Enhancing Design Teamwork Experiences and Learning in Engineering Education

Shun Takai
Associate Professor, Interim Chair
Northern Illinois University

Need: The goals of this collaborative engineering education project are to enhance students’ teamwork experiences and teamwork learning by assisting course instructors better teach future team-project-based design courses through 1) forming better student design teams and 2) improving team member collaboration with the use of effective team-building design exercises. Forming collaborative teams is a critical first step in team-project-based design courses as team composition directly affects not only teamwork processes and outcomes, but also teamwork skills and experience. Unfortunately, in one survey across multiple disciplines including engineering, 32% of students experienced poor or very poor group work and 27% of students were unsatisfied with their teams and the division of tasks among the team members. Rather than contributing to team projects, some students resorted to social loafing. Social loafing tends to destroy both teamwork performance and individual learning, especially in solving ill-structured problems, such as design. Furthermore, a bad experience on a past team is a significant concern as it could generate negative feelings toward future team projects. Guiding Question: Guiding questions of this project are 1) do characteristics of senior design student differ between online vs. face-to-face instructions or between institutions, 2) which student characteristics enhance team member collaboration, 3) how can we form collaborative student design teams based on these characteristics, and 4) what team-building design exercises effectively improve team member collaboration. Outcomes: We surveyed students in senior design courses at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) taught online in 2020-2021 (NIU=35, RIT=107 responses) and face-to-face in 2021-2022 (NIU=136, RIT=219 responses). We collected about forty student characteristics that included 1) background information (major, race/ethnicity, gender, parents’ education, and working condition), 2) work structure preferences (task execution, mode of communication, and team roles), 3) personality (cognitive modes and Big Five personality), 4) ability (GPA and decision making), 5) motivation (Academic Motivation Scale and its subscales), and 6) attitude (social loafing tendency, sucker effects, social compensation, tolerance to ambiguity, and tolerance to uncertainty). We compared individual characteristics 1) within the same institution (NIU or RIT) when the courses were taught online (2020-2021) vs. face-to-face (2021-2022) and 2) between two institutions, NIU vs. RIT, when the courses were taught online (2020-2021) or face-to-face (2021-2022). Student characteristics were similar within each institution regardless of the modes of instruction (online or face-to-face); however, there were significant differences in student characteristics across NIU and RIT.Broader Impacts: Same team-formation methodology can be used within the same institution as student characteristics were comparable regardless of whether the senior design courses were taught online or face-to-face. Institution-specific team-formation methodology may be needed as student characteristics differ across institutions. These results indicate that a procedure to create team-formation methodology that caters to each institution’s unique student characteristics is needed in order to disseminate and replicate project outcomes more broadly.


Marcos Esterman, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY