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Board # 77 : A Sea of Variations: Lessons Learned from Student Feedback about the Role of Trust in First-year Design Teams

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Poster Session

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Natalie C.T. Van Tyne Virginia Tech

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Natalie Van Tyne is an Associate Professor of Practice at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where she teaches first year engineering design as a foundation courses for Virginia Tech's undergraduate engineering degree programs. She holds bachelors and masters degrees from Rutgers University, Lehigh University and Colorado School of Mines, and studies best practices in pedagogy, reflective learning and critical thinking as aids to enhanced student learning.

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A Sea of Variations: Lessons Learned from Student Feedback about the Role of Trust in First Year Design Teams

Teamwork is a fundamental part of the engineering profession; therefore, students majoring in engineering often work in teams and complete group assignments together. However, many engineering students dread the prospect of working on a team because they fear that their course grade will be adversely affected by the actions of other team members who cannot be trusted to support their own expectations about grade achievement. This belief might have been formed through a prior experience, or may arise from suspicion about the unknown motives and actions of the other students on their team. While effective and appropriate team leadership is often identified by students as a major factor in team success, a more fundamental attribute of a successful team is trust among its members. This research study will identify and explore the role of trust in the dynamics of successful first year engineering design teams at our multidisciplinary university in the eastern United States. We are using a conceptual framework for the formation of trust in a team-based environment, which has been formed by studies of successful business, technical and sports teams. Despite differences in maturity and experience, engineering students have a lot in common with these older team members, because both groups are people with common traits of human nature. Our research questions are as follows: • How strongly do team members describe manifestations of trust as a key factor in team success? • How can faculty remove barriers to the development of trust among members of student teams? Our introductory engineering design course provides both technical skill development and an introduction to engineering design through a semester-long team project, which is pursued by five-member student teams. Students were assigned to project teams using the CATME™ team formation instrument. Our study population consisted of approximately 200 first year students during each of the 2016 spring and fall semesters, respectively. Students were asked to describe their experiences on their team through peer evaluations and other surveys that were given during the course, as well as team-based reflective learning assignments asking them to describe how, as a team, they had built trust and respect among their members. Their responses provide the data for this mixed methods study. Early indications, as observed from end-of-semester surveys, indicate that teams that exhibit a high level of trust are more likely to state that the choice of design project did not affect the ability of the team to be successful, where teams with a low level of trust were as likely to blame the choice of project for their difficulties as any interpersonal factors. Successful teams also seem to exhibit a type of “team chemistry” wherein they enjoy socializing as well as working together, and the role of trust may also influence this type of compatibility.

Van Tyne, N. C. (2017, June), Board # 77 : A Sea of Variations: Lessons Learned from Student Feedback about the Role of Trust in First-year Design Teams Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.

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