Team learning is a popular design element in various project-oriented learning models.
According to the Building Blocks for Teams Web Site there are a few recommendations on which most practitioners would agree:
Number of students
- In engineering education, a team is usually composed by 4-5 people, because that is small enough for everyone to communicate, but large enough to have genuine team dynamics. 7-8 participants seems to be maximum, pairs (2) the minimum.
Mix of students
- Most experts agree that students should not form teams by themselves, since within the team clique-building increases and conversely exclusions of some.
- Heterogeneous Groups: Selection of students according to several criteria, e.g. according to background in subject matters, or geographic / ethnic / gender, or learning styles. However, make sure not to have a sole "minority person" in a group.
- Random assignment.
- By interest, e.g. topics, future career plans, etc.
- By expertise, see shared expertise.
“Teams which have similar membership often function more quickly and efficiently than heterogeneous groups, but heterogeneous teams can be more innovative in the long run.” (, retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST))
As a general rule, teams should remain stable throughout a project. However there are exceptions:
- “One exception could be if your class does relatively short projects with pairs or small teams. In that case, it could be advantageous to rotate members so students are exposed to more viewpoints.” ( retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST))
- Some CSCL models like Busser and Ninck's (2004) BrainSpace may include rotation schemes where students are assigned different roles in differents groups so that knowledge can spread through a whole class.
The role of technology
Technology is of course very prominent in scenarios that explicitly include within-group collaboration scripts, e.g. this is the case in computer-supported collaborative learning.
However, even if teamwork organization is left open to team members and students are enrolled in presential teaching, technology plays an increasingly important role.
When are groups effective ?
Can team skills be taught ?
According to Okudan (2001) “it was proposed that the high performing team skills training and education could improve the performance of student design teams.”. Half of an engineering class received three two-hour training, but globally the results have not been found significant and the authors call for more research that also try out different more in depth-training.
- Student Teams in Engineering This Web page from the engineering education Foundation Coalition has several interesting documents for teachers.
- Building Blocks for Teams, Teaching and Learning with Technology, PennState. Good site with practical advice.
- Frequently Asked Questions of the Wharton Leadership Program. Addresses some team forming/management issues.
- BESTTEAMS, (Building Engineering Student Team Effectiveness and Management Systems project) at University of Maryland. This site has teaching materials for download.
- Breslow, Lori, Teaching Teamwork Skills - Part 1, TLL Library, Vol. X, No. 4, January/February 1998 HTML
- Breslow, Lori, Teaching Teamwork Skills - Part 2, TLL Library, Vol. X. No. 5, March/April 1998. HTML
- Katzenbach, J.R. and Smith, D.K. (1992) Wisdom of Teams, Harvard Business School Press
- Issacs, Geoff. (2000) "'Group Assessment' - Assessment of Students on Group-Based Tasks - Issues and Options" A Report for the Queensland Teaching and Learning Committee.
- Michaelson, Larry K. (1999) "Myths And Methods In Successful Small Group Work." National Teaching and Leaning Forum, Vol. 8, #6
- Buesser, Maurus & Ninck, Andreas (2004). BrainSpace: a virtual environment for collaboration and innovation, Int. J. Technology Management, 28 (7/8) PDF
- Okudan, G.E., Horner, D. and Russell, M. (2001) Achieving High Performing Engineering Design Teams: A Curriculum Intervention Study, Proceedings, International Conference on Engineering Education. PDF
- Okudan, G.E., Horner, D., Bogue, B., Devon, R. and Russell, M. (2002) An Investigation of Gender Composition on Integrated Project Team Performance: Part II, Proceedings, ASEE International Colloquium on Engineering Education. PDF
- Seat, E. and Lord, S. (1999)"Enabling Effective Engineering Teams: A Program for Teaching Interaction Skills," Journal on Engineering Education, 88(4), 385-390