Project-based learning in a team setting can be a significant platform in engineering curricula for collaborative learning, engagement and student retention of learned material. While several practices for team formation are evident in literature, a limited number focus on maximizing student satisfaction while working in teams. This is critical for first-year students who just entered college through a competitive admissions process and often require some learning to understand collaboration in a team setting. At our university, we have analyzed the freshman team experiences in three major core engineering courses, and this paper presents example practices that have promoted positive teamwork experiences, as well as quality project outcomes.
In this study, we used team assessment data from three courses from the same cohort of students (214) across multiple sections in the 2017-2018 academic year: first-semester design course on basic electromechanical systems and robotics in the fall semester, second-semester design course on fielded systems, and the introductory course on entrepreneurial thinking. All courses used project-based learning with teams of three or four students. A software tool and its built-in methodologies, Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness (CATME), was used to assess overall satisfaction with their teammates, which we adopted as a measure of student satisfaction from their team experience. Major differential factors in our study included whether the students were given a project by the instructor or allowed to define their own project, and if they had any choice in selecting their teammates.
In the first-semester design course, students were sorted in teams using a hierarchical set of policies defined in CATME’s Team-Maker and were assigned a project for the semester; all students in the course worked on the same project. In the second-semester design course, students were able to pick their teammates with a few restrictions, but a project was assigned to them. The students in the entrepreneurial thinking course selected their teammates and their project with the constraint that it must follow a theme of social innovation. While traditionally it is challenging to maintain quality when students define their own project, instructors reviewed the student project proposals and established a level of quality and scope for the projects. Small class sizes (fewer than 28 students), flexible teaching methods, standardized evaluation rubrics, and flipped classroom methods are all used to ensure the learning objectives for these courses are consistently met across the sections.
Overall group satisfaction was 5 percent higher in the entrepreneurial thinking course than in the second-semester design course and 8 percent higher than that of the first-semester design course. We found that prior experience working in teams enhances the satisfaction score, as evident from the increased ratings from first-semester to second-semester courses. Additionally, when looking at the engineering design courses that had the same subset of instructors, 83 percent had improved team satisfaction, with a 7 percent average increase in the second course, when compared to the first.
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