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Observations On Forming Teams And Assessing Teamwork

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Teamwork & Assessment in the Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.881.1 - 8.881.3



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Paper Authors

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Joseph Shaeiwitz

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

Session 3613

Observations on Forming Teams and Assessing Teamwork

Joseph A. Shaeiwitz West Virginia University


There are two, well-known, conventional wisdoms regarding team formation. One is that teams should be assigned rather than self selected. Another is that white males dominate all team functions; therefore, women and minorities should not be in the numerical minority on any team.

In the Chemical Engineering Department at West Virginia University, students have been doing design projects in teams of 3 or 4 each semester in the sophomore and junior years for 15 years. Seniors have been working on a large group project under the direction of a student chief engineer for over 60 years.1 In the senior, unit operations laboratory, students work in pairs. This paper presents unscientific observations and anecdotes from many years of experience with team formation and functioning. Methods for assessing teamwork will also be discussed.

Observations on Team Formation

Three methods have been used to form teams. At times, teams have been formed by student self- selection. At times, they have been assigned by the instructors. And, more recently, students have been permitted to choose a partner, and the pairs were paired by the instructors.

In the unit operations laboratory, pairs are assigned by the instructor. Given our small class sizes, by the time students become seniors, they know everyone in the class very well. There have been few, if any, problems associated with this method of assigning pairs in this class.

In the sophomore and junior design projects, all methods mentioned above have been used to form teams. Student self-selection has been found to have advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages is that students who live together can work together. They are able to work with the people with whom they are used working. Since they will have opportunities to work with other peers, such as in lab, this is not seen as a limiting situation for our students. The disadvantage observed with self-selection of teams is that there is almost always one “orphan” team, composed of students who do not have many friends in the class. These “orphans” can be non-traditional students, many with families, students who have returned to school after being out of school for a time, or students who are forced to repeat classes due to academic problems. These teams often lack a leader and wander without direction until close to the project due date. Another problem that has been observed with “orphan” teams is that a combination of non- traditional students and traditional students often results in problems associated with scheduling of times for team meetings. Non-traditional students, especially those with families, prefer to work during “normal” hours. Traditional students, particularly those that are “orphans,” often prefer to work during what can best be described as unusual hours. Naturally, this creates friction on the team, which often manifests itself in a poor project.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Shaeiwitz, J. (2003, June), Observations On Forming Teams And Assessing Teamwork Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11487

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