Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Teams on Teams: Using Advice from Peers to Create a More Effective Student Team Experience

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Teams on Teams: Using Advice from Peers to Create a More Effective Student Team Experience

Article excerpt


Advice, it seems, is ubiquitous. Who among us has not asked for, or offered, information, insight, or perspective intended to guide decisions, influence attitudes, or solve problems? Even a cursory review of the recent education literature yields numerous articles with advice proffered for the benefit of specific groups, including naive college freshmen (Robb, 2011), the anxious parents of college freshmen (Coplin, 2007), financially beleaguered college administrators (Edelson, 2009), novice research faculty (Carriuolo, Boylan, Simpson, Bader, & Calderwood, 2007; Mayer, 2008), teaching faculty (Hessler & Humphreys, 2008), inexperienced student teachers (Biondi & Flores, 2010; Crews & Bodenhammer, 2009), and technology-challenged library professionals (Craven, 2008).

People seek advice from others for help with problems or challenges in their lives. Although no one wants "bad advice," research clearly shows acting on advice from others can yield numerous positive outcomes. For example, employees who receive advice about the job and the organization from coworkers experience higher levels of success (Morrison, 1993; Seibert, Kraimer, & Liden, 2001). MBA students with greater access to advice from fellow students reported greater satisfaction with their academic program, learned more, and had better grades (Baldwin, Bedell, & Johnson, 1997). In their review of the relevant literature, Bonaccio and Dalal (2006) found that advice often improves the accuracy of decisions, provides decision-makers with alternative information and perspectives not previously considered, helps one avoid mistakes, and increases confidence in final decisions.

In this paper we examine the advice available for an important and growing population of students in higher education: students in teams. First, we discuss the characteristics of both collocated and virtual student teams, and the critical role of higher education in teaching teamwork skills to students. Next, we briefly review the benefits and challenges associated with using student teams, and identify the important role played by the instructor in developing appropriate classroom pedagogy to support the development of teams. We review the relevant literature on giving and receiving advice to show that novice teams are likely to be open and responsive to, and benefit from, advice from students who have already had a team-based classroom experience. We present data in the form of advice from 132 student teams, based on their own classroom experiences, intended to help novice teams function more effectively. Finally, we suggest ways an instructor might use this advice to promote team development.

Characteristics of Student Teams

The composition of student teams is often broad and diverse. Any discussion of student teams should include both face-to-face teams and virtual teams, as both are prevalent in higher education. Traditional face-to-face teams typically meet in the classroom and enjoy the advantages of synchronous communication. Most definitions of virtual teams focus on the team's dependence upon computer-mediated communication (often asynchronous) to accommodate the geographical dispersion of team members. However, the distinction between virtual teams and traditional, co-located face-to-face teams has become blurred as traditional teams increasingly use computer technology to increase efficiency (Arnison & Miller, 2002). Moreover, the conditions that promote effective virtual teamwork are very similar to those that promote teamwork in a traditional face-to-face environment, including positive interactions, personal responsibility, commitment, social skills, and appropriate structure and processes (Koh, Barbour, & Hill, 2010; Slavin, 1995). Cohen and Gibson (2003) suggest that virtuality has become more a function of the team's reliance on computer-mediated communication than geography. That is, team members need not be geographically dispersed to operate in a technology-influenced virtual environment. …

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