Before and After: Team Development in Virtual and In-Person Transfer Student Engineering Design Teams

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This Evidence-Based Practice paper contains the similarities and differences in team development among first-year engineering design teams containing transfer students in the online Fall 2020 and in-person Fall 2021 semesters. These two different course environments were expected to produce different experiences in team development between the two cohorts. While this study involves only transfer students, based on currently available data, a similar study could be conducted after the Spring 2021 semester with first-year students who began college at their current institution. My research question is: • How do team development experiences differ under virtual and in-person conditions, respectively and in comparison? The conceptual framework for this inquiry is based on the Tuckman model of team development. This model consists of four stages that Tuckman and others have demonstrated that teams exhibit during their duration: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. This model originated with adult teams in the workplace, but is equally applicable to non-self-selected engineering student design teams. Team members tend to view themselves as individuals rather than as part of a cohesive unit in the Forming and Storming stages. As they transition to the Norming stage, they accept the premise that the team can accomplish more together than if each member acted in isolation. Even if a team forms a contract or charter during the Forming stage, which states how they will operate as a team, the ways in which they actually operate tend to become apparent during Norming. By the time that a team reaches the Performing stage, each member has a clear vision of what the team does and can do, and uses the relationships among team members to accomplish tasks more or less efficiently. The five- or six-member student design teams were assigned through a skills and personality assessment at the beginning of the fifteen-week semester, using the CATME® team formation survey. The CATME results were checked against the students' self-reported data about their current skills in writing, speaking, and engineering graphics before the students were formally assigned to their teams. Research methods followed an explanatory sequential design, in which the results of one or more quantitative methods are used to inform the choice of one or more qualitative methods to collect and analyze data. Quantitative data were collected and analyzed using a 32-question survey about team development stages, followed by qualitative analysis of team-based written artifacts. Available written artifacts included the following: • a team contract, developed by the team during Week 4 of the semester; • a CATME® peer review, administered online during Weeks 7 and 8; • team-based commentary about the results of the team development survey, noting similarities and differences among team members' results, as part of a project and team status update submitted during Week 12; • team-based commentary about additional progress toward team development since Week 12, as part of the final project and team status update submitted during Week 15, and • a final CATME® peer review, administered during Weeks 14 and 15. By Week 12, many online and in-person teams in both cohorts were in strong agreement about their team's development stage as either Norming or Performing. This is a positive outcome, given that the teams had only three weeks remaining to complete the design project and the course. Both types of teams also provided evidence of the following attributes of successful teams, as identified in recent literature: collective efficacy, psychological safety, resilience, individual performance, and communication. However, extensive response bias in survey responses and team-based evaluations indicated that certain online and in-person teams may have been viewing their team's development less realistically because they were required to report on similarities and differences among team members' survey results as part of a homework assignment, and wanted to omit negative results. Certain survey questions were also reported to have been interpreted in different ways by team members.