Nathan J. Delson
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093, USA
Team motivation in capstone engineering courses can significantly affect the quality of project outcome. Teams with high motivation often exceed expectations, while less motivated teams at times fail to reach the potential of even a subset of their members. Successful teams typically exhibit a high level of independence in decision making and engineering implementation. However, many components of traditional classroom settings and student projects can hinder team motiva- tion. Moreover, some experiences with student teams have been counterintuitive; groups with slow or rocky starts may end up with higher levels of achievement, while heightened instructor interest in a project topic may result in a detrimental effect on student work. Team motivation is specifically addressed by research in the area of organizational behavior and group processes. This article will apply some lessons derived from group process research to the objective of increasing motivation in student design projects. Relevant input is provided in the areas of project selection, role of instructor, sources of feedback, independence of groups and stages of team development. In addition, familiarity with group processes can increase the quality of the instructor’s experience during the inevitable turmoil associated with ambitious student projects. Examples of successful and less successful mechanical engineering capstone design projects are presented to illustrate how team development affects the engineering outcome.