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Investigating Functional Roles On Engineering Student Teams: A Developmental Perspective

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Research On Student Teams

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.837.1 - 10.837.18



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Paper Authors

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Janet Schmidt

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Jeannie Brown Leonard

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Linda Schmidt

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Paige Smith

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Investigating Functional Roles on Engineering Student Teams: A Developmental Perspective Ms. Jeannie Brown Leonard, Dr. Linda C. Schmidt, Dr. Paige E. Smith, & Dr. Janet A. Schmidt University of Maryland, College Park


Teams are a principal but unpredictable learning environment in engineering. Being assigned a team project in an engineering course is like drawing a Chance card in the game of Monopoly. Once in a while you advance to GO but more often you must go directly to Jail or face some other setback. Well-functioning teams have been shown to improve learning and retention in non-engineering fields, especially for members of underrepresented groups1,2,3,4,5. Both students and instructors recognize that high degrees of team cohesion and collective efficacy (i.e., team members’ beliefs about their ability to be effective at their task as a group) are related to good team performance6. At the opposite end of the spectrum, poor team experiences can leave individuals with adequate grades on their transcripts but low subject matter proficiency, poor comprehension of the team process, and low self-efficacy. Both faculty and students will benefit from improved knowledge about enhancing team effectiveness.

Engineering educators need more guidance on how to design team experiences for students that maximize their strengths as informal learning communities and minimize their weaknesses. There are successes in developing multidisciplinary, multi-semester project assignments. Three exemplars include the vertically-integrated project teams at Purdue University in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program7; the Engineering Clinic sequence of training at Rowan University8; and the Computer Science senior design course at the United States Military Academy9. These programs are the exception and not the rule. Single courses can be powerful learning environments when students and instructors are aware of the effects course structure, including project assignments, have on student behavior within the team.

One of the most consistent themes in the literature on teams is the importance of team roles10,11. The focus on roles is linked to the idea 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 (or training) of team members to these roles increases the chances that the appropriate behaviors will occur and the team will be successful. Ironically, the roles most often identified and studied in the engineering education literature are those characterizing non- technical activities and behaviors10,11,12,13. One example of an insightful study is Knecht’s12 work in teaching first-year students about the need for balance between “task” and “team” roles as defined by Eberhardt. This role set was used in an earlier study on gendered role behavior14. Clearly, process roles are critical to smooth team operation and engineers need to be proficient in performing such process roles.

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Schmidt, J., & Brown Leonard, J., & Schmidt, L., & Smith, P. (2005, June), Investigating Functional Roles On Engineering Student Teams: A Developmental Perspective Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14840

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