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Assessing Activity Systems Of Design Teams In A Collaborative Service Learning Environment

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.262.1 - 12.262.13



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Paper Authors

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Scott Schaffer Purdue University

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Kimfong Lei Purdue University

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Lisette Reyes Purdue University

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William Oakes Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Carla Zoltowski Purdue University

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

Assessing Activity Systems of Design Teams in a Collaborative Service Learning Environment


This study focused on an assessment process and cross-disciplinary team learning framework potentially useful in the design of collaborative environments for project teams. This following research questions addressed were: 1) Did individual self assessment of skills, abilities and attitudes match with perceived team goals; 2) Did teams believe they acquired the resources and support required to transform from individual to group cognition; and 3) What impact did the sociocultural context have on teams’ ability to accomplish the previous two components as well as achieve outcomes. Two cross-disciplinary engineering teams in a university service learning program were observed, interviewed, and surveyed while completing projects. A comparative, multi-case study design was employed to study an award-winning, cross-disciplinary team and a more typical team comprised of only engineers. Tensions and contradictions within and across team activity systems were identified and contrasted. The extent to which teams evolved from an emphasis on individual learning toward cross-disciplinary learning during projects was also assessed. Results are discussed in the context of a cross-disciplinary team learning framework that is currently being validated by the research team.


Assessment of collaboration patterns and learning among team members engaged in long-term projects such as university service learning projects is complex and requires a multi-faceted approach. Teams members interact and collaborate with clients, advisors, and peers on complex, time sensitive projects. A combination of theoretical frameworks is necessary to begin to understand the evolution of individual to group to team cognition and learning within various contexts. A combined framework termed the cross-disciplinary team learning (CDTL) framework is currently being validated by the research team1. A validated CDTL framework along with several documented cases of team collaboration describing the complexity of team learning provides excellent grounding for the design of team collaboration software.

Two theoretical frameworks supported the assessment of context and cross-disciplinary team learning in this study. The first is activity theory (AT), which is a multi-disciplinary theory for studying human activity from a cultural-historical perspective with roots in the works of Vygotsky2 and Leont’ev3. Engeström4 further modified activity theory and included several socio-cultural elements. According to Bannon5, AT is not a “theory” in a strict interpretation

Schaffer, S., & Lei, K., & Reyes, L., & Oakes, W., & Zoltowski, C. (2007, June), Assessing Activity Systems Of Design Teams In A Collaborative Service Learning Environment Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2685

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