(733d) Impact of Learning Styles Preferences On Team Dynamics in Chemical Engineering Unit Operations
Engineering is a highly team-oriented discipline. Teamwork is emphasized in high-level engineering courses to help further prepare students for the career their degree entails. When left to themselves, students will often form groups that are homogenous with respect to several indicators, including personality and learning style. While homogeneous groups may occasionally be preferred for specific tasks, heterogeneous groups have been shown to have better performance over a more broad range of tasks. Qualitative data from interviews by Martin and Paredes, 2004, suggests that students also grasp the value of a heterogeneous group and that, despite some difficulties because of clashing styles, are able to recognize the gains of such diversity. Quantitative data on the matter regarding teamwork and learning styles consists of student surveys conducted on a numerical scale corresponding to agreement (e.g. Likert scale). We are interested in the relationship between learning styles and team dynamics in advanced chemical engineering students, specifically, those taking the team-based senior-level unit operations course.
The course begins with a lecture during the spring semester in which students are given a learning styles questionnaire (Felder-Soloman Index of Learning Styles) to determine their preferences. These preferences will be used to identify potential correlations between team make-up (heterogeneous or homogeneous with respect to learning style) with team performance and student perceptions during the team-based laboratory portion in the Maymester. Course enrollment was approximately 180 students for 2013, and is consistently 150 to 200 students each year. Teams are assigned at the end of the spring term lecture course, with normalization for GPA. The Maymester laboratory course runs 4 weeks, with teams responsible for one experiment per week. With their laboratory report, they turn in an individual survey evaluating team dynamics. Survey items include: All group members participated in executing lab protocol; I would have preferred to do the protocol by myself; group members contributed equally to writing the lab report; the final product (lab report) benefitted from input from all group members; I would have preferred to write the lab report myself. By administering this survey with each experiment, we are able to control for variations by lab protocol, as well as identify any changes in team dynamics that may occur through the term as students become more accustomed to working together. We are looking to correlate team composition with respect to learning styles preferences (classified as heterogeneous or homogeneous by dimension) with team performance and student perceptions of the team’s efficacy. This study is designed to have minimal impact on the course. The only thing we have added is the survey. By evaluating the traditionally run laboratory course as it is, we are able to establish a baseline for understanding the role of learning styles and influences of team dynamics in our curriculum.
Students at this advanced point in their education have shared much of their discipline-specific training. An understanding of the variability in performance based on learning style and team composition can help elucidate the complex nature of team dynamics. Armed with such information, instructors can make decisions regarding how to create teams in a manner most beneficial to the students, and students will have a better understanding of teams as they prepare to finish their degrees.