Getting Student Engineering Teams Off to a Good Start
 


Addressing potential problem team members
One of the questions frequently raised by faculty members and students about the use of teams is the potential problem of students who either don’t contribute substantively or don’t make the effort to do their parts. A faculty member must be prepared at the beginning of a course to address this issue. There are two vehicles for addressing the freeloader problem. One is the grading policy for the course. The second are mechanisms through which teams might address the problem if it arises.

Grading: To students, the expectations of an instructor are reflected in the grading policy. For students, if the instructor values certain behaviors, certain concepts, certain performances, these will appear as components of the grade. So, for example, if an instructor values performance as a team, a percentage of the grade will depend on one or more assignments done as a team.

However, if teams submit an assignment and each team member receives the same grade for an assignment, then a member who made no effort to contribute could receive the same grade as a member who made significant contributions or substantial effort. The same grade for every team member may encourage freeloading. Therefore, an instructor may develop a procedure to assign differentiated grades to encourage individual accountability. One way to assign differentiated grades is to use Peer Assessment or peer evaluation, which is the topic of another document in this series. An instructor might get better results from a peer evaluation if it is preceded by one or more cycles of peer assessment and feedback.

Possible team mechanism: On assignments submitted by a team, ask that each member of the team who made a reasonable effort to contribute to the assignment sign it. If the team thinks that a member of the team has not met the criteria for signing, then that member should be not permitted to sign and will not receive credit for the assignment. A suggested criterion is “I did my fair share of the work, AND I have a general understanding of the (entire) contents of the submission.”

Possible team mechanism: Another mechanism or pair of mechanisms that might be offered to a team to address slackers is “firing” or “resigning.” For example, an instructor might allow a team to “fire” a team member who consistently refuses to make an effort to contribute. An instructor might require that a student who has been fired complete the rest of the course work as an individual or find another team that will accept that person as a member. Alternatively, an instructor might allow a member to “resign” if the member thinks that the other members consistently fail to make an effort to contribute. Again, an instructor might require that a student who has resigned either complete the rest of the course work as an individual or find another team that will accept that person as a member.

Another type of potential problem member is the dominating team member who refuses to allow other team members to contribute ideas or concerns. These types of members can be worse than freeloaders in terms of team development. Raising these types of problems early with the entire class and asking them how these problems might be addressed can help provide teams with tools to handle these problems if they should arise.

Role Evaluation and Self-assessment Ask students to assess their performance on a team, how they are performing their assigned roles, and how their performances might be improved.

Instructor Role The instructor's role is crucial and active. Monitoring the teaming process can be as important as grading the team submissions. Once a problem is brought to the attention of the instructor, he/she has a responsibility to get involved and precipitate resolution. Often, student teams are not experienced, mature, and trained enough to deal with these kinds of issues on their own. An instructor should provide facilitation and/or guidance. To reduce the magnitude of team problems that might be encountered, instructors should encourage teams to identify problem members with an on-going evaluation process and by statements like “If I don't know about it I can't help solve it” and “I will have no sympathy for a long-standing team problem that comes to light at the end of the project or semester.”