Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Using a Team-Based Approach in an IS Course: An Empirical Study

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Using a Team-Based Approach in an IS Course: An Empirical Study

Article excerpt


Individualism dominates western cultures and thinking. It therefore also domi nates the teaching approach applied in most Western universities, where individual and critical thinking is encouraged and individual assessment is the norm (Triandis, 1995). We argue in this paper that collective thinking within a team based approach to teaching IS development can be an effective tool for student learning. Our central hypothesis is that a team based learning approach to IS development that encourages collective thinking and learning is, depending on the circumstances, more effective than an approach that focuses on and encourages individualism. A team-based approach encourages the development of skills necessary to succeed in a commercial world where the team is often more important than any individual (Argyris, 1993; Peters, 1993). In using such approach we adapted some of the central tenets of methodologies that promote team based collective thinking in IS development. Our approach attempts, as far as is practical, to integrate group techniques, such as "extreme programming", into the teaching and learning situation. The findings generally validate such an approach but also reveal a number of potential problems. We argue that IS educators should be exploring more innovative ways in which to integrate team-based learning activities into IS teaching while at the same time ensuring that high quality standards of assessment are maintained.

This paper reports on a pilot study we conducted to integrate team oriented approaches into an undergraduate course in database development. We also attempted to replicate some elements of the modern work environment into the course, for example short and tight deadlines and shifting requirements.

The structure of this paper is as follows: First, a general approach to teaching IS development as a discipline is discussed. Then, we look at current IS development approaches, such as prototyping, rapid applications development (RAD), frantic applications development (FAD) and extreme programming (XP). In particular we are interested in the concept of paired programming, which encourages a team-based collective thinking approach to system development. Then, we introduce our central hypothesis that a team-based collective approach to teaching IS development can have advantages over situations where the individual works in isolation. We outline the method we employed to test our approach using undergraduate students in a database development course. The findings of our study are presented and discussed. Finally, some preliminary conclusions are made about the effectiveness of a team-based approach to teaching IS development.

General Approach to Teaching IS Development

Western thinking is primarily centered on individualism as opposed to the collectivist thinking of many Eastern cultures. Triandis (1995) proposed that collectivism and individualism be conceptualized as polythetic constructs. An individualistic culture is one in which the individual is the focus of activity and meaning in contrast to collectivistic cultures, which are characterised by the primacy of the group (Robbins, 1997). The individual's self identity is largely dependent on the sense of belonging to groups, which can include the extended family, teams, neighbourhoods or tribes. Success in individualist cultures is perceived to be dependent upon hard work and the commitment of the individual to achieve. By contrast, in a collectivist culture success is more often dependent upon inter-group and interpersonal connections. Table 1 illustrates the differences between individualism and collectivism.

Most universities in the West teach the Information Systems discipline from an Information Systems Development perspective, with an emphasis on software development (programming skills), network management, project management and the systems development life cycle. While there is often some team based learning in one or more capstone courses, there is a predominance of emphasis on individual learning. …

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