One of the unique challenges for many college educators is to design interesting yet effective pedagogies consistently—pedagogies that continue to pique student interest while also developing employment-ready skills.
While so many college educators continue to underutilize team projects for practical and other reasons, I have focused more of my teaching energy and knowledge of psychology over the last five years on how best to design manageable and interesting team projects.
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Collaborative problem-solving is a skillset often desired by many employers, as evidenced by annual employer surveys. I have experimented with team debates, flipped classrooms, and case-study competitions, and through much trial and error in my psychology and social sciences courses, I have found five key elements or general principles to implement engaging team projects successfully. These five elements include challenge, choice, collaboration, accountability, and reward.
The benefits of implementing these five key principles have helped drive enrollment into my classes and led to some of my best educational outcomes, including higher weekly classroom engagement, higher course-level retention rates, higher student satisfaction course ratings, improved demonstrated student skill development, and closer, more positive peer-to-peer relationships among students.
Following is an example of how I have applied these five elements in a 15-week Human Relations course.
Principle 1: Create a student-centered team challenge. Based on feedback from our employer advisory boards, Human Relations is a required 3-credit liberal arts course for every Berkeley College undergraduate. In my version of this course, students are required to participate in a two-month team project called “Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work for Team Project,” worth 20 percent of the final grade. Two or three student teams select two organizations from the same industry from the annual Fortune’s 100 list. The teams compare and contrast how the organizations they selected address the American Psychological Association’s five psychologically healthy workplace categories (employee growth and development, employee involvement, work-life balance, health and safety, and employee recognition.)