Active/Collaborative Learning Student Teams Integrating Technology Effectively Women and Minorities Assessment and Evaluation EC2000 Emerging Technology Foundation Coalition Curricula Concept Inventories
Student Teams

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 to teams?

  • 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 in groups.
  • 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, and adjourning.

How might I facilitate dysfunctional teams?

  • 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 feedback.
  • 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 own.

Student Teams in the Classroom

Resources to address the following issues that arise when using student teams.

  • Assigning students to teams
  • Developing interpersonal and team skills
  • Design exercises for student teams
  • Facilitating dysfunctional teams
  • Assigning individual grades for team projects


  • Educating Engineers for a New Millenium: Active/Collaborative Learning
  • Teaming in the Classroom

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 requirements.


Here are people you can contact for more information about student teams, in general, and workshops on using student teams, in particular.


Resource 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 workbook.

Team Handbook – 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.

Puzzled about 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
  1. Katzenbach, Jon R. and Douglas K. Smith, Wisdom of Teams, Harvard Business School Press, 1992
  2. 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
  3. Engineering Education for a Changing World, Report prepared by the ASEE Engineering Deans' Council and Corporate Roundtable, Washington, D.C., ASEE, 1994.
  4. ASTD, "Workplace Basics: The Skills Employers Want," American Society for Training and Development and U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 1988.
  5. 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
  6. ABET, "ABET Engineering Criteria 2000," The Engineering Accreditation Commission, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. Haag, S.G., "Teaming Backlash: Reframing Female Engineering Students," Proceedings, 2000 ASEE Conference, St. Louis, MI, June 18-21, 2000
  9. W. Tuckman & M.A.C. Jensen, "Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited," Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), December 1977, pp. 419-427
  10. Brown, R. W., "Autorating: Getting Individual Marks from Team Marks and Enhancing Teamwork," Proceedings, 1995 Frontiers in Education Conference
  11. Kaufman, D. B., R. M. Felder, H. Fuller, "Accounting for Individual Effort in Cooperative Learning Teams," J. Engr. Ed., 89(2), 133–140 (2000)

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