Active learning requires students to work in teams to solve problems. Results of this teaching method have indicated that it is more effective than conventional method. Active learning students tend to get better grades on tests, have better analytical and critical thinking skills, deeper understanding of learned material, greater motivation to learn, and better relationships with others.

Teamwork involves students to work in teams of 2 to 5 people to accomplish an assigned task and produce a final product such as a solution to a problem, an analysis of a situation, or a report on a topic etc. In teamwork, there are four conditions that students must strictly follow to make it works: 1) Team members must rely on one another to achieve the common goal. If any team members fail to do their part, everyone on the team will suffer the consequences. 2) All team members are held accountable both for doing their share of the work and for understanding everything in the final product, not just the parts for which they are responsible. 3) Team members set team goals, individual goals, and periodically review the process to determine how well they are working together, and identify changes they must improve to work more effectively. 4) In teamwork, students learn and develop communication, presentation, leadership, conflict management, and decision-making skills by rotating roles among members.

Teaching teamwork is NOT easy, especially to students who are NOT familiar with this technique. Before allowing students to work in teams, teachers must clearly explain the four conditions of teamwork and make sure students understand and follow them, else it will not work. For example without individual accountability, some students may not do much but let team works done by others. Therefore they learn nothing in the process, and the students who do the work may feel unhappy and resent both their teammates and the teacher.

Teamwork takes time to develop so teachers should proceed slowly as it requires some learning to take place for both students and teachers. Teachers who have never used it may try the first time in a small team project to learn and gain experience. In teamwork, teachers should select students for each team rather than allow the students to self-select. The best teamwork combination tends to be students with different ability and skills but have common interests. When students self-select, they often choose friends or people they know well then they do not learn much from. Teamwork must be challenging that requires the team to work hard. The collective learning activities force them to share, collaborate, support and solving any conflict. If they could easily complete assignments by themselves then they may not learn the full potential of cooperative learning and they may resent the additional time that they have to work in groups.

To begin, teachers must start with clear instruction about the teamwork conditions and how teamwork can help develop soft-skills before assigning team. It is important that in teamwork, students are assigning different roles (e.g. team leader, coordinator, recorder, and process monitor) where each take turn to play each role periodically. Teachers must impose individual accountability by giving individual tests. In traditional courses, the grade is based on the test results but in teamwork, teachers will give test based on individual contribution by testing their knowledge. Students who do not work hard or contribute to team activities will get bad grade.

To determine teamwork, I often randomly call each individual member to present their work and explain the team results. (This will assess the condition # 2)

I also prefer to have each team member rate everyone's contribution and combining the results with the team grade to determine individual grades with the option of failing uncooperative team members. (To assess condition #1) Every two weeks, I ask each team to respond to questions "How well are we meeting our goals and expectations? “What are we doing well?" "What needs improvement?" and "What will we do differently next time?" (To assess condition #3) Every six week, I would conduct a review of the team activities, students who do not like teamwork are often complain about it, while others who like the benefits are quiet. This will help me to determine whether teamwork is working well or not and make adjustment accordingly.

There are always some students who do not like to work in team, some may resist team activities or being hostile to this type of learning so it is important to take time and explain carefully about the benefits to them. Students often react negatively when asked to work in teams for the first time. Good students complain about begin held back by their slower teammates; weaker students complain about being ignored in team activities and resentments will happen when some team members fail to contribute. Teachers with experience know how to avoid or solve these issues, but lesser experienced teachers may become discouraged and abandon this type of learning, which is a loss both for them and for their students.

Teamwork learning will succeed if the teacher understands students' resistance: What happens, how they resist, and how to overcome it. It is important to clearly explain to them that teamwork is a critical soft skill that determines their career success when they work in the industry. It helps them to work in team as all future works are teamwork.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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