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Teamworks Shows Promise, Problems

By Rishi Shrivastava
Staff Reporter

Teamworks, a new chemistry group program which encourages collaboration, continues to show promise in its first semester despite student complaints.

This semester the chemistry and material science and engineering departments are offering the optional program to students enrolled in Principles of Chemical Science (5.11) and Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry (3.091).

Currently, 70 students in 3.091 and 290 of 400 students in 5.11 are participating in the program, said Amy R. Pritchett G, a Teamworks helper.

It is still too early to determine whether Teamworks has improved academic performance. "We really won't know how it will affect student grades until the end of the semester," said Melinda G. Cerny, an undergraduate program administrator in the chemistry department.

"In the second 3.091 quiz, one of the Teamworks recitation sections scored higher than class average. We'll keep a close watch for any trends," said Professor Donald R. Sadoway, who is teaching the class this term.

It is difficult to gauge the effect of the program, though, because "many students work in groups outside the Teamworks framework," he said.

Students call program a success

Students involved in Teamworks generally agree that successful Teamworks groups promote cooperative learning for all group members. They do not believe the smartest group members are disadvantaged by other members.

"People have to realize that in a group, the smartest person isn't going to be the best at everything. We all go into the test knowing the same things," said Hank M. Lin '97.

"One person never does all the work," said Pardis C. Sabeti '97. "We all learn from each other. I have no real complaints."

However, other students said that Teamworks suffers from some problems.

Several students said they wished they could choose their own Teamworks partners. "If you got to pick the people in your group, it would be better because you end up working with your roommates anyway," said Cristina Perez de la Cruz '97.

Others disagreed with this suggestion, saying students should not be allowed to pick their group members. It is good that freshmen do not pick their partners because it encourages them to meet new people, Lin said.

Another problem is that personality conflicts discourage some groups from meeting.

"My team coordinator does not tell us when to meet," said one Teamworks student.

"It is disorganized, compared to other Teamworks groups, which are so awesome," the student said. These successful groups meet frequently because they work well together, she said.

In response to these complaints, Teamworks organizers say students must learn to work successfully in groups despite personality differences. "In the real world, the boss does not care if you like everyone you collaborate with. The boss only cares that the project is successfully completed," Cerny said.

Teamworks organization

Students who chose the Teamworks option were organized into groups of four at the beginning of the semester, Pritchett said. Organizers attempted to match students in the same living groups, she said.

Teamworks participants are graded differently from other students. Between the individual grade and the "algorithm grade," students receive the higher of the two, Pritchett said. The algorithm grade is composed of two-thirds the individual score plus one-third the team average score, Sadoway said.

But students who fail to maintain passing individual grades cannot pass regardless of their team average, Pritchett said.

Teamworks organizers expect student teams to meet regularly. Each group contains a team coordinator, whose duties include maintaining weekly logs indicating team progress, Pritchett said.

Teams also interact with each other in the classroom. "All members of a team report to the same recitation section. In recitation, some instructors have special activities," Sadoway said.

Encourages collaboration

Teamworks organizers created the program for several reasons. The program's purpose is to encourage homework collaboration, which frequently occurred before collaboration became "legal," said Professor Alan Davison, who teaches 5.11. Since "collaboration study habits are good and the practice is going on anyway, homework cooperation should be encouraged," Davison said.

Cooperative learning is a concept many schools are investigating, Cerny said. "The theory is students will better understand concepts if they can ... explain them to others. Also, law schools have been doing it for a very long time," she said.

People also founded Teamworks to reduce academic pressure, said Eve O. Sullivan, a Teamworks organizer. By fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and interactive learning, Teamworks will benefit the MIT community, she said.