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Teams, Learning

Teaming is one way to increase the level of active and cooperative/collaborative learning in the classroom. Forming short term groups or long term teams helps students learn to work together and rely on each other as a tool for learning. In turn, this can reduce the amount of time and energy an instructor must spend addressing individual questions.

Working in teams emulates the real world, providing a strong motivator for using them in the classroom. One of the major goals associated with teaming is to help students to learn to incorporate diverse viewpoints and perspectives into their solution process. Another goal is to help students to let go of the desire to be involved in every step in the solution process. One problem with the traditional educational process is that typically students develop a mindset where they work alone throughout a project and see a project through from the start to finish without assistance. The problem is that they become accustomed to being involved with every step of the process and are reluctant to trust other students to take responsibility for completing anything. This approach is counter to the real-world practice where employees can easily be part of global team working asynchronously on a project. Teaming in the classroom offers students the opportunity to begin to adapt to this new paradigm before they are placed in an environment where failure may have dire consequences.

In addition to the real world parallels of teaming, it is also a foundational element of many instructional techniques, such as problem based learning and collaborative/cooperative learning. Utilizing simple teams for activities such as group projects or small group discussions can be an excellent way to introduce students to the dynamics of teaming before using a more advanced instructional technique for which teaming is only a segment of the larger process.

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Words of Wisdom

  • Teams can be nearly any size; however, 3-5 is the most common size and is considered in the literature to be the "optimal" size.
  • For long term teams, consider having students develop a set of team rules with which all students agree and that a signed copy be submitted. Be sure that the teams include penalties for disobeying those rules. Make it clear to students that if they sign the list of rules, they are agreeing to abide by them. This can help reduce potential team participation issues, as you as the instructor can fall back on the rules that team chose and agreed to.
  • Encourage students to ask their teammates questions before directing them to you. This not only encourages team interdependence but also reduces the amount of load on the instructor, as they should only be answering questions for which the entire team has no answer.
  • Learning Teams are typically chosen when there are complex, cognitive critical thinking skills involved, and when a highly successful project or assignment cannot be completed by independent means. They are also chosen when skills for working in a team setting are a desired outcome. Guidelines for designing assignments, as well as assisting students through the team experience, integrate well into the academic setting.
  • Within some communities, the term "group" and "team" are different, with groups being assembled on an ad hoc basis and teams being longer term interactions. Within other communities, the terms are synonymous.