This post is part of the Aspirations to Action series created as a follow-up to the Teaching What’s Important Symposium.
Learning how to work together is indeed the beauty of any sport. However, teaching students how to manage group expectations, capabilities and skills so as to produce fruitful results can be challenging. A valuable management skill that cuts across all fields, teamwork is an art that is taught in different ways, and in combination with other skills (research skills, thinking about how theory and knowledge applies to practice, communication skills).
One McGill instructor who places an emphasis on teamwork is Prof. Elena Bennett, McGill School of Environment, who asks her students to think about what it would it would be like to represent a country at a climate change conference. Students are assigned groups and countries, and are expected to thoroughly research their country’s position on climate change (this includes existing policies). Students are then asked to write a position paper, post it on MyCourses for feedback from peers, and then pitch the key points of their group papers in class. What this strategy does is teach students how to collaborate effectively, but also how to negotiate positions by simulating a Climate Change Accord. Professor Bennett seeks to inform her students about the stresses inherent in negotiations so as to highlight the limited availability of resources (time, research) that is often the reality of this type of work. Through this type of teamwork, students learn to manage their time, understand the strengths of the teammates and how to best employ these strengths in developing a joint assignment.
Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the team is also a key learning objective for Prof. Ruthanne Huising, Desautels School of Management. Prof. Huising asks groups to provide a team analysis memo after submitting a group assignment. The memo serves to help students reflect on their teamwork experience, identifying and evaluating one of their weaknesses. The memo must also contain ideas on how to correct the issues that a group has experienced. In class, the groups are asked to analyze their weaknesses and strengths, and to produce a plan for changing how they work together. They are expected to follow their new work plan the next time they work together- it is a semester-long process, designed to teach students how to be reflexive and build on weaknesses towards a better group working strategy.
What these two examples show is that teamwork involves an openness to constructive critique that needs to be taught to students: the need to acknowledge struggles and work together to overcome them. Yes, the beauty of the sport indeed.
Filipa Pajević, Graduate Student Assistant, Teaching and Learning Services, PhD Student in Urban Planning, Policy and Design