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How To Initiate Dialogue In Student Research Teams

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.290.1 - 4.290.17

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Paper Authors

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Clark Colton

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Bonnie D. Burrell

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

Session NO. 2642

How to Initiate Dialogue in Student Research Teams

Bonnie D. Burrell and Clark K. Colton Department of Chemical Engineering Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139


In the process of integrating teambuilding training into a chemical engineering projects laboratory, we concluded that a pedagogical tool was needed to move the student teams through the early team life cycle and communication stages in order to create the needed trust to begin effective communication. The tool we developed consists of two parts: (1) an entrance questionnaire concerning attitudes towards working on a team in the laboratory class; and (2) a document in which the questionnaire responses are sorted and merged for each team, which we refer to as the “Initial Team Dialogues.” The dialogues foster introspection and immediately force the students to deal with core behavioral issues, and they create an arena where the members can examine the function of their team as a unit.

I. Introduction

Effective communication between people has undoubtedly been an elusive goal ever since humans developed the ability for speech. The need for its attainment is especially critical in the development of high performing teams. Team building training is beginning to become recognized as an important element that should be included in engineering education. With this training comes the need for developing a means to enhance the rate at which effective communication can be developed between team members. The lifetime of student teams is short, and the team building training is only effective if the interaction between the team members can rapidly be brought to a meaningful state.

The context in which we have faced this problem is in teaching a project laboratory in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT in which students work on a project in groups of three. Although the concept of students working in groups in this course can be traced back about sixty years, initiation of team building training only began several years ago. Initially, we found that lectures on team processes were ineffective in promoting student collaboration, and we drew two conclusions:

1, Team building training for engineering students should be highly contexualized to the point where it is an inseparable part of what is normally done in the course.

2. A pedagogical tool was needed to move the teams quickly through the early team life cycle and communication stages in order to create the needed trust to begin effective communication.

We describe in this paper a methodology which has been successful in getting teams of engineering students over the initially awkward stages of poor communication. It begins with a

Colton, C., & Burrell, B. D. (1999, June), How To Initiate Dialogue In Student Research Teams Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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