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Restructuring Teamwork Pedagogy in a First-Year Engineering Design Program: Lessons Learned and Future Plans

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 10: Teamwork

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1048.1 - 24.1048.12



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Paper Authors


David W. Gatchell PhD Northwestern University

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David Gatchell is Director of the Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program at Northwestern University. He is a clinical associate professor within the Segal Design Institute, Biomedical Engineering Department, and the Mechanical Engineering Department. He holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University and an AB in physics from Bowdoin College.

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Bruce Ankenman Northwestern University

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Bruce Ankenman is a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and after working in the automotive industry for five years, returned to graduate school for an MS and PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests primarily deal with the design and analysis of experiments that are used to build models for physical systems or metamodels for simulated systems. Professor Ankenman is the co-director of the Segal Design Institute and for the last seven years, he has also directed McCormick’s well-known freshman design course, Design Thinking and Communication, formerly Engineering Design and Communication.

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Penny L. Hirsch Northwestern University

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Penny L. Hirsch, Professor of Instruction and Associate Director of Northwestern’s Writing Program, teaches classes in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and was Northwestern’s first Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Lecturer. She played a key role in developing Design Thinking and Communication (formerly Engineering Design and Communication), a course co-taught by faculty from engineering and writing in which all engineering freshmen work on real design projects for real clients.

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Adam Goodman


Koshonna Brown Northwestern University Center for Leadership

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Koshonna Brown is a Life Science doctoral student at Northwestern University. As a fellow with Northwestern University's Center for Leadership, she analyzes the date collected through the Center's online assessment tools. Such assessments allow students and faculty to reflect and develop their own leadership and apply lessons and insights gained to current leadership challenges and positions.

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Restructuring teamwork pedagogy in a first-year engineering design program: Lessons learned and future plansAbstractFor over 15 years our first-year engineering design program has focused on a user-centeredapproach to design thinking and communication, where students work with real-world clients onill-defined problems and communicate their ideas in a variety of ways to multiple audiences.Over this time frame ~5,000 students have passed through the two course sequence, andaddressed over 1,500 design challenges. Since students work in teams of four to address thesechallenges (and will be expected to work on project teams throughout the undergraduateengineering curriculum and later in industry), we are strongly committed to helping themdevelop greater competency in teamwork, as opposed to simply participating in an unguidedteam experience. To facilitate teamwork learning, we historically used two instruments: (1) anintra-quarter peer review and self-review and (2) an end-of-the-quarter reflective memo (benefitsand limitations of this approach have been described elsewhere1-3).In the fall of 2011, our first-year program partnered with the university’s Center on Leadership tooffer students more opportunities for teamwork reflection, peer- and self-assessment andteamwork improvement throughout the two courses. Students used a combination of onlineexercises and team meetings to create a team charter, reflect on personal and team performanceprovide specific feedback to team members, and use that feedback to create goals for improvingtheir own teamwork performance--all by the middle of each course. At the end of each course,students used peer-assessment and reflective memos to determine whether they had beensuccessful in achieving their mid-term goals. Since all assessment would be out of class, theadditional workload for the design faculty was to be minimal. The students’ activities wouldserve as a foundational experience that could be revisited by the students and the Center onLeadership in future courses utilizing teamwork.However, at the end of the year (spring 2012), when we surveyed ~425 students in the program(162 responded), we were disappointed to learn that, while some of the students found theleadership center’s activities highly beneficial, an overwhelming number saw them simply as“busy work.” In addition, a majority of the program’s faculty, who had originally thought thatthe online reflective exercises would benefit the students while reducing their workload, werealso frustrated by the new tools. Although we streamlined the process for the next academic year,survey results in spring 2013 were equally disappointing. Analysis of the survey responses andthe online tools activities suggested that the problem was one of balance: since teamwork is agoal of the program, but not its primary goal, there were apparently too many exercises related toteamwork, ironically undermining their usefulness. In addition, by outsourcing the responsibilityfor administering the activities, faculty were less involved in teamwork pedagogy,unintentionally suggesting that teamwork was not integrally related to excellence in design.We did however learn a great deal about what students see as the main causes of team failure,what teamwork skills they most want to develop, and what students mean when they talk aboutteamwork habits, such as delegating tasks or improving communication. After first describingour several approaches to improving teamwork pedagogy, this study reports on lessons learnedand modifications we have made to move forward. Briefly, we have streamlined the number ofrequired teamwork activities, more carefully connected them to the project work, and broughtmore of the activities “in-house,” making design faculty more responsible for the first and lastactivities. Our plan is to continue assessing these areas at the end of the 2013-2014 academicyear.

Gatchell, D. W., & Ankenman, B., & Hirsch, P. L., & Goodman, A., & Brown, K. (2014, June), Restructuring Teamwork Pedagogy in a First-Year Engineering Design Program: Lessons Learned and Future Plans Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22981

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