Using Student Teams Effectively in Your Course

Recommended Timeline

1–3 months before course for larger projects;
2–3 weeks before a class for one-time project or assignment

Students benefit from working in teams because they provide opportunities to work with course content, cooperate with others, develop good communication skills and understand and incorporate differing viewpoints. The following steps provide a basic guide to building effective long-term teams in your course.

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Steps

  1. Design tasks that require students to work in teams. Promote interaction by assigning tasks that require consensus or concrete decisions based on analysis of a complex issue. Ideally, the team task requires student interdependence—in other words, they can’t do it on their own. One way to highlight interdependence is to assign roles, such as Facilitator, Recorder, Spokesperson/Reporter, Timekeeper and Reality Checker. If a task is possible for students to do individually, or if it can be split between the students, they will not learn from collaborating with others.
  2. Discuss why you are using teams with the students, including that learning is more successful when they are grappling with a problem together. Mention the important role that team skills play in successful employment after college.
  3. Form the teams, rather than having students form their own team. Students can be assigned to teams randomly, but a more effective method is to consider student skills and preparation for the course and distribute these skills evenly across the team. One transparent way to form diverse teams is to have students line up according to their skill level and then count off up to the number of teams you expect. All of the ones to go to one team, all of the twos go to another team, etc.
  4. Hold individuals accountable by setting the expectation that each individual, not just the group, will be prepared and complete required assignments. Some ways to hold individuals accountable include requiring pre-class preparation before beginning group work, calling on individual students in class to report back to the whole class, collecting individual work or basing a significant part of individual grades on behavior that promotes team success. Hold students responsible by having team members give feedback on each member’s contributions (also known as peer evaluation). Have student teams create a team charter detailing team member responsibilities.
  5. Create an assessment (i.e., grading) rubric based on your learning objectives and share this with the students. Consider soliciting student input on the rubric. Include measures of both how well the team accomplished the task and how each team member functioned.

Additional Resources

Building Teamwork Process Skills in StudentsThe Berkeley Teaching Blog
A UC Berkeley chemical engineering instructor explains how to teach students to function effectively in teams.

Working with Student Teams – Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Penn State University
A short online module designed to help instructors work more efficiently with student teams within their classes.

Learn TBLJames Sibley, University of British Columbia
A website by James Sibley (Director of the Centre for Instructional Support at the Faculty of Applied Science at University of British Columbia) compiling resource materials related to Team-Based Learning.

TEAMMATES
Software to facilitate student peer feedback.

References

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T. and Smith, K. A. (1998) Cooperative Learning Returns To College. What Evidence Is There That It Works?, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 30:4, 26-35, DOI:10.1080/00091389809602629.

Michaelsen, L. K., (2002). “Getting Started with Team Based Learning,” in Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups, Praeger, Michaelsen, L.K., Knight, A. B., and Fink, L.D. eds.

Oakley, B.; Felder, R. M.; Brent, R.; and Elhajj, I. (2004) Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams. J. Student Centered Learning, 2 (1), 9–34.

Sibley, J. & Ostafichuk, P. (2014). Getting Started with Team-Based Learning, Sterling, VA: Stylus.

 

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