Ground Rules in Team Projects: Findings from a Prototype System to Support Students

Janice Whatley
InSITE 2009  •  Volume 9  •  2009
Student team project work in higher education is one of the best ways to develop team working skills at the same time as learning about the subject matter. As today’s students require the freedom to learn at times and places that better match their lifestyles, there is a need for any support for team project work to be also available online. Team working requires that the task roles as well as the maintenance roles are taken into consideration, in that social interactions are just as important as carrying out the tasks of the project. The literature indicates that groupware, whilst effective in supporting the task roles, provides limited support for the maintenance roles of team working in the work place. As groupware was not specifically designed for student team working, it provides limited support for maintenance roles in student team projects. Virtual learning environments similarly provide support for completing the task roles. Many researchers have found that students experience difficulties with their team project work that reduce the perceived benefits of working in a team. It is proposed that helping students to agree on ground rules at the start of a project will improve team cohesion. This paper describes the implementation and evaluation of a prototype system to help students to agree on ground rules as they start their team projects. The system was tested with teams of students carrying out information systems team projects, using an interpretive case study research approach. In this case the teams had the additional problem of being composed of students from across three years of their undergraduate degree programmes, so they did not always have prior knowledge of each other’s preferences. We were trying to establish how useful this software tool would be to these student teams, in starting their project work. The findings showed that some of the student teams did find the ground rules function useful, but the team leaders were the ones who most appreciated its potential. The students may use the outputs in very different ways, but even just looking at the ground rules appeared to get team members thinking about their expectations for team working. Student teams do not often start by thinking about norms, but this study shows a positive benefit of encouraging teams to agree on ground rules at the start of their projects.
ground rules, student team project, information systems, case study
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