Undergraduate Capstone Open Source Projects

All Together Now (Or Not)

Posted by Greg Wilson on 2009/10/25

By the end of this week (Oct 30), each of our teams has to propose a grading scheme they’d like used for their term’s work. To do this, they’ll have to decide (a) what they’re going to deliver by Friday December 4 (our target wrap-up date) and (b) how much of their grade will depend on the team’s accomplishments, and how much will depend on individual contributions. Experience shows that the latter is much harder to decide than the former: most people want their grade to reflect what they’ve done, but clients care about what’s delivered as a whole.

I can’t tell students how to make this decision [1], but I can suggest that everyone read Oakley et al’s paper “Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams“. I can also suggest that teams think about grading schemes they’ve had in other courses that they thought were ambiguous or unfair, and try to make sure that what they hand in on Friday doesn’t have those faults: I’ve always hated things like “software is adequately tested: 10%” because I never knew what the prof meant by “adequate”.

[1] Well, I could, but that would defeat one of the main aims of the course…

7 Responses to “All Together Now (Or Not)”

  1. Farah Juma said

    I really enjoyed reading this paper. It gave me a lot more insight into what it takes to be part of an effective team. I especially liked the distinction that was made between a group and a team because the word “team” means so much more than just a group of students working on the same project. A team consists of students who work together and help each other, accept roles and responsibilities, and find ways of resolving conflicts.

    I was a little surprised at first that instructor-formed teams have been found to work better than self-formed teams. I’ve been able to choose my own team for most of the team assignments I’ve worked on in university and I liked the freedom that came along with that. However, the authors of this paper present some great ideas for group formation, which ensure that students on a team have similar schedules so that they have time to work together. Also, in the “real word”, you don’t get to choose your team and you have to quickly learn how to work with different people with different abilities and personalities so instructor-formed teams are actually a good idea because they help to prepare students for the “real world”.

    I liked the fact that this paper acknowledged that teams won’t be perfect and will sometimes have members who do not pull their own weight. This is something that students dread when working on team assignments. I thought the “crisis clinics” offered an interesting way to deal with this situation. The peer rating system mentioned can also help students improve their teamwork skills.

    I think that another good point made by the authors was that just forming teams for students is not enough – instructors need to make sure that the groups are developing the skills they need to function appropriately.

    This paper definitely has some excellent ideas for developing effective teams. If you haven’t done so already, you should check it out!

  2. This choice is much harder thant i first thing it would be.
    Because each member of the team dont have the same level of experience they can’t get the same quantity of work done.
    And each team member dont know what the other can get done.
    But we should still work as a team, and this is why each team member should know what other expect from them.
    While doing the the grading scheme we realised we didn’t work as a team as much as we should have.

    So every body should work toward a common goal and try to contribute what he is able to. This include code quality.
    If you implemented something that obviously ran in o(n^2) when it could’ve been done in o(N) then that is poor quality.
    if you don’t give your variables useful names, that’s poor quality. If you dont have a uniform coding style that’s poor quality. If you dont do proper documentation thath’s poor quality.

    All those thing can be done by everybody it’s not something that need experience. So it’s something that can be easily graded.

    The grading scheme should be seen as a “real job” annual evaluation. So your grade should not depend only on your personal competence but on how much effort you have put in your work.

  3. alexnico said

    I like the idea of having formal team policies in the first place. It helps students to understand what they are expected to do. Just like in companies, you have policies and rules that you have to abide in order to survive, such as checking-in code procedure, naming variables, comment formats, etc. As stated in the paper, this policies evolve and students can help the instructors to make them better (perhaps during the-end-of-term review)

    This paper emphasizes the final product as one of the major contributors for student’s grades. Final products may be easy to measure but they don’t necessarily reflect the work that students have done. In every research, failures are part of it. We learn more when we fail rather than when we success. Therefore, my point is the process is more important than the product.

    I also like the mid-term evaluation idea. I think there should be a formal assessment to things that we have done through the midway of our course. It helps students to know their mistakes and more importantly, giving students a chance to fix them.

    One way to the evaluation is through peer evaluation. However, I am not sure if this could be done properly. Not everyone (or anyone) works with all of the team members. Especially when the group is divided into sub-groups, one may have a little knowledge of the other’s work and thus biases the evaluation.

    Overall, I think this is a very good paper. It comes with the real cases that I often encounter at School and provides some solutions to them. The study of instructor-formed teams vs. self-selection is stunning. The best teams don’t always consist of the smartest people in the class but a group of committed students can be a great recipe for a successful team

  4. Ning(Alex) Yang said

    I think the first step “getting to know you” is very important. As we are all brand new to each other, no one knows which area we are good at. We need an instructor to hold to collect the info and also introduce us to the project we will be involved. Know where the project is and where it’s heading to is essential for the success. Besides, each member should be assigned to an area that he is familiar with. As a student, the time is quite limited and it will save them a lot of time if the instructor can have a good view of all the members.

    The communication is also very important, as we are working as a team. None of us can finish the task all by ourselves. Sometimes, we are just blocked by a problem from the other member. Then he should talk with the member as soon as possible instead of waiting for a long time. You know students are not that hard working (after all, we are not being paid ).

    Evaluation is another point I strongly agree. The members in the team is much objective than ourselves. If it is possible to get the feedback from the others, we can adjust the way, the process or the method we are using accordingly. As a team, we consider each other as friends and as a bad side of that, we may only pick the “good word” to say. To void that, the anonymity should be the better way and the result should go directly to us.

    This is three impressive concepts I’ve found from the paper. For coding, I always consider the face to face is the most efficient way. Whenever we have any problems or difficulties, we can simple bring it up and discuss it. It will save a lot time than waiting for the email at one end. But as the result of our special team, we add each other in skype and it turns out to be another solution. I like that.

  5. Mary Mootoo said

    I enjoyed reading this paper. I believe everyone in a group project should read this paper before-hand so that they know what to expect.

    I absolutely agree with the author when he spoke about instructor-formed teams because of the point made which was that if you let student form their own teams, the stronger student tend to stick together leaving the weaker student behind.

    One point that the author made that I really didn’t think about was under the heading “B. Preliminary instruction on effective team practices” second bullet. I usually do the opposite of what the author is suggesting, which is dividing the work up and then combining the individual pieces to turn in. I will now change my way of tackling the problem and do what the author suggests.

    This paper also talks about how to handle conflicts within the groups that I found to be helpful because there are almost always problems in a team. For this project, being an open source project and the fact that we are miles apart, communication plays a very vital part to every team’s success.

    The author also took the time to discussed team member evaluation forms which mean that it is important for team projects. I like the fact of having team members evaluate me and vice versa. My only concern here is that the team members cannot do this if there is a lack in communication. There is no other way for them to know what I have accomplished or what I plan to do next without communicating.

    Like I said before, I enjoyed reading this paper and I believe everyone in a group project should read this paper because it just opens your eyes up to different options and provides pros and cons for each so that you can make a decision more efficiently.

  6. plorimer said

    I am pretty sure I lived this article for my 300 level project course. Our instructor formed the teams by having us evaluate ourselves and also allowed us to specify one person we would like to work with and up to three that we did not want to work with. Our three people we did not want to work with was respected, but if you wrote someone who you wanted to work with and they did not write your name, I believe he null and voided your preference. I think that instructor created teams work much much better than student created teams. When you work with your friends I find that, for myself I will tend to slack more. This is because I don’t mind if my friend thinks that I am slacking, where as if I am working with someone I don’t know. I am more likely to work harder to show them what I can do. Also, I have found that when I am in groups with friends, more conflicts arise.

    In my 300 level project class, our initial team was disbanded due to half the group dropping the class. Although this was not half way through, it was close enough to give the effect they are talking about in the article. I had already decided that I was in a dysfunctional group, when I was placed into the new group it was amazing. I thought it would be hard to fall into a new group, but they absorbed me as one of their own right from the get go. I found this group worked a lot better for me and I believe I worked a lot better for them.

    Also, in this class we did peer review after every build submission (about every 2 weeks). This was just to let the instructor know how we were getting along. Also, to be able to spot people who were not contributing to the common good.

    I enjoyed reading this article because I really enjoyed that class, so it kind of reinforced why I enjoyed the class so much. I think because my instructor was pursuing a PhD in team development he has read this article. Because he did almost everything mentioned in this article.

  7. […] Read the Oakley et al paper and commented on it, as Greg requested (see https://ucosp.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/all-together-now-or-not/#comment-147) […]

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