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Capstone project

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This paper presents the ? ndings from a panel session at the 2010 Capstone Design Conference in Boulder, Colorado in which panelists and participants had a lively discussion about practices associated with managing and mentoring student teams. The three broad topics discussed at the session were the methods of assigning teams, product versus process learning objectives for design teams, and non-technical aspects of team performance (e. g. race and gender dynamics, professional and interpersonal communication).

For each topic, the paper describes the wide variety of views and approaches (some contradictory) that were explored regarding each topic, as well as the factors a? ecting choice of approach.

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In addition, the paper highlights three themes that recurred across the topics: 1) clear learning objectives for capstone or any project-based activity are central to e? ectively designing and mentoring teams; 2) faculty participants do care deeply about their students and take steps to act in ways that bene? t students, and 3) both positive and negative aspects of student attitudes and behaviors may re?

ect faculty attitudes and behaviors, implying that we should examine and act to improve our departmental cultures if we hope to a? ect student performance.

The results of this discussion point strongly to the need for more research on teaming in capstone courses to better understand the relationships among curricular environment, student development, and learning outcomes. Keywords: capstone design; student teams 1. Introduction Capstone projects are ubiquitous in the United States and, increasingly, around the globe as a result of both ABET, Inc.

accreditation requirements and the strong sense among educators and industry stakeholders that students need such experiences. Capstone projects, as well as design projects across the curriculum, provide important sites for students to integrate sometimes disparate components of technical knowledge together in, as speci? ed by ABET, Inc. , ‘a major design experience based on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier course work and incorporating appropriate engineering standards and multiple realistic constraints. ’ [1] These projects serve as sites not only for the integration of knowledge, but also for the

development of a variety of professional skills, including teamwork. Some of this emphasis results, no doubt, from the inclusion of teamwork in the ABET-de? ned student learning outcomes, but as Dym et al. point out in their 2005 review of design education, engineering design is almost always, by its very nature, a team activity in which participants * Accepted 15 June 2011. engage in social negotiation of multiple points of view [2]. A number of national surveys attest to the widespread use of student teams in capstone courses and describe patterns that have remained constant over the past 15 years. Todd et al. conducted the ? rst

survey in 1994 to generate benchmarks for improving the capstone course at their home institution [3]. Howe and Wilbarger conducted a follow-up survey in 2005 to assess the trends across the decade [4], while McKenzie et al. conducted a 2001 survey focused solely on assessment practices within the course [5]. Finally, in 2009, Pembridge and Paretti conducted a follow-up to Howe and Wilbarger that extended work on course structure to include faculty beliefs and teaching practices [6]. Across these surveys, patterns over the past ? fteen years have remained consistent with respect to team structures: team sizes of 4–6 dominate, most courses

assign only one team to each project, and faculty typically both provide in-class time for teams to work together and expect teams to meet regularly outside of class [6]. At the same time, while project planning and management has consistently been 1 2 S. Laguette et al. among the top ? ve topics covered in the course, teamwork has not [6] (though it may be a tacit component of project management). Thus while team structures dominate capstone courses, survey data suggest that teamwork itself is not a dominant subject for instruction. In addition, the 2010 survey results indicate that only about half

of the faculty respondents reported including ‘quality of teamwork’ in their evaluation of the ? nal grade, although 2001 data suggests that more than half of the faculty respondents considered ‘the ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams’ an appropriate area of assessment in capstone courses [5]. It is not surprising then, that approaches to evaluating teamwork in capstone courses have begun to emerge in recent years [7–10]. At the same time, capstone design research has begun to draw on the literature surrounding team formation to develop more robust approaches to creating capstone teams [10]. The results of work in these

areas include publicly available team formation and assessment tools from both the Transferable Integrated Design Engineering Education (TIDEE) project (http://www. tidee. org/page/Front) and the Comprehensive Assessment for Team-Member E? ectiveness (CATME) project (https://www. catme. org). Such tools represent critical advances in our approach to teamwork in capstone courses, but a number of questions remain in terms of faculty’s responsibilities with respect to the development of students’ teamwork skills across the duration of the project. Unfortunately, as Shuman et al. note in their review of professional skills in the engineering

curriculum, ‘too often educators incorporate student teams into their courses with little thought to their best use. Minimal guidance is provided to students on group development, soliciting member input, consensus building, resolving con? ict, and team leadership’ [11]. Despite advances in certain areas and numerous anecdotal reports in conference papers, much work remains to be done regarding how faculty approach the teaching and learning of teamwork in capstone courses. In this paper, we begin to bridge this gap by synthesizing salient positions around this issue as they developed from a panel session led by the

authors and engaging several dozen participants at the 2010 Capstone Design Conference. In particular, the synthesis addresses three primary questions: 1. Self-selection versus systematic assignment of teams: When creating student teams, should faculty allow students to select their own teams to maximize student satisfaction or assign teams based on a systematic procedure (e. g. grades, personality types, team behavior)? 2. 3. Product versus process: In capstone projects, should faculty be more concerned with a team’s ability to create a successful product or with students’ ability to learn how to work e?

ectively as a team as evidenced by a systematic process? Technical practice versus professional practice: When mentoring student teams, should faculty be concerned only with teams’ ability to deploy technical knowledge e? ectively to solve the problem, or should they also address professional issues surrounding team dynamics, including gender, race and ethnicity, and communication and interpersonal skills? The audio recordings of the panel session were analyzed to identify recurrent themes; themes were identi? ed based on multiple occurrences of related statements as well as length or depth of discussion

and dialogue around a particular point. Detailed qualitative coding is outside the boundaries of this work and is of limited value in this context given the nature of the panel discussion and the role of the moderator in shaping the discussion and moving the session forward; moreover, this data was not collected via a systematic process of qualitative inquiry and the results reported here are primarily anecdotal accounts provided by a self-selected group of participants. As the following sections demonstrate, although we posit these questions as either/or, the answers o? ered by faculty participants and the resulting

discussions suggest that experienced faculty tend to adopt a both/and approach, with multiple factors in? uencing the balance in each case. In seeking to negotiate the two poles in each question, capstone faculty systematically re? ect a strong desire to prepare students holistically for professional practice, and factors such as the desired learning outcomes of the course, the constraints of project sponsors (industry or faculty), and the trajectory of the curriculum leading to the capstone experience all play a role in shaping the ways faculty manage and mentor student teams. The results of this session de? ne the set of core

questions that face capstone faculty and set an agenda for future research on the teaching and learning of teamwork in capstone courses. Table 1 summarizes the major challenges and research questions associated with each of the three major themes. The subsequent sections develop these ideas in detail. 2. Self-selection versus systematic assignment of teams Of the three primary questions posed by the panel Managing and Mentoring Capstone Design Teams: Considerations and Practices for Faculty 3 Table 1. Summary of major themes, challenges, and potential research questions Theme Challenges Potential research questions

Self-selection versus systematic assignment of teams Aligning selection approach with learning objectives. How do we negotiate teaching students that di? erence is not negative but instead can be productive to team dynamics? Creating well-balancing teams. How do we balance methods for constructing e? ective teams (e. g. through personality tests) with students’ right to privacy? Providing learning opportunities while emphasizing team performance. Accounting for schedule compatibility. Accounting for student interest by project. Product versus process Aligning learning objectives with project goals and expectations of project

sponsors. Accounting for curricular sca? olding. Managing time constraints. De? ning success criteria. How do students best learn to be e? ective team members? What is the state of faculty member preparation for managing small group dynamics? What degree of team and design knowledge do students need before product should become a dominant criteria? How can teams be mentored to best help students learn e? ective, transferable processes? How does an emphasis on process a? ect students’ ability to engage in successful design? Including ‘real world’ attributes while providing a supportive learning environment. Technical practice

versus professional practice How does an emphasis on product a? ect students’ ability to develop as e? ective team members? Aligning learning objectives with teaching opportunities and expertise. Although some research already exists, many questions remain about the impact of diversity issues on both team performance and individual student learning outcomes. Developing strategies to e? ectively discuss race, ethnicity, and gender in engineering teams. Integrating communications learning with other capstone team objectives. What approaches are best suited to helping faculty e? ectively engage issues of diversity in team mentoring?

How are those a? ected by the overall demographics of the student population? What strategies can help faculty e? ectively and practically integrate communication into capstone courses? What approaches help build partnerships with communication faculty? What helps faculty develop the ability to teach communication? How does the balance between technical and professional skills a? ect student learning? What learning outcomes are most appropriate for the course. What characterizes an exemplar? What strategies are e? ective in changing the culture? session, the question of team assignment is the one

most addressed by robust research both inside and outside engineering. Literature identi? es three basic methods of assigning teams that instructors commonly use: self-selection, random assignment, and systematic instructor assignment, each of which has been used in capstone courses based on a variety of factors. Self-selected teams give students more responsibility and control over their learning experience than when instructors assign teams, which has both advantages and disadvantages [12]. Advantages include increased group cohesiveness [13–16], accountability [17], and cooperativeness, which

increases team members’ feelings of indispensability and improves their satisfaction with deadlines [18]. In contrast to these ? ndings is considerable evidence of negative e? ects associated with self-selection. Feichtner and Davis reported that self-selected teams resulted in 40% of students’ worst group experiences and only 22% of their best group experiences [19]. In a study of engineering students at the United States Military Academy, Brickell and colleagues found that self-selection had negative e? ects on students’ opinions about the course, instructors, projects, classmates, and other criteria [20].

Self-selection can lead to excessive homogeneity, such that teams lack diversity [21–22] and might not have all the skills required for their team’s task [17]. Self-selection can also lead to clique behavior that erodes team cohesion and performance [23]. Random assignment is another option for assigning teams, but this method has a number of disadvantages and no clear strengths relative to the alternatives. Random assignment does not necessarily result in a team with any more diversity, balanced skills, or blend of personalities than does self-selection [24–26], yet it raises concerns about fairness [27].

Bacon and colleagues found that randomly assigned teams were negatively associated with students’ best team experiences, and were not signi? cantly associated with students’ worst team experiences [27]. Instructor-assigned teams enable instructors to control various criteria in an e? ort to create positive team experiences, and the preponderance of the 4 available evidence suggests that controlling those criteria improves student outcomes [28]. Although there are clear advantages to assigning teams according to certain criteria, instructors assign teams relatively infrequently because the logistics can be challenging [27, 29].

The complexity of teamassignment increases dramatically as the class size and number of variables to be considered increases. Therefore, implementing more than a few criteria for team formation can be inordinately time-consuming for instructors, especially when accounting for students’ availability for team meetings outside of class and when working with the large classes that are typical in undergraduate engineering. However, web-based tools are now available that can help instructors assign students to teams quickly while optimizing the degree to which all teams meet the instructor’s team-formation criteria [10]. 2.

1 Panel perspectives: synthesis of the discussion The personal experiences described by the participants echo many of the themes expressed in the teaming literature. Many participants use self-selection (some with a provision that teams must have a prescribed mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities), some faculty use project selection (a form of self-selection), and some use criterion-based instructor-selection. Participants did agree that instructor-selection requires more of a faculty member’s time than self-selection, yet they acknowledged the problems associated with self-selection, including those already identi?

ed in the literature. 2. 2 Approaches taken by participants The approaches described by the participants can be categorized as variations on self-selection and instructor-assigned with one hybrid approach, project selection, including aspects of both. No one mentioned the third main category, random assignments, con? rming literature ? ndings regarding the preponderance of disadvantages. Following are summaries of the approaches taken by participants, grouped by category. Variations using self-selection include: Students self-select but teams must meet instructor-set criteria for mix of skills and roles.

Students ‘shop’ for teammates using resumes, skills and qualifications; this approach often ties to winning a competition or having a superior product rather than to an interest on the learning of every student on a team. Variations using instructor-assigned include: Use personality profiles (e. g. Meyers-Briggs). Use behavior-based profiles (e. g. engineering profile or Belbin’s team roles). S. Laguette et al. Cooperative-learning criteria: heterogeneity across all dimensions except schedule compatibility. Variations using project selection include:

Students select projects, not teams, though students wanting to work together may self-select the same projects. Instructors may have to re-assign students to match the team size to the project scope, having neither too many nor too few students assigned to a particular project. Instructors might require teams to swap members so that most teams have an appropriate mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities. The wide variability among participants regarding team assignment suggests that while capstone faculty are exploring some of the available literature and drawing on professional practices, much work

remains to better understand the educational value of these approaches, to provide faculty with su? cient information to make informed decisions about which approach to use, and to provide usable tools for enacting those decisions. Despite these gaps, one clear consensus did emerge from the discussion: participants clearly cared about de? ning and meeting the learning objectives associated with team assignments and about providing a high-quality student experience. 2. 3 Factors a? ecting choice of approach The concern that faculty expressed about the quality of the student experience seemed to be the most important factor a?

ecting a faculty member’s choice of approach to team formation. A close second in importance is the magnitude of the time commitment a particular approach demands and faculty clearly struggled when those two factors came into con? ict. In terms of student experience, faculty considered: Students’ perceptions of the fairness of the process. Students’ ability to determine their own strengths and weaknesses and to have opportunities to improve weak areas. Schedule compatibility (project work during scheduled class periods). The tension between performance and learning (described in more detail in the product vs.

process section following). In terms of time commitment, faculty experiences included: Consideration of the amount of ‘extra’ work imposed on instructor. Managing and Mentoring Capstone Design Teams: Considerations and Practices for Faculty Attempts to incorporate a new approach that are abandoned because of both time and ‘hassle’. Experiments with several methods that are also abandoned because of both time and student responsiveness (students not completing necessary tasks). The simplicity of self-selection both as a process and in terms of bearing the responsibility for dysfunctional teams.

Struggles with students who are ‘left over’ from the self-selection process; the process is easier as a whole, but students who don’t fit into the selfselected groups must be placed somewhere. We note two distinct aspects of faculty time commitment. The ? rst is the time required to e? ectively assign students to teams. Use of dedicated teaming software packages can dramatically reduce the time required to assign students to teams and achieve distributions of team member attributes that meet an instructor’s criteria [10]. The second is the amount of time an instructor spends with teams

going through their ‘storming’ stage of development on their way to the ‘norming’ stage [30]. The collective experience of panelists and participants suggests that capstone faculty encounter a seriously dysfunctional team every year or two and spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to help that team succeed. Avoiding this particular time commitment was cited by one of participant as the primary reason for self-selection: when a team has con? ict, it’s ‘their problem, not mine. ’ Such an approach may not e? ectively support student learning, but it does indicate that for many faculty, ective management of small group dynamics is lacking in our education and experience. Regardless of the method faculty chose for creating teams, participants and panelists noted that just putting students in groups does not teach them about teamwork. In any approach, the instructor needs to provide structure to guide learning, implying the need for well-articulated learning objectives and capstone project guidance to meet those objectives. Established methods include creating team codes of conduct or charters, students re? ecting on their behavior, and peer evaluations. Moreover, we suggest that the teaming learning objectives gain complexity and depth as students’ progress through a curriculum, consistent with a curriculum designed to prepare them for 21st-century engineering practice [31]. This over-arching theme requires a longterm commitment by faculty groups within a program or an institution. 2. 4 Implications for faculty and researchers The advantages and the disadvantages described by the participants agree with those described in the 5 literature. At the same time, participants’ experiences point to some critical guidelines for future faculty and to unanswered questions that merit further research. Several key points emerged from this component of the discussion, including (as noted below) issues not directly related to team selection but that are often consequences of the selection process:

Regardless of how one assigns or manages teams, faculty should 1) care about student learning about teams and on teams, and 2) take action informed by research results to improve their management of student teams. Students need to develop teamwork skills, including planning and virtual collaboration; the latter is particularly important in light of globalization, and students’ ability to engage in internet-based social networking does not translate into an ability to engage in virtual professional collaboration, even with collaborators on their own campuses. Capstone courses need explicit conversation about what should be happening in teams, what might be missing from any given team, and how the gaps or problems can be addressed. In a capstone course, both students and faculty will be learners. One goal of a capstone project is to pose a problem to which the faculty member does not necessarily have all the answers, even about matters related to team functioning. In addition to the broad question about what methods of team selection provide the best educational opportunities for various contexts, this portion of the panel discussion also raised some related questions: How do we negotiate teaching students that difference is not negative but instead can be productive to team dynamics? How do we balance methods for constructing effective teams (e. g. through personality tests) with students’ right to privacy and with their interest on specific projects? How do students’ best learn to be effective team members? What is the state of faculty member preparation for managing small group dynamics? 3. Product versus process

As with all good courses, the time required to master all of the material always exceeds the time available. Thus, the instructor is required to emphasize the most important aspects while reluctantly decreasing emphasis on other issues. Within a capstone course, two competing topics are successfully completing a large scale project and learning the various skills 6 S. Laguette et al. (group work, communication, design, etc. ) required throughout industry. The tension between the time used within the capstone course to accomplish these tasks is labeled ‘product versus process’ and were discussed by the panel in the context of the following extremes. Scenario 1: Consider yourself the manager of a team of students with an industrial customer, perhaps one that has provided funds for a project. Your goal is to successfully meet the needs of the client, with little or no concern about how it happens. You want the client to be happy, perhaps so they will fund projects in the future. The project must be delivered on time and on budget. To accomplish this ‘real world’ objective, student learning with respect to critical design processes—including teamwork –is sacri? ced. If a team produces a good product, their approach and the learning experiences of each member is irrelevant.

That is, ‘product trumps process. ’ Scenario 2: Your goal is not to produce a product, but rather to fully engage all students in the design process. The product itself has little or no meaningful value to any immediate stakeholder or client, and the product’s success or failure has no consequences. Students are thus allowed to grapple with the process as long as needed to insure that they fully learn the complexities of collaborating in a design environment, but they never produce a functional product. In that case, ‘process trumps product. ’ These two extremes re? ect the tension panelists and audience members sought to investigate.

The tension between product and process has received much less systematic attention in the literature; existing literature typically focuses on either process-related goals or product-related goals. Compare, for example, capstone experiences that emphasize re? ective journaling [32] and professional skills [33], both leaning more towards ‘process’, to capstone experiences that emphasize entering a competition [34] or simulating a manufacturing enterprise [35], both leaning more towards ‘product. ’ Yet little if any systematic work is available exploring the relationship between the two in terms of either faculty responsibilities or student

learning outcomes. Despite this gap in the literature, the tension raises an important question about the learning objectives of a capstone course and the importance of team processes versus product success, particularly in light of course time constraints. While the literature does not explicitly or systematically explore the tension itself, evidence suggests that a majority of capstone instructors combine elements of both process and product in their courses. For example, Howe and Wilbarger [4] report that ‘professional skills form the majority of the most frequently taught subjects’ in capstone courses.

Of the 444 programs responding to their survey, 87% include instruction in written communication, 83% in oral communication, 76% in engineering ethics, 72% in project planning and scheduling, 68% in decision making, and 66% in team building, all contributing to a successful design process. In the same report, a little over half the respondents report that outside sponsors provide support for some of their capstone projects and that 64% of sponsors possess at least part of the intellectual property associated with the capstone project, indicating a focus on the importance of the product. Moreover, Paretti and Pembridge found in 2010 that almost 60% of respondents considered process and product not only equally important, but interdependent; only 6% of respondents considered product alone most important, while 24% considered process alone most important (regardless of product success). The panel discussion re? ected this sensibility, though as in the literature, it appears grounded in anecdote or ‘gut feeling’ rather than in a systematic study of student learning outcomes. 3. 1 Panel perspectives: synthesis of the discussion The panel at the 2010 Capstone Design Conference approached the problem by considering product and process, while not orthogonal, as certainly not mutually exclusive.

The approaches taken by participants, represented a range of responses, and while some faculty leaned more heavily toward process and others toward product, few if any consider either wholly dispensable. The participants agreed that a process that yielded no meaningful product— or at least a robust understanding of the sources of product failure —could not e? ectively teach students the design process. Conversely, a product that succeeded, when not backed by a systematic professional practice, also fails to prepare students for the workplace in which e? ective team decision-making and project management are critical and trial and error disastrously expensive. Consensus emerged among the participants that capstone courses need to balance the issues of product and process based on the curricular environment, the source of the project and the learning objectives of the course. 3. 2 Approaches taken by participants As noted above, faculty approaches were heavily in? uenced by context. In general, the discussion highlighted the following themes: Environments that lead to an emphasis on product: ‘Teamwork and design process through the curriculum’: in curricula where students have multi-

Managing and Mentoring Capstone Design Teams: Considerations and Practices for Faculty ple prior courses that address team function and/ or design process, capstone faculty are free to emphasize product quality. Industry sponsorship: when projects have industry sponsorship, product quality is a dominant factor, though as noted in the next section, faculty also manage industry expectations to align with student abilities. Departmental and individual learning objectives: in addition to the external influences of curricula and sponsors, departments and faculty members may prefer an emphasis on product for philosophical reasons.

Environments that lead to an emphasis on process: Lack of prior curricular scaffolding: when the capstone course is the first (or even second) major team design experience, capstone faculty seem more likely articulate a significant need for process focus. Faculty/internal sponsorship: when projects emerge from faculty research projects or are developed by the students themselves, capstone instructors seem more willing and likely to emphasize process. Departmental and individual learning objectives: in addition to the external influences of curricula and sponsors, departments and faculty members may prefer an emphasis on process for philosophical reasons. The ‘approaches’ taken by faculty (i. e. how they emphasized product or process) received little attention in the discussion; instead, the participants focused on the role of these factors in their decision, as detailed in the following section. 3. 3 Factors a? ecting choice of approach 3. 3. 1 Curricular environment As noted above, the curricular environment is central to faculty perceptions about the role of process versus product. Capstone design courses do not exist in a vacuum. Students entering the course have completed over 100 hours of course work, with dozens of courses within the degree.

While engineering programs excel at providing students with the requisite content knowledge, as well as the ability to master any new technical content associated with a given design project, they vary widely in terms of the distribution of procedural and practice-oriented knowledge of the design process across the curriculum. Participants noted that students with signi? cant design and/or teamwork experience throughout a curriculum can be expected to know and apply a robust, systematic design process, while students without such experience must learn during the capstone course. The 7 higher the degree of curricular sca? olding with respect to design learning prior to the capstone course, the higher the level of product and process performance faculty expect. Even though not all students will have progressed through the curriculum (e. g. , transfers, optional degree plans), institutions with signi? cant sca? olding allow the capstone experience to assume the existence of good process and increase the evaluation emphasis on the product, while still maintaining the emphasis on process as well. This sca? olding takes a variety of forms, including: Significant design experiences at multiple points across the c

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Capstone project. (2016, Aug 09). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/capstone-project/

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