Using Reflection to Promote Teamwork Understanding in Engineering Design Education

Penny L. Hirsch and Ann F. McKenna
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA
E-mail: phirsch@northwestern.edu, mckenna@northwestern.edu

Abstract:
While most engineering design takes place in teams and most engineering educators agree that teamwork is important, less is known about how to provide effective instruction in teamwork. Yet this instruction is increasingly important as globalization creates teams that must bridge ever greater technological and cultural divides. To address this area, over the past four years we have investigated various pedagogical approaches to combine teamwork experience with reflective activities to help students learn what constitutes the high-performing teams that industry seeks and how to capitalize on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses to operate optimally on a design team in school or in industry. An analysis of this work, asking students to identify essential characteristics of successful teams, suggests that reflection provides opportunities for students to abstract key principles about teamwork from their activities and that students understand and value most of the same characteristics of successful teams identified by studies of successful teams in industry. For example, results indicate that students make the connection between effective teamwork and essential design activities like open-mindedness, collaboration, and innovation. In addition, our data show that students understand the value of having a shared goal and high performance standards, communicating effectively and drawing on team members’ diverse strengths. However, students use slightly different language from that found in industry, and more research needs to be done to see if cognitive growth about teamwork improves performance in design.

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