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A Pilot Investigation Of Functional Roles On Engineering Student Teams

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Student Teams & Active Learning

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.85.1 - 9.85.12



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Paper Authors

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Jeannie Brown Leonard

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Janet Schmidt

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Linda Schmidt

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Paige Smith

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2131

A Pilot Investigation of Functional Roles on Engineering Student Teams

Ms. Jeannie Brown Leonard, Dr. Janet A. Schmidt, Ms. Paige E. Smith, & Dr. Linda C. Schmidt University of Maryland, College Park


The project team has become a primary learning environment for engineering students. Engineering education accreditation1 has been revised to include the ability to function on multidisciplinary teams as a required student learning outcome in response to industry identification of shortcomings in team skills2. Unlike other science, technology, and mathematics disciplines, graduates of engineering programs typically enter a work environment that immediately requires team and interpersonal process skills. From the perspective of education, positive team project experiences can motivate students to perform at higher levels. Well-functioning teams have been shown to improve learning and retention in non-engineering fields, especially for members of underrepresented groups3,4,5,6,7.

Previous research suggests that while most engineering faculty are committed to using project teams in their classrooms, they have little or no formal training on how to work with student teams or how to teach team members to work well together8. Focused on their discipline and on pedagogy, the majority of engineering instructors do not place a high priority on learning the theory and practice of what makes teams effective learning environments. For the few who do have the motivation to translate psychological and business related research into the context of the engineering student project team, the task is difficult. For example, team functioning has been described with over 130 different labels9,10. Compounding the confusion, much of the available research on teamwork was conducted using military teams and contrived experiments where volunteers simulate team situations, making the application to engineering project teams unclear11,12. However, despite problems with terminology and disciplinary contexts, one of the most consistent aspects of the literature on teams in a variety of settings is the importance of team roles13,14. The importance of team roles is based on the notion that certain predictable processes and behaviors must occur (represented by roles such as Facilitator or Leader) if a team is to be successful. Increasing the awareness of team members to these roles increases the chance that appropriate behaviors will occur and the team will be successful.

To empirically explain and better understand the importance of team roles in engineering project teams, we conducted a qualitative study. A variety of engineering team experiences were investigated ranging from first-year students involved in teams for the first time as part of an Introduction to Engineering Design course (ENES 100) to seniors completing capstone engineering courses. Freshmen teams provided the baseline or “naïve condition” since most of these students had few prior team experiences. Seniors, on the other hand, are individuals who “Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Brown Leonard, J., & Schmidt, J., & Schmidt, L., & Smith, P. (2004, June), A Pilot Investigation Of Functional Roles On Engineering Student Teams Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12933

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