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Spontaneous Groups Versus Long Term Teams: An Investigation Using Complex Problem Solving In A First Year Engineering Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Student Teams And Project Based Learning / The Critical First Year in Engineering Education / Student Teams and Project-Based Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1296.1 - 12.1296.15



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Paper Authors


Tamara Moore University Of Minnesota Orcid 16x16

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Tamara Moore is a Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota. She received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education, her M.S.Ed. in Mathematics Education and her B.S. in Mathematics from Purdue University. Tamara taught high school mathematics for seven years prior to pursuing her doctorate. Her research interests include curriculum development, the learning of complex problem-solving in mathematics and engineering, teamwork, and integration of engineering into the K-12 classroom.

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Heidi Diefes-Dux Purdue University

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Heidi Diefes-Dux, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education (ENE) at Purdue University with a joint appointment in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) and a courtesy appointment in the College of Education. She is the chair of the ENE Graduate Committee, and she is a member of the
Teaching Academy at Purdue. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from ABE. Her research interests include open-ended problem solving, evaluation of education technology, and curriculum development.

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P.K. Imbrie Purdue University

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P.K. Imbrie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M University. His research interests in educational research include modeling student success, modeling student team functioning, and multidisciplinary engineering education. His technical research interests include solid mechanics, experimental mechanics, nonlinear materials characterization, microstructural evaluation of materials, and experiment and instrument design.

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

Spontaneous Groups versus Long-Term Teams: An Investigation using Complex Problem Solving in a First-Year Engineering Course


ABET requires that engineering graduates be able to work on multi-disciplinary teams and apply mathematics and science when solving engineering problems. One manner of integrating teamwork and engineering contexts in a first-year foundation engineering course is through the use of Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs) – realistic, client-driven problems based on the models and modeling theoretical framework. This study looks at the quality of student team solutions to Model-Eliciting Activities and team effectiveness, specifically interdependency (cooperation among team members to accomplish a task), goal-setting (team sets outcome goals and sub-goals to accomplish tasks), and potency (shared belief that team members can accomplish their goals) when teams were spontaneously formed versus teams that had been working together previously.


Teaming and group work in engineering education are becoming more common. Agencies like The National Research Council Board on Engineering Education, NSF Engineering Education Coalition Program, and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology1 Engineering Criteria 2000 have been instrumental in this curriculum shift. As engineering instructors become more comfortable implementing student collaboration in the classroom, questions begin to arise regarding which is the best framework for organizing this collaboration. This study begins to addresses the question of whether to use long-term teams or adhoc groups. The specific research question guiding this study is: How do student groups perform on model-eliciting activities if the groups are assembled spontaneously versus long-term assignments?

For the purposes herein, it is important to distinguish between a “team” and a “group.” For a collection of people to be a team requires that a diverse set of individuals come together as a cohesive unit with a common goal. Guzzo2 defines teams as “a group that consists of individuals who see themselves and are seen by others as a social entity, which is interdependent because of the tasks performed as members of a group. They are part of the educational process, performing tasks that affect both individual and group learning.” Research has identified the theoretical construct for effective teams in terms of interdependency, goal setting, and potency. Teams that demonstrate interdependency have cooperation among team members to accomplish a task2. Goal setting is the ability of a team to set goals and sub-goals to accomplish a task 3, and potency is the shared belief by a team that they can be effective4. These characteristics distinguish “teams” from the broader term “groups.” By working cooperatively using teaming theory as a guide for skill development, students can be motivated toward the goal of performance on problem-solving tasks5.


The educational setting for this study is a first-year introductory engineering course at Purdue University, Engineering Problem Solving and Computer Tools (ENGR 106), which focuses on

Moore, T., & Diefes-Dux, H., & Imbrie, P. (2007, June), Spontaneous Groups Versus Long Term Teams: An Investigation Using Complex Problem Solving In A First Year Engineering Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2924

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