Why develop student teams?
Improved Learning Developing team
skills while still in college increases students' potential for
improved academic performance and simultaneously provides important
skills to prepare them for the workplace. Although true for certain
traditional team-based courses such as the capstone design course,
it is also true on a much wider scale, with today's interest in
active learning theories of pedagogy. For example, faculty can
effectively use student teams in many other active/cooperative
learning activities besides projects.
Professional Success Individuals
working alone are usually ineffective in solving current, complex
engineering problems; instead well-trained multidisciplinary teams
can address complex problems more productively. GE, Intel, Motorola,
Xerox, Ford, General Motors, and AT&T have all publicly stated
their commitment to a team-based work environment. "Graduates
of our universities and colleges that can work within team constructs,
provide diversity to the brainstorming of problem solutions, and
communicate effectively are the most highly sought after engineering
talents." [Robert Kern, Raytheon] Recognizing the importance of
teams to industry, engineering education has begun to stress this
desired student outcome.
ABET EC 2000 Student Outcomes Engineering
accreditation criteria, EC2000, now state that engineering programs
must demonstrate that their graduates have "an ability to function
on multi-disciplinary teams".
Group Experiences Do Not Necessarily Develop
Team Skills Placing students in groups may not develop
a team. This is seen in the graph from Katzenbach and Smith1 in
which team effectiveness must be developed for performance to
equal or exceed that of several individuals working separately.
Further, placing students in design teams does not necessary guarantee
that students will develop capacities to function on multi-disciplinary
teams. As Johnson, Johnson and Holubec assert: "Students do not
come to school with the social skills they need to collaborate
effectively with others. So teachers need to teach the appropriate
communication, leadership, trust, decision making, and conflict
management skills to students and provide the motivation to use
these skills in order for groups to function effectively. Faculty
must take responsibility to help students develop their skills
to participate on and lead teams.
How might I assign students
- Teachers should assign teams instead of letting students choose
their own. Teachers may survey students regarding preferences,
schedules, and residences to gather info that can aid in the assignment.
- Without additional information, it is preferable to increase
heterogeneity in terms of academic and other abilities.
- Without additional information, it is preferable to avoid having
a single representative of either gender or an underrepresented
minority on a team.
How might I develop interpersonal
and team skills?
- Students will not necessarily develop team skills by working
- Invest small amounts of class time in improving listening, decision-making,
conflict resolution, constructive feedback, and meeting skills
as well as increasing their knowledge about team dynamics, e.g.,
five stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing,
How might I facilitate dysfunctional
- Help team members accept responsibility for successful development
of the team. It is preferable that teachers facilitate with the
entire team present.
- Encourage each team member to state what he/she has done, not
his/her perception of what others have done. Encourage constructive
- Reduce likelihood and severity of dysfunctional teams by periodically
monitoring progress and effectiveness. For example, weekly ask
teams how well they are meeting their goals, how well they are
working together, how much time they are spending, and if there
are individual problems.
How might I design exercises
for student teams?
Design team exercises that will require contributions from everyone.
Avoid exercises that most people in the class could do on their
Student Teams in the Classroom
Resources to address the following issues that arise when using
- Assigning students to teams
- Developing interpersonal and team skills
- Design exercises for student teams
- Facilitating dysfunctional teams
- Assigning individual grades for team projects
Cesar Malave and Jim Morgan offer workshops on active/collaborative
learning and student teams in the classroom. They can customize
the length (2-16 hours) and coverage of the workshops to suit your
Here are people you can contact for more information about student
teams, in general, and workshops on using student teams, in particular.
Books on Using Student Teams in the Classroom: The site contains
an NSF report on teams in the engineering classroom, team training
workbook, and a facilitator's guide for using the team training
– Penn State: The site provides a good introduction using student
teams. Visitors can find information on a rationale for using teams,
how to form teams, how to train teams, and how to assess teams.
teams? This handbook has been developed as a resource for you.
Separately, each piece focuses on a specific aspect of collaboration.
Taken as a whole, the pieces can help you develop the collaborative
skills you will need to succeed in the academic, professional and
social worlds. You can begin by looking at the introduction and
reading each section, or tailor the handbook to your individual
needs by heading straight to a specific area.
References for Further Information
- Katzenbach, Jon R. and Douglas K. Smith, Wisdom
of Teams, Harvard Business School Press, 1992
- Seat, E. and S. Lord, "Enabling Effective Engineering
Teams: A Program for Teaching Interaction Skills," J. Engr. Ed.,
88(4), Oct 1999, pp. 385-390
- Engineering Education for a Changing World,
Report prepared by the ASEE Engineering Deans' Council and Corporate
Roundtable, Washington, D.C., ASEE, 1994.
- ASTD, "Workplace Basics: The Skills Employers
Want," American Society for Training and Development and U. S.
Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 1988.
- Evans, D. L., G. C. Beakley, P. E. Crouch, and
G. T. Yamaguchi, "Attributes of Engineering Graduates and Their
Impact on Curriculum Design," J. Engr. Ed., 82(4), Oct 1993
- ABET, "ABET Engineering Criteria 2000," The
Engineering Accreditation Commission, Accreditation Board for
Engineering and Technology, Inc.
- Johnson, D. W., R. T. Johnson, and Edythe Johnson
Holubec, Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom, revised
edition, Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company, 1986.
- Haag, S.G., "Teaming
Backlash: Reframing Female Engineering Students," Proceedings,
2000 ASEE Conference, St. Louis, MI, June 18-21, 2000
- W. Tuckman & M.A.C. Jensen, "Stages of Small-Group
Development Revisited," Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), December
1977, pp. 419-427
- Brown, R. W., "Autorating:
Getting Individual Marks from Team Marks and Enhancing Teamwork,"
Proceedings, 1995 Frontiers in Education Conference
- Kaufman, D. B., R. M. Felder, H. Fuller, "Accounting
for Individual Effort in Cooperative Learning Teams," J. Engr.
Ed., 89(2), 133–140 (2000)
2001 Foundation Coalition. All rights reserved. Last modified