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WIP: (Not) Feeling Lonely in a Team: Implementation and Assessment of Equitable Team Formation Practices

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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

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 8

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Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Arnold Deffo California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Arnold Deffo is an Assistant Professor in the Aerospace Engineering Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He comes from the California Institute of Technology where he completed his M.S. and Ph.D. in Aeronautics. Prior to that, he was at Wichita State University where he obtained bachelor degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Mathematics. He is passionate about diversity, inclusivity, and mentoring, especially when it comes to helping students from under-represented minorities succeed in STEM-related fields.

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Modern engineering practice involves teamwork, collaboration, and communication, skills graduates should possess for long-term success in the field. However, teamwork in engineering curricula is often fraught with a range of challenges that extend beyond the content of a given course or project. In engineering education, researchers have been interested in mechanisms for forming teams in ways that improve performance and mitigate social and interpersonal challenges associated with teamwork. In this work in progress, we explore the efficacy of a scheme for forming engineering project teams. Specifically, we compare two different sections of a course in aerospace engineering. In one section, teams are formed intentionally by the instructor according to existing best practices regarding equitable team formation. For example, we form groups while ensuring equitable representation of marginalized identities (e.g., making sure no woman is the only such person in a team). In the other section, students are allowed to self-select into their own teams. Quantitative data are collected via a teamwork satisfaction instrument as well as course GPA and other performance indicators. We use T-tests to compare experiences both across and within class sections via pre/post analysis of survey data. Because students in self-formed groups typically tend to do so based on familiarity with classmates, we predict a greater level of satisfaction at the start compared to their assigned counterparts. Findings suggest that students in assigned teams (as done in the present study) exhibit improved levels of team satisfaction after completion of the group work. Moreover, while students in the self-selected group report higher levels of initial satisfaction, those levels decrease over time along with other performance indicators. Based on these findings, we suggest that forming teams according to the methods outlined in the present work provides positive experiences for students and potentially more fully prepares them for success beyond the classroom. Importantly, because assigning teams might be perceived as disempowering to students—at least initially—engineering educators should work to be transparent in their team formation practices and explain to students the rationale for such approaches.

Deffo, A. (2020, June), WIP: (Not) Feeling Lonely in a Team: Implementation and Assessment of Equitable Team Formation Practices Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35516

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