Questrom Team Learning
Guidelines & Tools
Start Using Teams in Your Course
The decision to utilize teams as a learning experience in coursework is an important pedagogical decision. Faculty not only need to create the teams and team assignments, they also must set teams up for success, and determine how to measure both individual and team performance.
While there are many factors that contribute to team effectiveness, team size is an important determining factor in the productivity of project teams. There is no universally agreed upon optimal team size, but faculty should consider the task at hand, and form teams that are large enough to accomplish the tasks in the provided time, and small enough that members can contribute meaningfully to the assignment (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). For student teams, many authors agree that teams of 3-5 is an appropriate guideline (Oakley, Felder, Brent, & Elhajj, 2004).
In terms of assigning students to teams, instructors have a few options, and each has pros and cons:
Inclusion and Diversity
When creating teams instructors should consider the diversity of team members to maximize effectiveness and the learning experience. Homogenous teams will form and build cohesiveness quickly but will be limited in terms of a range of abilities and perspectives, so they are better used for routine or simple tasks. Diverse or heterogeneous teams tend to be more innovative and better equipped to handle complex problems due to the variety of skills and resources available to their members but the team building process can take longer, and these teams can experience more conflict (McShane & VonGlinow, 2018). When creating diverse teams, instructors should be aware that it can be risky to isolate minority students on teams, particularly in freshman and sophomore classes, as students may take on more passive roles in these situations (Oakley, Felder, Brent & Elhajj, 2004).
DESIGNING TEAM PROJECTS
Team projects can be designed in several different ways. A well-designed team assignment requires interdependence in order to complete the work. This means that the project should be sufficiently complex as to require that all members of the teamwork interdependently to complete the project with each team member having an important task or role to fulfill.
Teams should also be required to complete a GRPI Team Contract to clearly and specifically delineate their goals, roles, processes and interactions as they work together to complete their projects.
Getting students to work collaboratively on their teams – rather than working separately and combining results – is a common challenge. The key to collaboration is interdependence, and faculty play an important role in creating the conditions for interdependence on teams.
Engaging Your Teams
Depending on the project and the length of time teams will be working together, faculty can determine their level of engagement with the teams – from frequently engaged to essentially hands off. The key is to provide the teams with appropriate guidance for their team development. This can include the following:
The Role of Faculty
Teams will inevitably experience conflict as they work together to accomplish their goals. While most teams will be able to resolve their conflicts through internal discussions, feedback, re-focusing on their common goals, and re-aligning their processes, some teams will reach out to their faculty for assistance in resolving conflicts. It is important for faculty to approach these conflict conversations with an open mind, as there are always multiple sides to the same story. The video below can help faculty work through a conflict resolution process with their teams.
GRADING TEAM PERFORMANCE
Team Performance Grades
While grading the team’s work product or deliverables is a fairly straightforward process, grading each team member’s individual contributions to the team’s work product and to the team’s process can be a challenge. Faculty often find it difficult to account for individual differences in contributions by team members, even when those differences are extreme (either significantly poor performance, or outstanding contributions). To fairly grade students’ performance on their teams:
There are several options to consider for grading students’ performance on their teams. . As a faculty member, you may already have a commonly used method. Here we provide some examples for you to think about when setting your grading criteria for teamwork.
If you are interested in more methods and a more detailed comparison of advantages and disadvantages of these different methods for assessment, take a look at the Grading Methods for Groupwork presented by the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University (based on the work of Winchester-Seeto, T. 2002).
Below are some general categories to consider for individual team member performance on teams. These broad categories can be helpful in determining individual grading adjustments after the team deliverable or work product is graded. The overall principle is to take all comments and ratings (both self and peer assessments) into consideration and look for consistent themes or patterns. In addition, faculty should also compare in-class performance and engagement. Especially when considering a “downgrade” from the project grade, faculty members should carefully examine and weigh all of the data points.
ASSESSING TEAM LEARNING
Many faculty who use teams in their courses are also interested in assessing their students’ team learning and development. Are students learning the skills and demonstrating the behaviors necessary to build and maintain successful teams? Are they developing the ability to collaborate, provide feedback, and manage conflict effectively? These developmental opportunities can be assessed through various means including: self-assessments, reflections on peer assessments, faculty feedback and coaching, and by creating action plans for future development. With appropriate interpretation and reflection on feedback, students explore their role and impact on their teams, leading to ongoing development within their current teams and on future teams.
Self-assessment / Reflection
Self-awareness enables individuals to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and to identify areas where they can improve. Students can be assigned self-assessment activities to help them reflect on their own preferences, tendencies, and behaviors as they work on teams. Such reflection provides a foundation for comparing self-perceptions with peer-assessments and faculty feedback.
Peer Feedback / Reflection
Teamwork enables students the opportunity to learn more about themselves and their interactions on teams, particularly when peer feedback is employed. Students should be encouraged to reflect carefully upon the feedback that they receive from their fellow team members. (As noted previously, we recommend using a plus/delta model for peer feedback.) Students should note the areas in which they are performing well (plus) as well as areas for change or improvement (deltas). Following that reflection, students should develop an action plan for improving their performance on the team and on future teams.
Faculty Feedback & Coaching
Faculty feedback and coaching provide a third perspective that is essential to each student’s learning and development. Faculty observations of a student’s class performance and team contributions can be critical to a student’s willingness to accept and internalize other feedback. It is often an essential learning opportunity when there is a gap between a student’s self-perception and the peer feedback that they receive. Immediate faculty feedback and coaching can help students change behaviors and improve between assignments.
Team Learning Assistant
The TLA is a team learning software program that better manages and maximizes team learning experiences, including team contract building, team check-points, peer feedback, action plans, and peer evaluation.
The TLA is designed for use by both faculty and students.
Faculty determine the use of TLA within their classes. They select assignments within TLA that enable them to monitor team and individual performance throughout the semester, based on desired learning outcomes and assessment needs.
Students will then use the TLA as a resource to build self-awareness and critical team management skills such as assigning roles and responsibilities, and giving and receiving feedback.
Click here to learn more and request a demo.
Other Third-Party Tools
There are many tools and applications available on the market that facilitate team communication. You may have a favorite that you would like to recommend that your students use. Alternatively, you can let the students decide for themselves which tools will best support their teamwork. They may already have one that is frequently used and familiar to all of the team members.
We hope that the information we have provided on this site is helpful as you integrate teaming into your course design. If you have a specific question that we have not answered here, please feel free to reach out to us by clicking the “Contact for Support” icon and completing the form.