April 26, 2011
Establish expectations for appropriate team citizenship behavior to develop team skills and address team dynamic problems proactively
An important learning outcome for group work is that students learn to function effectively as a team member by engaging in appropriate team citizenship behaviors and communicating clearly and civilly with team members.
Unfortunately, students working in teams are frequently expected to either bring these skills to the team project or discover these skills on their own while completing a team project. When students and faculty experience negative outcomes from dysfunctional teams that cannot meet these expectations, they dread subsequent assignments that entail group work.
The following assignment establishes expectations for appropriate team behavior and a rubric for evaluating these skills:
Ask students to meet with their team members (or hold a threaded discussion in D2L) on the characteristics and behaviors of an exemplary group member by answering the following questions:
As a class activity, ask members of the various teams to share their descriptions. Develop a rubric or other grading/feedback form that uses the criteria described in the team discussions.
Students typically generate appropriate criteria and descriptions of exemplary and problematic team member behaviors in these activities. This rubric can then be used for peer evaluation of individual contributions to the group project. Although you might be able to predict the content of the rubric students generate during this activity, do not be tempted to save class time and simply provide a rubric you create. The process of identifying and defining student-generated criteria establishes norms for group work, communicates these expectations clearly, and develops consensus among students that these expectations are appropriate.
Hold students accountable for good team behavior by using this rubric to compute a component of student grades. For example, in addition to the grade the group receives for the final product produced for a group project, each member will receive an individual grade that is determined by the following components:
This tip is based on a suggestion from Dr. Claire Lamonica, Associate Director, Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology, Illinois State University.
April 12, 2011
Anticipate problems in team dynamics and help students develop strategies for resolving conflicts during group work
Students frequently justify their resistance to working in a group by relating a past negative experience when dysfunctional team dynamics created stress and interfered with completion of a group project. Many individuals are conflict avoidant and have difficulty identifying strategies for resolving conflicts that might arise during a group project. However, instructors assign group projects because these activities create opportunities for students to learn and practice effective communication and conflict resolution skills. Much stress can be avoided if students identify useful conflict resolution strategies before they are confronted with an actual conflict.
With this strategy, instructors rarely have to serve as mediators for group conflict. Students learn to manage conflicts effectively as members of their team.
This tip is based on a suggestion from Dr. Claire Lamonica, Associate Director, Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology, Illinois State University.
December 7, 2010
Use T-charts to develop metacognitive skills in students
T-Charts are tables or matrices (graphic organizers) in which students list and examine facets of a topic, such as the pros and cons of a position, describe the advantages and disadvantages of several potential solutions to a problem, or identify pieces of information on a controversial topic as either facts or opinions.
Use T-Charts to develop skills. We often assume that students already know the skills they need to thrive in our classrooms. However, students often cannot describe the specific behaviors intended by words faculty use to describe their expectations for classroom behaviors, such as participation, preparation or listening. Similarly, students do not necessarily connect behaviors such as punctuality, use of communication tools, and characteristics of their discourse with teachers and peers to the concept of civility.
Consider the responses students might give to the following question: What are the boundaries for an acceptable response when a peer makes a point you find offensive? Students might not respond to this prompt by articulating specific behaviors. The ability of students to articulate and engage in appropriate behaviors that faculty describe in response to this question represent team skills that are critical to successful functioning in a collaborative workplace.
In addition to using a T-chart to develop firm expectations about team skill, this activity can be used to help students develop specific study skills, such as reading a textbook or listening for and understanding another’s point of view. Create a T-chart to show visually what “active listening” sounds and looks like in terms of specific behaviors.
An instructor could develop a T-chart to describe expectations and distribute this as a handout. However, creating a chart collaboratively can have a more powerful effect because the activity will develop consensus and create buy-in. Constructing a T-chart with student input requires about 5 minutes of class time. The activity can also be used to encourage students to model some of the skills. This activity is a great opportunity for creating student engagement and class participation, often with a refreshing touch of humor. T-charts can be created to focus on any skill you would like to develop.
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium, (sponsored by Western Kentucky University) by Michael Dabney, Director, Teaching and Learning Center, Hawaii Pacific University (http://www.hpu.edu/index.cfm?contentID=9473&siteID=1).
November 2, 2010
Improve team dynamics by providing resources to help students develop and complete a major group project
The Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University published an 88-page resource, Successful Strategies for Teams: Team Member Handbook (Kennedy & Nilson, 2008), that is designed for students to guide them through the potentially treacherous waters of completing a major group project. The Team Member Handbook equips students with techniques and templates based on models from corporate experience that are effective in making teams more productive, efficient, and successful. Specifically, these techniques help teams organize information, organize and run effective meetings, and generate useful member contributions. This handbook promotes a variety of learning outcomes for students:
Sections of the handbook address why students should learn to excel at teamwork, the stages of team development, team player styles, mental models of teamwork, teamwork skills, ways to troubleshoot group problems, and tools for organizing, problem solving, and collecting and analyzing information.
Successful Strategies for Teams: Team Member Handbook
by Frances A. Kennedy, Ph.D. with Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D
Available as a free download to everyone at:
You can also download an Excel spreadsheet with templates for team planning tools:
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium (sponsored by Western Kentucky University), by Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University (www.clemson.edu/OTEI).
September 28, 2010
How does Team-Based Learning differ from “group work?”
Team-based Learning (TBL) differs from group work in that TBL structures the activities and provides mechanisms for addressing group dynamics. In contrast, much group work entails assigning students to groups or allowing them to self-select into groups and work out dynamics on their own, often with mixed results.
Team-based learning includes the following four components:
Team-based learning strategies can be implemented in large lectures (even in rooms with fixed seating) as well as in smaller classes.
Create diverse teams to distributed attributes associated with student characteristics across the teams. Collect information about the characteristics of students enrolled in the class and assign team membership to ensure that each team include a variety of majors, years of experience as a student, athletes and non-athletes, men and women, racial and ethnic groups, and other characteristics. Diverse teams provide opportunities for students to learn about the unique strengths that students from different backgrounds contribute to work on a given task. Self-selected teams tend to be too homogeneous and undermine the goal of providing students with experiences working with students different from themselves. Student-formed teams frequently perform less well than instructor-created teams.
The readiness assurance component ensures that students are prepared to engage in team activities when these are scheduled. One example of a readiness assurance strategy is to require that students take a short quiz on material for the team activity at the beginning of class before they participate in the activity. After completing the quiz individually, students participate in groups to work on the quiz. Teams can appeal a question answer in writing but must provide a clear justification for their appeal based on citations of text-based evidence to support their argument.
Examples of application activities include:
One characteristic of these team-based activities is that all teams work on the same problem and report their decisions simultaneously. Some faculty will ask student teams to use clickers to report their choices, but other mechanisms can also be used.
Examples of peer evaluation criteria include:
View a 12-minute video that illustrates team-based learning in action (on the site).
Developed by Michael Sweet, University of Texas Austin.
The web site is a great resource for team-based learning strategies, including information on creating teams, grading team-based activities and assignments, pre-class preparation, ensuring students are prepared for team activities, peer evaluations, and application exercises.
March 16, 2010
Engaging Students through Problem-Based and Collaborative Learning Activities
Activities that actively engage students with course content, provide opportunities to practice and apply discipline-based skills, and enable students to collaborate with one another to encourage peer instruction are effective methods for improving student learning and connecting students with one another and their institution.
The Center for Teaching & Learning at Brigham Young University hosts a web page on collaborative learning in which 5 faculty members describe collaborative learning activities they use in their courses, discuss their rationale for using these strategies, and share their observations of the benefits for student learning. Individual videos are short (the longest is about 7 minutes long) and include videos of students engaged in the activities described.
Topics discussed in these videos include:
William Baker, Management Communication
Video describes collaborative learning strategies in a Business Communication course, including the use of teams, peer instruction, peer review, and a capstone project.
Deborah Hines, Nursing
Video describes problem-based learning activities with peer coaching in a clinical setting.
Matthew Mason, History
Video describes active learning strategies that engage students with primary resources and develop communication skills.
Video describes the use of a short writing activity at the beginning of class to promote student preparation for class and support in-class discussion.
Center for Teaching & Learning, Brigham Young University
Videos of faculty discussing their use of a collaborative learning strategy
February 24, 2009
Establish norms and expectations for individual contributions to group work
Students who are new to group work may be uncertain about how to be an effective member of the group. Establish clear expectations for good group citizenship and team skills by asking students to develop a group contract. You can assist this process by providing a sample contract that students could adapt to the needs of specific groups and projects.
A group contract should include two types of information:
TRACE Tips: Making Group Contracts provides examples of guidelines that students might include in a group contract, including guidelines that address student effort and attendance issues, procedures for group meetings, roles of group members, behavioral expectations, and a procedure for resolving conflict within the group.
TRACE Tips: Making Group Contracts
Centre for Teaching Excellence
University of Waterloo
September 16, 2008
Developing Team Skills
Teaching students relevant team skills requires more than placing them in groups and assigning a team project. Students also need coaching on how to communicate, manage group dynamics, keep on task, and a variety of other team-related skills. Emerson, Johnson, Milner, and Plank (1997) propose that any group activity can be structured to develop team skills if the activity requires that all members of the group work together to achieve a common goal. Observations of group processes during this activity serve as the basis for a discussion of group dynamics and the contribution of specific skills to the creation of a successful team.
The Three-Step Interview
The three-step interview (Millis, 2002) is a content-based activity that will engage students with course material while providing opportunities for learning about relevant team skills. Pose a question based on the course materials assigned as a pre-class reading.
Step 1: One student interviews another student (e.g., about a critical concept from the reading that is relevant to the planned lecture). Set a specific amount of time for this interview (2-3 minutes) with a secondary question for students who complete the first question early.
Step 2: Students in each pair reverse roles and conduct the interview again.
Step 3: Pairs combine to create a foursome in which students share insights gained from the interview process as well as their own perspective on the concept.
Benefits of the Three-Step Interview
This activity serves two purposes. First, it gives students immediate feedback about their comprehension of the material read for class. Second, the activity serves as an icebreaker for subsequent group work. If students are asked to reflect on the activity, they should be able to describe the importance of listening skills and identify the value of the contributions other students can make to their learning. Students can observe interpersonal dynamics, note sources of conflict, and identify concerns about group dynamics before they are a member of a group that is committed to completing a high-stakes project.
Emerson, D. M., Johnson, R. N., Milner, S., & Plank, K. M. (1997). The Penn State Teacher II: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University. [available as an online publication at http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/Resources/]
Millis, B. J. (2002). Enhancing Learning – and more! – Through Cooperative Learning, IDEA Paper #38.
October 2, 2007
Create small groups for class-related projects. Group work promotes social networking. Reorganize the groups from time to time to increase the number of contacts between students. Don’t have formal projects in your class? Create small groups for a think-pair-share activity related to class content. Pose a question, allow time for students to think and develop an individual response, pair the students (or create groups of no more than 4 students) to discuss their responses, and have a spokesperson from the groups share their discussion with the class. This is an effective method for active discussion of course content that requires only about 15 minutes of class time.
Updated 02/28/12 mhh cdw
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