Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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.
UP NEXT: The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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TECHNOLOGY AND TEAMWORK
Ruth Fenderman Stein
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.