Why use team projects in my teaching?

Good Practice: Create team projects to help students learn better, develop useful skills, and engage in more authentic work.

Why use team projects in your course? Team projects provide an effective way for your students to complete a complex task that they could not complete alone, and students working on a team project experience many additional benefits.  For example, multiple empirical research articles report that students who work in teams outperform students who work individually.  The benefits that students experience when working cooperatively compared to working individually are highlighted below (Johnson, 2014):

Benefits of working cooperatively for students

Students use higher-level reasoning skills more frequently.
Students are more accurate and creative when problem solving.
Students exhibit greater willingness to take on difficult tasks and persist.
Students experience more intrinsic motivation.
Students are better able to transfer learning from one situation to another.
Students spend more time on task.

We also know that the learning strategies and practices students gain as they collaborate with others will benefit students in many areas of their lives.  Team projects can allow students to tackle tasks that are more complex and authentic than those they would be able to do on their own. Finally, team projects can create a more manageable grading load for instructors, allowing us to respond more deeply to fewer projects.

Do Students Want to Work in Teams?

Not usually. One published study indicated that the overwhelming majority of students preferred working alone to working in teams (Raidal, 2009). However, this is usually due to a previous bad experience working in teams.  These bad experiences include poorly designed projects with little support from the instructor, teammates who didn’t pull their share of the work on the project, feeling that the project was just busywork, and difficulties meeting outside of class due to conflicting schedules (Scager, 2016). This site will provide you with all the information and resources you need to avoid these pitfalls.

 

References:

  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., Smith, K. A., The state of cooperative learning In postsecondary and professional settings. Educational Psychology Review 19, 15 – 29 (2007).
  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., Smith, K. A., Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory.  Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25, (3&4), 85 - 118 (2014).
  • Raidal, S.L. & Volet, S.E. Preclinical students’ predispositions towards social forms of instruction and self-directed learning: A challenge for the development of autonomous and collaborative learners, Higher Education, 57, 577-596 (2009).
  • Scager, K., Boonstra, J. Peeters, T., Vulperhorst, J. Wiegant, F., Collaborative learning in higher education: Evoking positive interdependence. CBE Life Science Education, 15:ar69 (2016).