The Truth is Powerful

As instructors, we shouldn’t assume students know how to work in teams, argues Steve Reifenberg, who offers some suggestions for how to help them do it better.

For the past decade, I have been teaching international development and global affairs classes that focus on student teams working together over the semester on a challenge presented by an international organization. Effective teamwork is key to the success of those projects.

Working in teams has many benefits. Teamwork taps into the diverse backgrounds, skills, knowledge and experiences of each person in the group. It allows students to use their creativity and build on one another’s ideas. Through teamwork, students learn how to explore expansively what a good product might look like and design thoughtfully how to get there.

Yet at the beginning of the semester, I often ask students three questions about their experiences on teams, and their responses are often disconcerting.

First question: How many of you have had experiences in college working on a team-based class project?

Typically, almost everyone answers yes. This semester, when I asked this question in an undergraduate international development class made up of majors from across the university, 18 out of 20 students raised their hands — that is, 90 percent had been required to be on a team as part of a college class.

Second question: If you’re honest, how many of you like to […]

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