Is it worth taking time out of first year science courses to explicitly teach team skills?

You are here

Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

We set out to better define which aspects of team work first year science students find challenging and to determine whether students found team training activities, which were embedded in a science course, useful. Our study was conducted at a research-intensive University, in a first year, first semester biology course in 2009 and 2010. The course had approximately 600 students from a diversity of backgrounds, programs and OP scores. Students were required to create a short documentary video as a team of four. Our intervention sought clarification of the difficulties students face when conducting group work, and targeted these aspects via three in-class activities. Student perspectives were gathered using surveys over two years. The survey results indicate that the aspects of team work of most concern to students were: unequal workload, reconciling differences, personal/social, and logistical issues. Each team training activity was useful to one-half to one-third of the cohort of students, and students that found activities useful isolated particular elements of their training that they will use again in future team work scenarios. Students with a positive attitude to team work shifted their reasoning from social elements to those with a more academic element over the semester. These data indicate that embedding activities that explicitly address team issues is of benefit to first year science students, including courses with large, diverse student cohorts, such as first year biology. We recommend that team training activities in first year science courses target unequal workload, reconciling differences, personal/social and logistical issues.

Keywords: Large classes, first year, team work