Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Ground Rules in Team Projects: Findings from a Prototype System to Support Students

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Ground Rules in Team Projects: Findings from a Prototype System to Support Students

Article excerpt


In higher education a team project is one of the best learning activities for developing skills, such as team working and use of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) tools (Mennin, 2007). Further, students are learning about team working at the same time as consolidating their learning about the subject matter by applying theories learned. Team working in organisations is fraught with difficulties, such as communication and conflict, and student team working is similarly beset with problems (Lehtinen, Hakkarainen, Lipponen, Rahikainen, & Muukkonen, 2002; Ruel & Bastiaans, 2003). But with limited experience of team working, students cannot always overcome these difficulties, and many student team projects fail to deliver satisfactory outcomes. In their study, Dunne and Rawlins (2000) recognised that a team project in higher education can provide a safe environment for learning about team working, although students do need to be provided with some guidance as they embark on team working (Hansen 2006; Prichard, Stratford, & Bizo, 2006). Felder and Brent (1994) introduced cooperative learning to engineering students and concluded that the benefits to students outweighed the problems arising in their team working, but many academics remain to be convinced that team project work is a good learning activity.

Research has highlighted some of the difficulties students experience in their team working as organising meetings, team members not contributing, free-riding and coming to trust each other (Burdett 2003; Whatley, Staniford, Beer, & Scown, 1999). The tutor can play a part in helping teams to overcome problems (Ruel & Bastiaans, 2003), but as class sizes increase, tutors are becoming hard pressed to offer timely support (Cooper & Heinze, 2003). Effective project management can generate team cohesion, and agreeing on ground rules at the start of a project is a part of effective project management (McAlister, 2006). Ground rules, also known as norms, are protocols for acceptable behaviour within a team and may comprise task related rules as well as social rules (Patterson, Carron, & Loughead, 2005).

Employers are increasingly looking for graduates with well developed team working skills (Hordyk, 2007). Although many agree that team-working skills are important for undergraduate students to acquire, in preparation for working in business, successful teamwork is more difficult to achieve when students have fewer opportunities to meet face to face (Fellers, 1996). An unsatisfactory team working experience as a student can lead to a reluctance to join in teams in the workplace (Livingstone & Lynch, 2000).

Lifestyles of campus-based students are changing, as they often work part time, have family commitments, and most students spend less time on campus. This can only make arranging meetings and getting to know their fellow team members more difficult. Campus based students are increasingly using online support for their learning as well as the traditional face to face support offered by tutors and peers.

In this paper we explore the suitability of online support to help students with their team project work and describe the implementation of a software system to help agreeing on ground rules for the team. The next section presents a review of the literature, used as a background to this research, which is followed by a description of the implemented support system and an evaluation of its impact upon the student teams in the trial. Finally, some conclusions are drawn and directions for future work are suggested.

Team Working Literature

In this section the literature on transferable team working skills for students, the importance of ground rules for developing trust and cohesion, and organisational team working are reviewed. The contribution of groupware and other computer mediated communication tools is evaluated, and limitations of current tools for teams working are identified. …

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