This Evidence-Based Practice paper contains a study about the similarities and differences in team development among first-year engineering students during an introductory design course at a major university in the eastern United States. The study contained one group of teams that operated in a totally online environment in Spring 2021, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and another group of teams who were able to operate in Spring 2022 in person. All teams consisted of students in their second semester of college. Effective teamwork is important in both academic and industrial settings, but it can be adversely affected by the inability to meet in person, particularly at the first-year level.
Students have been dealing with the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for their physical, mental and emotional health. As a result of these uncertainties and the resulting changes in course content and delivery methods, it was reasonable to wonder if design teams at this age level were able to operate as constructively in an online environment as they would be expected to in person.
This research question was explored through this comparative study:
• How does first-year design team development vary between virtual and in-person operation?
A team development survey was administered to all teams during Week 11 of 15, with each team’s results reported and interpreted by the team as part of a third quarter status report in Week 12. The survey was based on Tuckman’s model for team development, which consists of the following stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
Five- and six-member teams were originally assigned on the basis of two skills and personality assessments, one of which was the CATME team formation survey. In addition to the data from these assessments and the Tuckman-based team development survey, CATME peer evaluations of team member performance were also available, and were used to inform the survey results, along with team contracts and the Week 12 project and team status report.
Preliminary survey results indicated that most team members considered their team to be in either the Performing stage or in a transition between the Norming and Performing stages. However, response bias was possible, such as a lack of well-considered responses to survey questions, collaboration between or among team members in survey responses, and different interpretations of particular questions. In addition, the fact that all teams provided a summary of their team’s survey results as part of a graded assignment may have caused them to emphasize only positive results and omit negative ones. However, the fact that both groups of teams showed a tendency toward the same stages of development indicates that perhaps online team operation is not as disadvantageous as originally thought.
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