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Technology and Teamwork

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
317

Whenever these technologies appear on college campuses, they create opportunities for new forms of teamwork.

Folks:

The posting below looks at the benefits, costs, and strategies for dealing

with four ways (instantaneity, precision, documentation, and workforce

preparations) technology resources enhance the function of student teams.

It is taken from CHAPTER 2, Technology and Teamwork in USING STUDENT TEAMS

IN THE CLASSROOM A Faculty Guide, by RUTH FENDERMAN STEIN and SANDRA HURD,

Syracuse University Copyright ? 1999 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc.

[www.ankerpub.com]. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University

and Creating True Higher Learning

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

-----------------1,151 words ----------------

TECHNOLOGY AND TEAMWORK

Ruth Fenderman Stein

Sandra Hurd

 

Laptops, clients-server technology, networked residence halls,

computer labs, computerized classrooms, high-speed Internet

connections...Whenever these technologies appear on college campuses,

they create opportunities for new forms of teamwork. If students can

meet electronically, they never need to arrange a plan to meet

outside of the classroom in which the course meets. If they have

space on a web server, they can view a team member's work

instantly-not just text, but sound, video, graphics, any format they

are working in. File formats not supported by browsers can be

downloaded and run on specialized software.

With email, chatroom, and listserv technology, teams can discuss

problems online. They can supplement their planning process

electronically, linking to the instructor without having to inquire

about office hours, to the library without having to cross campus, to

classmates without having to track them down in their residence halls.

If suitable infrastructure is in place, students can present, submit,

or distribute their work electronically, eliminating delays, printer

crises, and copying costs. The instructor, if she chooses, can

respond through the same medium, selecting from a variety of styles

to match the purpose and content of her response. She can produce a

running commentary in a text document, add oral comments as sound

clips, intervene in email discussions if she is included in the

address list, and review and evaluate an electronic archive

documenting group interaction.

HOW DO THESE RESOURCES ENHANCE THE FUNCTIONS OF TEAMS?

These are communication technologies. Their effect is felt primarily

on interactions within the team and between the team and those

outside-classmates, instructor, and support personnel. Many of their

effects are beneficial, but there are costs as well. Let us examine

these effects, to see how an instructor might exploit their benefits,

while reducing the costs as much as possible.

INSTANTANEITY

The time required for communication telescopes dramatically. Hit the

send button and the email message appears in all members' in-boxes.

Click the link on the browser bar and the latest draft of the paper

appears within a few seconds.

BENEFITS: Easier and more frequent interaction. Less frustration.

Less waiting. Less down-time.

COSTS: Too much speed can lead to superficiality. Students need time

for thought and reflection.

STRATEGIES: Ask students to spend time away from the computer,

processing electronic output. Have them turn in hard copy with

mechanical annotations corresponding to different stages of the

project.

REQUIRE SUBMISSION OF HANDWRITTEN MATERIAL: notes, brainstorming,

outlines, agendas for team meetings.

ASSIGN EXTENDED ANALYTICAL PIECES: problem statements, explanations

of design proposal, reflections on team process, or detailed

responses to the work of other team members.

PRECISION

Team members respond to one another's precise words, not to a general

impression or a vague recollection of what they said. Email and

chatrooms encourage brief, focused messages. It is easier to see

where a discussion gets off topic. Data-drawing, comments, plans, or

discussions-are reproduced byte-by-byte. If equipment is working

properly, nothing is lost in storage or transmission.

BENEFITS: Inaccuracy is reduced, confusion is avoided. It is

easier for teammates to evaluate each other's work, criticism, or

suggestions.

COSTS: Nuance is lost. Emotional context is lost. Students

communicating electronically cannot access tone, inflection, or body

language. Work products are more vulnerable. Months of work can be

wiped out by a system crash or hardware failure.

STRATEGIES: Require periodic face-to-face meetings. Encourage

or require written or oral reflection on email exchanges. Ask

students to identify areas of misunderstanding and blocked

communication.

ESTABLISHED GUIDELINES FOR BACKING UP WORK: Make space on a

server available for team archives. For long projects, require

periodic deposit of archives with the instructor. Require printouts

of essential work products.

DOCUMENTATION

Electronic communications require that thought, planning, and

discussion be reduced to a format that is easily stored. If students

are required to save all team products, they can very quickly

accumulate an archive with sequential drafts of work products,

resources used, process records of planning and discussion, and

comprehensive records of individual contributions to the total group

effort.

BENEFITS: Large-scale archives are an important resource for

process analysis by students and instructor. They aid evaluation of

individual contribution, both by the student and the instructor.

On a smaller scale, archives allow quick recovery of earlier

plans or drafts, easy comparison of different versions of a work

product, quick reviews of plans and decisions.

COSTS: Quantity does not guarantee quality. Drafts with small

changes can accumulate quickly. A very large, heterogeneous archive

can overwhelm users with data.

STRATEGIES: Require students to process archives before

submitting them. They can be asked to sort through the data and

select what is most significant. They can be asked to provide

annotations. They can be assigned to synthesis and reflect on

archival data.

WORKFORCE PREPARATIONS

Some professional fields already require extensive use of electronic

resources. Deploying those resources in an instructional context

helps to prepare students for their responsibilities in the work

place.

BENEFITS: Students learn specific technologies. They also

learn problem solving strategies: what to do when equipment

malfunctions, how to bring a team member up to speed on a new piece

of software, how to coordinate efforts in an electronic environment,

how to exploit institutional resources and work around resource

deficiencies.

COSTS: Time spent learning and problem solving may detract

from learning the content that the team project is designed to teach.

System failure or lack of access to hardware and software may block

team efforts and enormously increase workload. If not all students

have access to and sufficient knowledge of hardware and software,

some may be left out and receive fewer of the benefits the team

project is designed to produce.

STRATEGIES: Evaluate resources well in advance of

implementing the team project. Do all the students already own or

have access to the required hardware and software? How many of the

required items do they already use, and how readily will they learn

to handle those they have not used? How reliable are the systems

that the institution provides, and how extensive is the support

available to students?

DO A DRY RUN OF CRITICAL ELEMENTS OF THE TEAM PROJECT. Use

all the resources the students may have to use-a laptop that lacks

the appropriate software, a telephone line with a slow modem, the

oldest computer cluster on campus. Where multiple platforms or

versions of software exist, create test files to check compatibility.

ASSIGN VOLUNTEERS TO RUN A PILOT VERSION OF THE ELECTRONIC

TEAM PROJECT DURING THE SEMESTER BEFORE IMPLEMENTATION. Have the

team keep a problem log.

HAVE GRADUATE ASSISTANTS RUN THE PROJECT, or serve as

consultants and troubleshooters for the pilot version and compile a

searchable help file with a topic index, frequently asked questions,

and links to resources.

ASK STUDENTS TO EVALUATE THE PROJECT, describe problems they

have encountered, and suggest changes. Identify the problems that

are most time consuming or have interfered most with student

learning, and redesigned the project to reduce or eliminate them.