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When Teams Misunderstand: Ambiguous Language and Teamwork

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Student Division Technical Session 3

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Elizabeth Ann Strehl University of Michigan

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Elizabeth is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. She has worked as a research assistant for Dr. Robin Fowler in the Technical Communication Department of the College of Engineering for several years focusing on team dynamics for first-year students and also works as a research assistant in the Daly Design and Engineering Education Research Group working on design science based research in senior-level engineering design courses.

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Robin Fowler University of Michigan

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Robin Fowler is a Lecturer in the Program in Technical Communication and an Assistant Research Scientist in Engineering Education. She loves serving as a "coach" to engineering students as they engage in communicating their ideas to a range of stakeholders. She studies teamwork and team-based pedagogy, with a focus on inter-team communication and equity. She is one of the Faculty Innovators behind Tandem, a Center of Academic Innovation tool for supporting students working in teams.

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Student teams negotiate many aspects of collaboration, including deadlines, meeting times, and expectations. In this student-directed project, participants (n=119) of varying technical backgrounds were surveyed as to their interpretations of ambiguous teamwork-relevant phrases. Participants were given a prompt about a typical situation encountered in student teams regarding ambiguous language and were asked to infer what this piece of language meant. This mixed-methods study investigates whether there are demographic differences regarding interpretation of ambiguous team-based language. The demographic groups that we found had the biggest differences in interpretation of ambiguous phrases were by age and experience. That is, there were significant differences in interpretation between students and non-students, and between participants aged 18-24 and participants older than 24. Differences by gender and race did not reach the level of statistical significance.

Strehl, E. A., & Fowler, R. (2020, June), When Teams Misunderstand: Ambiguous Language and Teamwork Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35507

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