Facilitating Teamwork Instruction in a First-Year Engineering Design Program: a Question of Balance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


For over 15 years our first-year engineering design program has focused on a user-centered approach to design thinking and communication, where students work with real-world clients on ill-defined problems and communicate their ideas in a variety of ways to multiple audiences. To facilitate higher teamwork performance, we historically used two instruments to facilitate teamwork learning: (1) an intra-quarter peer review and self-review, and (2) an end-of-the-quarter reflective memo. In the fall of 2011, our program partnered with the university’s Center for Leadership, to integrate opportunities for more teamwork reflection, peer- and self-assessment and teamwork improvement throughout the two quarter experience using an online interface. Peer-assessment and self-reflection pieces at the end of the quarter allow students to determine if they had been successful in achieving their mid-term goals. At the end of the year, however, when we surveyed ~425 students in the program, we were disappointed to learn that, while some of the students found the activities highly beneficial, an overwhelming number saw them simply as “busy work.” In addition, a majority of the program’s faculty were also frustrated by the new tools. Analysis of the survey responses and the teamwork activities suggested that the problem was one of balance: since teamwork is a goal of the program, but not its primary goal, we believe we built in too many exercises related to teamwork, ironically undermining their usefulness. In addition, by outsourcing the responsibility for administering the activities, faculty were less aware of when assignments were due, the roles of individual assignments, and how to readily assess and apply the students’ responses. This study reports the problems we encountered in our attempt to improve teamwork instruction, presents our new hypothesis about how to teach teamwork in a first-year design course, describes the modifications we have made this past year and presents the areas of teamwork pedagogy that we are increasingly interested in systematically exploring.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Fifth Annual First Year Engineering Experience Conference (FYEE)
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2013


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