Engineering
School, with nearly 4000 students.
Undoubtedly, as teachers one of the main problems that we have been faced with in our work
has been how we can teach anything related to companies without actually ‘having a real
company everyday in our classrooms’. This problem is especially significant in areas like quality
management, where students have a lot of difficulty imagining how they can apply the informa-
tion that they study to realistic everyday situations. Our major problem has therefore involved
finding an answer to the question: How is it possible to teach what a quality management system is
without actually having a system to manage?
CIDEM (the Centre for Innovation and Business Development, http://www.cidem.com) is a
centre run by the Government of Catalonia, with the aim of assisting and providing incentives
for innovation and development in Catalonian companies. In order to improve the education of

* Corresponding author. Departament d’Organització, Gestió Empresarial i Desenvolupament de Producte, Av.


Lluís Santaló s/n, Universitat de Girona, 17071 Girona, Spain. Email: marti.casadesus@udg.es

ISSN 1470–3297 (print)/ISSN 1470–3300 (online)/06/030313–12


© 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14703290600750853
314 E. Méndez et al.

engineering students (that might have to manage companies in their future careers), the Univer-
sity of Girona together with CIDEM decided to create a tool to introduce students to business
management and help them learn about it and become involved in it—especially in relation to
quality management.
From this initial idea, a few months later the Gironacel® project began. It involved developing
a fictitious ‘virtual’ company which gradually shows, through its own experiences, how the
world-famous quality management standard (ISO 9001:2000) is implemented. It reveals the
successful outcomes and the errors, while at the same time offering its users all kinds of infor-
mation (such as links, topics of interest, etc.) and tools (presentations, check-lists, examples of
procedures, and so on) to help make implementation easier. This tool brings together all the
information that has been gathered in the previous years about the quality management
practices in Catalonia—see, for example, CIDEM (2001) and Casadesús and Albertí (2003)—
thereby broadening it and adapting it to much more practical aspects that make it more
accessible and useful to students who want to make use of the information.
The aim of this fictitious company was not only to serve as an example for students learning
about the correct implementation of the ISO 9001:2000 quality management standard, but to
go beyond this, meeting all the challenges they came up against, such as innovation management,
internationalization, and so on.
Gironacel® is a new tool in the field of training and, in an area such as quality management,
which is often lacking in genuinely practical training tools, it is hoped that some very good
results will be produced. In this article, we focus on the range and the limitations of this
project, in the hope of making its applications better known and providing new ideas for future
applications.

Teaching quality management


Since 1985, when the ISO 9000 quality assurance standard became popular throughout the
world, many companies have successfully implemented it; in fact, 561,747 companies had
obtained certification by December 2002 (International Standardization Organization, 2003).
Implementation of these new quality assurance systems began in the bigger companies (Casa-
desús & Giménez, 2000) and, little by little, spread to smaller companies, on their own initiative
or due to market pressure. In this way, it can be taken as read that quality management training
in companies has followed a parallel development.
This standard has not only enabled companies to reach a particular minimum level of quality,
but it has also become an important (possibly the most important) stimulus for companies to
take on board the concept of quality and, more specifically, that of continuous improvement. It
is through the implementation of ISO 9000 that companies have come to understand what terms
such as ‘managing quality’ and ‘improving quality’ really imply.
Exactly the same has happened in education within engineering schools during the last few
years. The great impact of the ISO 9000 standard in the industrial world shows the necessity to
produce more quality management courses for engineering students (such as ISO 9000, the
European Foundation for Quality Management model and the Statistical Process Control
quality guidelines). At the same time, engineering students may then be more motivated to learn
about these matters.
Virtual tool for learning quality management 315

Traditionally, learning about ISO 9000 in engineering schools has been preceded by an
important phase of theoretical training with the aim of introducing students to what a ‘culture
of quality’ actually means. Up until 10 years ago, there were not so many university courses
teaching these subjects, therefore there are many engineers that have to train in the companies
where they work, because quality management is a key factor for running businesses, as observed
in various investigations (Vloeberghs & Bellens, 1996; Casadesús & Giménez, 2000; Sohal &
Terziovski, 2000). This training is normally provided by specialist consultants. Without a doubt,
the quality management field is no different from other business areas where there are large
investments in training, but it is one of the areas that has had the most influence in recent years.
That is why we believe it was necessary to design a tool that would help to improve training in
this field for engineering students.
Obviously, it is important to think about what new kinds of tool will make it easier for students
to get involved in a subject with deep theoretical knowledge. Without a doubt, new technologies
offer unbeatable opportunities for designing tools that can be put to work in this area. They are
accessible by all students wherever they happen to be; they are easily updated in real time and
have no restrictions in terms of the type of course the tool is used in.
Previous projects have shown that to reach the largest number of engineering students
possible, the Internet has become, without question, the way forward. In recent years, many
training projects have appeared on the Internet—although many of them do not really take
advantage of the possibilities for dynamic work that the Internet offers and, instead, end up
being simple tutorials or online books (Kilby, 2001). Gregory (2003) has already demonstrated
that training on the Internet greatly improves when it includes some kind of real-time interac-
tion, whether with other students or with instructors. Therefore, the possibility of including this
kind of interaction with other agents in the training must be encouraged, while designing
platforms that are too static should be avoided.
Analyzing previous experiences of various distance training courses, looking at successful
outcomes and failures, for example, the studies by van Brackel (1999) and Walker (1999), was
the only way to begin the project since we could not find any references that were sufficiently
similar to our project.

The objectives of the Gironacel® project


In recent years, CIDEM has concentrated its activities in four main areas: improving quality,
increasing internationalization, increasing digitalization and increasing innovation in Catalonian
companies. As a means of achieving these goals, CIDEM has carried out and continues to carry
out all kinds of training activities (involving courses, congresses, and so on), promotional awards
(awards for innovation, quality, etc.), publishing information (guides to innovation, books, etc.)
and many others.
In order to fulfil our teaching and training objectives, CIDEM and the University of Girona
decided to work together in order to improve engineering students’ education according to the
requirements of the companies. In this setting, the Gironacel® project began. Its aim was to take
advantage of new technologies to provide complete practical knowledge (which, in part,
CIDEM had already done in different formats) for engineering students and future managers of
small and medium-sized companies. In fact, the final goal of the Gironacel® project was to
316 E. Méndez et al.

produce a tool that would enable engineering students to improve their knowledge by means of
dynamic training in new business challenges beginning from real experiences in which successful
outcomes and failures could be studied, all within a minimal theoretical framework. It was a
project promoted and financed by CIDEM and developed by our research group GREPP
(Research Group on Product, Process and Planning) at the University of Girona.
As well as achieving the goals outlined above, the project had certain specific features. Firstly,
it had to be valid for all kinds of engineering students, for example, without differentiating
between the ones that are more interested in service companies and the ones interested in
production.
Secondly, it had to improve knowledge transfer from the future company managers to their
future employees, an aspect which is often forgotten in many educational activities. For exam-
ple, in the case of ISO 9000:1994, it was relatively easy to explain the objective of ‘improving
quality’ to students who wanted to work in high and intermediate staff positions in the compa-
nies’ chain of command. However, the tool had to teach how they could transfer this knowledge
to other workers; or at least, how to transmit this knowledge to their future workmates within
management. This was yet another important challenge that this project had to deal with.
Finally, this project had to be set up by 1 January 2005—when the business management
courses began in the Engineering School at the University of Girona. For this reason, CIDEM
decided to focus the tool on improving quality management and, specifically, the implementation
of the ISO 9001:2000 standard. In this way, the aim was to serve students on the quality manage-
ment course. In any case, any training that Gironacel® helped to achieve had to be complete and
had to fit, not only within the standard’s own scope of quality assurance, but also within the scope
of quality management, and within all the areas defined by Lewis (1992). These are:
1. Education to gain quality awareness—this is training aimed at defining quality, TQM,
customer satisfaction, etc.
2. Education to support quality improvement skills—this is training in communication skills,
leadership, team working, etc.
3. Education to acquire quality improvement skills—this is directed towards teaching students the
tools and techniques of defining, documenting and improving processes, and reaching long-
term quality goals.
Gironacel® had to be designed to respond to the above objectives and, at the same time, be
able to go beyond them in the near future, within the same area of quality management (the
EFQM model, ISO 9004:2000, etc.) or within other areas of business challenges (such as
internationalization, digitalization, corporate social responsibility, etc.).

Developing the virtual company


In developing this project, a fictitious company called Gironacel® was devised—existing only
within the virtual world of a computer system. It is a company with two lines of business: it
makes paragliders and other products related to paragliding and, at the same time, organizes
short courses for people who want to learn how to use them.
Although it is a virtual company, Gironacel® sets itself various objectives and has to face certain
problems in the same way that real companies do. In addition, it is a ‘live’ company, undergoing
Virtual tool for learning quality management 317

constant development affected by daily reality that leads it often to rethink established objectives,
just as is the case in real companies. The company dynamics are reflected in the company’s own
news (which appears periodically in the magazine published by the company itself), changes in
objectives, the emergence of new products, staff changes, and so on. That is to say, all events,
planned or otherwise, that contributed to the development of the company.
In the coming years, Gironacel® will take on different challenges, which will be recorded in
its strategic plan. Some of these challenges will involve improvement to the quality management
system, getting into a cycle of continuous improvement, getting involved in the process of
environmental improvement and establishing a system for innovation management.
As a first step in the development of its strategic plan, and within the limits set down at the
beginning of this project, Gironacel® had to propose improving its quality management system
by means of the implementation of the ISO 9001:2000 quality assurance standard. The
structural aspects and practical implementation which will help users to analyze and learn from
the experience of Gironacel® are described in the following sections.

The basic structure


Gironacel® uses a website as a platform to get across the teaching content, by means of the
actions taken by the company itself in order to meet the goals that were set. Figure 1 shows the
basic structure of the underlying website.
Figure 1. Structure of the website of the Gironacel ® project

GIRONACEL®

 #  !    # "    etc,.

Technological
Improving Quality improvements

Innovation Internationalization
etc.

etc. etc.
4th phase: 6th phase:
2nd phase: 3rd phase:     5th phase:
  
1st phase:         
      !"    
            

        
      


 
  etc.

Figure 1. Structure of the website of the Gironacel® project


318 E. Méndez et al.

From the home page, users can access a wide range of content which has two different
functions. On the one hand, users can consult any information directly related to the company
(such as the internal organization or the products it offers); on the other hand, users can find
information relating to the development of the company, such as company news and, above all,
the strategic plan—the scenario in which the events of most interest to its users are played out.
Hence, in the strategic plan, the company proposes certain goals; specifically, improvement in
quality, innovation and internationalization, as well as technological improvements.
In this way, for any objective the company proposes, the procedure it follows is divided into
phases, each of which contains a statement of the company’s objectives, along with any ‘qualms’
the company may have and the tools that will be used to deal with them.
In the specific case of the implementation of ISO 9001:2000, the project was divided into six
phases, each one representing a state in which the company found itself before gaining the ISO
9000 certificate. The name of each phase corresponded to a question that Gironacel® had to ask
itself at a given moment during implementation and, at the same time showing the commonest
positions a company might find itself in during the process of implementing this standard. The
six phases were as follows:
1. Do we also have to get certification? This was the early phase, in which the manager of the
company did not yet know much about quality management systems but had heard about
them and thought that they might be useful to the company. It was a time for collecting
information and learning about the basic concepts involved in the culture of quality.
2. Where do we begin? In this second phase, the manager has now taken the decision to get
involved in a quality system and needs to carry out a series of actions aimed at starting the
process: this involves drawing up a plan, putting somebody in charge of quality and inform-
ing the rest of the employees about quality management systems.
3. Do we begin with the easiest procedures? Once the plan is established, it is necessary to draw up
the documentation. A good tactic consists of beginning with the most basic procedures, in
order to get the know-how needed to deal with them, before taking on more complex
procedures.
4. Why not take advantage of what we are doing to improve further? As the procedures are being
put into practice, the people involved begin to realize the potential usefulness of what they
are doing and the importance it may have in improving various company-related issues.
5. The ISO inspectors are coming to audit us. Obtaining the certificate is the culmination of the
work done and recognition of the effort involved, but the audit will bring with it a series of
challenges and problems that will become known during this phase.
6. All done. Now what do we do? When the quality certificate has been awarded, many possibil-
ities open up for companies that want to get into a process of continuous improvement. In
this phase, information is sought on models of excellence, awards for quality, integrated
management systems and other aspects of special relevance to the company.
In order to emphasize the fact that Gironacel® is a ‘live’ company, the information relevant to
the implementation of ISO 9000 is not presented all at once. Instead, the various phases would
be programmed to appear on the Web according to a pre-established calendar, simulating the
time intervals that the company would need to develop from one phase to the next. During each
phase, users will have at their disposal all the information and tools that the company has used
Virtual tool for learning quality management 319

Table 1. Information available to users during the second phase of the Gironacel® project

Information Type of information

What is the ISO 9001:2000 standard? Theoretical explanation with practical examples
(manuals about quality, procedures, working
instructions, etc.)
Planning certification according to the ISO 9001:2000 Certification plan with human and economic
standard resources
Grants, subventions and training courses in Quality Information and links
Management
Quality consultants Theoretical explanation of their role and links to
consultants operating in Catalonia
Explaining the process of certification Theoretical explanation and links to the
organizations involved
Addresses of interest Links
Tools for getting the workforce involved in the process PowerPoint presentations, posters and examples
Concepts related to Quality Management Dictionary/Search tool
Evaluation of the degree of quality in the company Interactive check-list
Costs and implementation time FAQs and databases based on empirical studies
by CIDEM and others

to carry out the project, ranging from published articles (that the people in charge of quality have
read in order to understand particular topics) to practical examples such as procedural manuals
that Gironacel® has drawn up, or PowerPoint presentations that may help to explain the concept
of quality to engineering students. As an example of this, we have drawn up a table (Table 1)
that shows the information that users will find during the second phase of the project.

Practical implementation
The home page of the Gironacel® website (Figure 2), which can be accessed via the URL http:/
/www.gironacel.com, was designed to be like that of any other conventional company: there is
information on the organization and the products and services on offer; there is the possibility
of contacting the company via email, as well as a news section, which will develop at the same
rate as the process itself and, finally, a link for each of the goals proposed for the company
(quality, innovation, better technology and digitalization).
Figure 2. Principal web page of the Gironacel ® company

From this main page and for each goal, the different phases can be accessed. In the specific
case of improving the quality management system, the initial page corresponding to the first
phase is shown in Figure 3. We shall use this phase as an example in this article; the other phases
have a very similar structure.
In the central area of the page (Figure 3), there is an explanation of the action taken by
Figure 3. Main page of the first phase: ‘Do we also have to get certification?’

company employees (in this case, this only involves the manager) in relation to the implemen-
tation of the system—with links to the different tools used such as articles, web pages, Power-
Point presentations, studies, frequently-asked questions (FAQs), and so on. On the left-hand
side of the page, there are more links to other important information: Personnel involved, with an
explanation of the various people involved and the tasks they carry out; Documentation, where
320 E. Méndez et al.

Figure 2. Principal web page of the Gironacel® company

documents drawn up by the company can be found (at this stage, the only document that
appears is the planning document for certification); and an Organizational chart, which describes
the internal structure of the company. Although this chart is not modified during the implemen-
tation process, it is always present in the different web pages so that, when users consult
documents, such as the procedural manual, they have the structure of the organization at
hand—making it easier to understand.
In a side frame, there are icons that link to FAQs, Tools, Links, Interesting Subjects and a
Figure 4. Example of the information available in the second phase—presentations for motivating the workforce

Dictionary. This structure is maintained through all the phases, although the content will
increase in size as the process of certification develops. These links take the user to another
window, as shown in Figure 4, in order to make navigation easier.
In the case of the first phase, the information to be found in each one of these links is as
follows:

● FAQs—these are very general questions, since they simulate the questions that arise in a
company at the initial stages of the process. For example: What does certification cost? How
long does it take to obtain it? How can we get financial aid?
● Tools—here users will find PowerPoint presentations which use graphs and diagrams to
explain, in a very practical way, topics such as the concept of quality and the ISO 9000 stan-
Virtual tool for learning quality management 321

Figure 3. Main page of the first phase: ‘Do we also have to get certification?’

dards. The aim of these presentations is to facilitate the transfer of this knowledge to the
different groups of students.
● Links—these links take users to institutions involved in quality management, such as, for
example, the International Standardization Organization or the European Organization for
Quality.
● Interesting Subjects—in this first phase, the items found here, although basic, are necessary for
a good understanding of the culture of quality. Examples include Introduction to the ISO
9000:2000 standard and Reasons for acquiring certification according to the ISO 9001 standard.
Apart from these themes dealing with theory, there are also articles with the opinions of
managers from different Catalonian companies describing their own experiences in the first
phases of implementing a quality system.
● Dictionary—here users can find definitions of the main concepts related to the culture of
quality.

Once the students have consulted the information related to one phase, they can then move
directly on to the next—or else whichever phase interests them (in the upper toolbar there is a
menu for navigating through the different phases). The menu also shows very clearly in which
phase the users are at any given time.
322 E. Méndez et al.

Figure 4. Example of the information available in the second phase—presentations for motivating the
workforce

In order to make navigation as user-friendly as possible, each phase has the same structure,
so that users can learn quickly and easily how the site is organized and how to use it.

Conclusions
Without a doubt, education using new technologies is becoming more popular and is achieving
better results. However, what is not so common is the way it has been used in this project.
The Gironacel® project centres on education which is 100% practical, using a fictitious
company which serves as a model and which shows the successful outcomes, failures and the
tools utilized to develop a particular project in an interactive way and which is constantly evolv-
ing. In the small part of the project presented in this article, the objective of the Gironacel®
company has been to implement the ISO 9001:2000 quality assurance standard. The different
phases that the company goes through show us the different positions in which engineering
students using the tool may find themselves in the future.
The most important thing about the virtual company is that its users have at their disposal, in
each phase, not only the knowledge necessary to implement the requirements of the standard,
for example via the Items of Interest, but also other tools, which go well beyond what they would
Virtual tool for learning quality management 323

find in a theory session on the subject. For example, the tool includes PowerPoint presentations
for involving the workforce and personal learning, posters, FAQs, the working procedures of the
company itself, quality manuals, check-lists, etc.
Such a close-up look at the process has previously never been available for students at the
University of Girona. Previous attempts in many areas of business education have delved deeply
into theoretical aspects—but have rarely come close to showing the students how these theories
are implemented in reality, which is what this project offers. Implementing quality assurance
systems according to the ISO 9001:2000 standard is a good example of this. Specifically, it
draws up procedures according to the requirements of this standard. This task is extremely
problematic when considering all the different methods and criteria in the literature that have to
be taken into account when drawing up procedures and the difficulty for engineering students
to write them if they have never previously seen an example of one.
Clearly, projects such as Gironacel® will not be a total substitute for traditional education
methods in university classrooms, but they can be very helpful educational tools, especially in
smaller engineering schools with less resources and fewer relations with external companies. It
is true that this kind of instruction has many advantages over more conventional education
methods: it can be delivered to a much larger number of students, it has a dynamic character,
the information can be updated immediately, etc., but it is also true that, despite the existence
of Forums, Chats and other tools, interaction is somewhat more difficult than it is in a traditional
educational session. However, if tools such as these are used correctly, then they are likely to
open up a new range of possibilities for training.
Although this project has currently only shown us how, and with what tools, it has been possi-
ble to improve quality management in the Gironacel® company, a working scheme is now being
designed for new courses in the future—with particular emphasis on innovation management.

Notes on contributors
Empar Méndez is a lecturer at the University of Girona in Spain. She studied Industrial
Engineering at the University of Girona. She is doing her research on innovations in educa-
tion in quality management.
Martí Casadesús teaches at the University of Girona in Spain. He studied Industrial Engineering
at the University Polytechnic of Catalonia. He has a doctorate in Business Administration
from the University of Girona. His research work is related to production and quality
management, especially the ISO 9000 standard.
Quim de Ciurana teaches at the University of Girona in Spain. He studied Industrial Engineer-
ing at the University Polytechnic of Catalonia. His research work is related to innovations
in education within the area of mechanical engineering.

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