Faculty Guide to Team Projects

Five students working together around a laptop computer.

Are you considering using a team project in your course?  Have you used them before but feel that there’s room for improvement? Wondering how to address a challenge you or your students face? 

This resource covers effective practices and resources selected to help you create, support, and assess effective team projects in your classes.

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Why Use Team Projects?

Effective Practice: Create team projects to help students learn better, develop useful skills, and engage in more authentic work.

Why use team projects in your course? Team projects provide an effective way for your students to complete a complex task that they could not complete alone, and students working on a team project experience many additional benefits. For example, multiple empirical research articles report that students who work in teams outperform students who work individually. The benefits that students experience when working cooperatively compared to working individually are highlighted below (Johnson, 2014).

Benefits of working cooperatively for students

  • Use higher-level reasoning skills more frequently.
  • Are more accurate and creative when problem solving.
  • Exhibit greater willingness to take on difficult tasks and persist.
  • Experience more intrinsic motivation.
  • Better able to transfer learning from one situation to another.
  • Spend more time on task.

The ability to work effectively as a part of a team is a skill that is highly valued by employers. The College of Liberal Arts’ Career Readiness initiative identifies teamwork and leadership as core career competencies. According to the Career Readiness core competencies, students competent in Teamwork and Leadership are able to:

  • Understand their own roles and responsibilities within a group, and how they may change in differing situations.
  • Influence others without necessarily holding a formal position of authority, and have the willingness to take action.
  • Leverage the strengths of the group to achieve a shared vision or objective.

Do Students Want to Work in Teams?

Not usually. One published study indicated that the overwhelming majority of students preferred working alone to working in teams (Raidal, 2009). However, this is usually due to a previous bad experience working in teams. These bad experiences include poorly designed projects with little support from the instructor, teammates who didn’t pull their share of the work on the project, feeling that the project was just busywork, and difficulties meeting outside of class due to conflicting schedules (Scager, 2016). This site will provide you with all the information and resources you need to avoid these pitfalls. 

References

  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., Smith, K. A., The state of cooperative learning In postsecondary and professional settings. Educational Psychology Review 19, 15 – 29 (2007).
  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., Smith, K. A., Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25, (3&4), 85 - 118 (2014).
  • Raidal, S.L. & Volet, S.E. Preclinical students’ predispositions towards social forms of instruction and self-directed learning: A challenge for the development of autonomous and collaborative learners, Higher Education, 57, 577-596 (2009).
  • Scager, K., Boonstra, J. Peeters, T., Vulperhorst, J. Wiegant, F., Collaborative learning in higher education: Evoking positive interdependence. CBE Life Science Education, 15:ar69 (2016).