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Team Learning Behaviors: Supporting Team-Based Learning in a First-Year Design and Communications Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 2B: Strategies for Writing and Communication Courses

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Nicole Lynn Larson University of Calgary

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Nicole is completing her PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Thomas O’Neill. She has been working with the Schulich School of Engineering for the past three years. During this period she has been involved in several initiatives, such as assessing student learning and engagement, implementing systems for peer evaluations, and leading teamwork training sessions. Nicole is currently conducting research on team learning processes in engineering student project teams. Additionally, she has co-developed a framework for measuring and interpreting an array of team dynamics. An online assessment tool has been created based on this framework which allows teams to diagnose and improve the "health" of their team. She is passionate about her area of research and plans to continue conducting research on factors that contribute to effective teamwork.

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Genevieve Hoffart University of Calgary

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Genevieve is a first year M.Sc. student under the supervision of Dr. Thomas O'Neill at the University of Calgary focusing on at team dynamics, training, and communication. She has been working with the Schulich School of Engineering for the past four years during which time her focus has been on improving team dynamics and maximizing the student experience. In addition co-developing a communication training framework that has now been applied to over 3500 students campus wide, Genevieve has personally facilitated many of the training sessions. Her goal is to continue working on developing applicable and universal tools to improve the experience and functioning of student teams in institutions across North America.

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Tom O'Neill University of Calgary

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O'Neill is a Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology and a leading expert in the areas of team dynamics, virtual teams, conflict management, personality, and assessment. He is director of the Individual and Team Performance Lab and the Virtual Team Performance, Innovation, and Collaboration Lab at the University of Calgary, which was built through a $500K Canada Foundation for Innovation Infrastructure Grant. He also holds operating grants of over $300K to conduct leading-edge research on virtual team effectiveness. Over the past 10 years, Tom has worked with organizations in numerous industries, including oil and gas, healthcare, technology, and venture capitals. He is currently engaged with the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary to train, develop, and cultivate soft-skill teamwork competencies in order to equip graduates with strong interpersonal and communication capabilities.

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Marjan Eggermont University of Calgary

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Marjan Eggermont is the current Associate Dean (Student Affairs) and a Senior Instructor and faculty member at the University of Calgary in the Mechanical and Manufacturing department of the Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary. She teaches graphical, written and oral communication in their first Engineering Design and Communication course taught to all incoming engineering students.
She co-founded and designs ZQ, an online journal to provide a platform to showcase the nexus of science and design using case studies, news, and articles.
As an instructor, she was one of the recipients of The Allan Blizzard Award, a Canadian national teaching award for collaborative projects that improve student learning in 2004. In 2005, she was one of the recipients of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Curriculum Innovation Award. She is - as PIC II chair - currently a board member of ASEE.

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William Daniel Rosehart P.Eng. University of Calgary

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Bill Rosehart, Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering. has been in the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering since 2001. He has served in various administrative roles including Dean, Department Head, Associate Head (Undergraduate Studies), Director of the Electrical Engineering Program, and Associate Director of the Energy and Environment specialization within the Schulich School of Engineering.

He was a founding member of Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA), and was a member of the CEEA’s Governing Board as the Western Canada Regional Director from 2011 through 2013.

He is registered as a Professional Engineer in Alberta through the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).

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Team Learning Behaviors: Supporting team-based learning in a first-year design and communications course Background: This research paper describes a study that investigated two types of team learning behavior – exploring and exploiting – in the context of first-year engineering student teams. Exploration and exploitation are classified as two distinct learning activities. Exploratory learning (the pursuit of new knowledge) involves flexibility, variation, and experimentation. Exploitative learning (use of existing knowledge) involves refinement, efficiency, and execution of work. Thus, exploratory learning involves acquiring new capabilities, whereas exploitative learning involves refining existing knowledge and abilities.

We hypothesized that, at early stages of a teams’ project work, exploratory behaviors are helpful while exploitative ones are harmful. Importantly, at later stages this relationship reverses. At some point teams need to transition from acquiring knowledge to refining and executing based on that knowledge. Accordingly, at later stages, exploitative behaviors may be helpful whereas continued exploratory behaviors may distract from successful execution of the work.

Goal orientation (GO) is a dispositional, motivational orientation that directs an individual’s approach to achievement situations. There are two primary types of GOs: learning goal orientation (LGO) and performance goal orientation (PGO). Team members’ traits can be averaged to represent the team’s aggregate trait level, which can be predictive of team processes and performance. Thus, we consider dispositional GO at the team-level as an antecedent of team-level learning behavior.

LGO is characterized by a drive to explore new topics or techniques with an emphasis on gaining new skills and expertise. In contrast, PGO is described as a concern for executing and accomplishing work in order to receive external rewards and demonstrate ability. Thus, PGO individuals seek to demonstrate competence, whereas LGO individuals seek to build competence. We hypothesized that teams high on LGO will spend more time engaged in exploratory learning because it offers a chance to gain new knowledge. On the other hand, we predicted that high PGO teams will engage in learning behaviors that have a stronger connection to task completion. Given the uncertain nature of exploring, PGO teams may be more likely to focus on exploitative learning activities in order to build on existing certainties.

Method: The sample consists of 569 students (29% female) enrolled in an engineering design and communication course in a large North American university. Students were arranged into 4-person teams and were required to build a functioning prototype of a rover capable of picking up and displacing a rock. Learning measures were collected during lab each week over the course of the project. Additionally, we collected trait information (i.e., Goal Orientations) from all students at the beginning of the study. After teams presented their prototype, teaching assistants completed innovation ratings for the teams in their lab section. Random coefficient modeling, a multi-level procedure that handles non-independence of observations, was used to test the study hypotheses.

Results: Findings indicated that teams tend to pursue both learning actions simultaneously and increase these behaviors over time, however these learning behaviors were not related to subsequent innovation performance. Additionally, we found that the composition of team members’ personality traits predicted the type of learning behaviors that teams engaged in. Specifically, teams consisting of members with high LGOs engaged in significantly more exploratory learning than teams lower on this trait. Interestingly, teams with a high PGOs engaged in greater levels of exploitative learning behaviors. Implications: The implications of the study findings are three-fold. First, our research highlights the importance of considering team composition variables when grouping students into project teams. Second, it calls attention to the temporal nature of exploratory and exploitative learning activities. Third, it suggests future research is needed to examine the implication of these learning activities on outcomes other than innovation (e.g., individual learning, project grades, team potency).

Larson, N. L., & Hoffart, G., & O'Neill, T., & Eggermont, M., & Rosehart, W. D. (2016, June), Team Learning Behaviors: Supporting Team-Based Learning in a First-Year Design and Communications Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26064

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