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Team Membership Change and the Critical Role of Communication

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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

Assessment & Accreditation in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Amanda Deacon University of Calgary

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Amanda is currently in her first year of her PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Tom O'Neill. Her area of focus is teams within organizational contexts and that results in a plethora of research conducted with engineering departments. Amandas lab uses these results to better prepare engineering students for teamwork within institutions of all kinds, educational and business.

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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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Kartikeya Murari University of Calgary

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Kartik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Calgary. His research interests are in electrical and optical instrumentation and techniques for biomedical applications. He teaches undergraduate and graduate classes and is interested in ways to better prepare students for real-life learning and professional situations.

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In line with the engineering accreditation board’s guidelines for program outcomes(1), this study narrows in on the ability of undergraduate engineers to function in foreign teams (although not multidisciplinary) and their ability to communicate effectively. The purpose of this research was to assess the effects of systematic membership change within teams and the role of communication on student’s perceptions of learning. In an attempt to mirror the reality of engineering work life, a systematic membership change was imposed on an electrical engineering class to situate students within a permanent team, while still engaging in the benefits and challenges of working and communicating with a new team. This emerged in the form of students working with a different team for one lab and attaining the experience of working with guest members in their permanent teams for four labs. The sample consisted of 174 second year engineering undergraduate students enrolled in the “Electronic Devices and Materials” course at a large western Canadian University. Students were randomly assigned to a four-person team. The course contained five team labs and variables of interest were collected via online survey after each lab. The data was analyzed using multilevel growth modeling. Results found that communication was critical for individual’s perceptions of learning. Individuals who reported high levels of communication reported significantly higher levels of perceptions of learning than those students who reported low levels of communication during the first lab. In addition, there was a significant difference in the trajectories of the students across time such that those who reported low levels of communication continued to decline in their self-reports of learning throughout the semester whereas those who reported high levels of communication remained high on perceptions of learning throughout the semester. Furthermore, an important antecedent identified for an individual's likelihood to report high levels of communication within a team was the level of social identity that individual reported during the previous lab. High social identity was negatively related to following communication reports over time whereas low social identity was positively related to communication. These results will be discussed further in the paper. With students’ perceptions of learning as an outcome, communication proved critical during this time for students’ success within their own, as well as others, teams.

1. Criteria for accrediting engineering programs, 2015-2016. (n.d.) In Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Retrieved from

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Deacon, A., & O'Neill, T., & Murari, K. (2016, June), Team Membership Change and the Critical Role of Communication Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26065

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