Teaching Students to Work in Classroom Teams: A Preliminary Investigation of Instructors' Motivations, Attitudes and Actions

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It is not uncommon for instructors of undergraduate management and MBA courses to assign complex class-related projects to student teams, and hold them collectively responsible for producing multiple learning-related outcomes. Scholars agree that student teams can represent active learning environments (Chowdhury, Endres & Lanis, 2002; Deeter-Schmelz, Kennedy & Ramsey, 2002; Holtham, Melville & Sodhi, 2006; Michaelson, Knight & Fink, 2002), and that teamwork can help students learn critical skills valued by potential employers (e.g., O'Conner & Yballe, 2007). A review of literature highlights the following: (a) even though team projects are common in management classes, too many students do not receive necessary coaching and instruction for teamwork (O'Conner & Yballe, 2007; Vik, 2001), and (b) poorly prepared and inadequately instructed students often disengage and view teamwork with cynicism (Buckenmyer, 2000; Connerley & Mael, 2001; Holmer, 2001). Scholars strongly argue in favor of teaching and instruction to help students cope with the demands of teamwork (see Bolton, 1999; Chen, Donahue & Klimoski, 2004; Deeter-Schmelz, Kennedy & Ramsey, 2002; Ettington & Camp, 2002; Holmer, 2001; McKendall, 2000; Page & Donelan, 2003; Vik, 2001).

Despite the advocacy, the literature is mostly silent when it comes to describing business school instructors' motivations and attitudes about, and actions directed toward teaching teamwork skills to students--particularly when they assign students to teams and require them to collectively complete comprehensive class-related projects. Our purpose here is to discuss preliminary evidence of instructors' motivations, attitudes, and actions, and identify areas for future research that might help explain why the literature's advocacy has not sufficiently translated into practice (i.e., why fewer instructors teach teamwork skills in their classrooms than those that assign students to teams). We aim to stimulate new thinking, and spur new research that can produce findings that speak to the practical, day-to-day realities of instructors--versus the intent to produce widely generalizable findings. Consistent with this intent, our findings emerge from: (a) a small-scale exploratory study (n=19) we conducted to produce a guiding hypothesis and develop scales, and (b) a survey that used a small (n=56), purposeful sample of instructors who share an interest in innovative teaching methods and assign students to classroom teams. We find evidence to suggest that instructor motivations and attitudes are misaligned, and that key motivators for assigning teamwork in classrooms ought to be acknowledged and legitimized before the literature's advocacy produces meaningful results in the classroom.

METHOD

Stage 1. Qualitative-data, hypotheses and scales

We began by depth-interviewing nineteen instructors who taught Organizational Behavior courses in twelve business schools located in the Northeastern US, of whom sixteen taught only undergraduate courses and three taught only graduate courses. Participants: (a) allocated 25% or more of the students' grades based on team-based assignments. Aligned with our interest in teamwork-instruction-related motivations, attitudes and actions, the depth interviews were guided by the following questions (asked in the following order):

* What is the purpose of assigning team projects in your classes? In other words, why do you assign students to teams and hold them responsible for completing class-related projects?

* What are your views about teambuilding? Do you believe it is your responsibility to conduct team building in your classes? Why or why not?

* What actions do you require students to take to improve team performance?

Our sample included nine male and ten female instructors, who had taught full-time in business programs for an average of 14 years (minimum 2 years, maximum 30 years). …