Designers Should Encourage Participation
in Team Research
Copyright © 2001.
What is team research?
Team research is an activity that fits the definition
of a specific type of cooperative learning strategy ideally suited for
students working together on authentic, ill-structured investigations.
Cohen (1994) describes three main features of this cooperative learning
strategy. (a) The student research teams are small enough so that everyone
can participate (p. 3). (b) Students are expected to accomplish the
investigation without direct immediate supervision of the teacher (p.
3). (c) The student assignment is a group task requiring "resources
(information, knowledge, heuristic problem-solving strategies, materials,
and skills) that no single individual possesses so that no single individual
is likely to solve the problem or accomplish the task objectives without
at least some input from others." (p. 8) Designers who are successful
in developing authentic, ill-structured investigations create group
tasks in which students succeed by working productively with their peers.
Why is team research important?
- Team research increases academic achievement.
In general, students working in cooperative groups reach higher levels
of academic achievement than students working individually or in competitive
groups (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). In the case of team research,
academic achievement is dependent upon the frequency of investigation-related,
peer interactions (Cohen, 1994, p. 8). During team research, students
both provide and receive explanations, help, feedback, etc. Providing
elaborate explanations (Webb, 1991) as well as receiving the right kind
of help from peers (Webb, 1992) are both positively correlated with
- Team research promotes classroom equity.
Students who participate on research teams that are heterogeneous in
terms of level of academic achievement, race, and gender develop an
appreciation for a diversity of viewpoints (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).
Equal, two-way communications, a willingness of all team members to
listen and speak, and an expectation of future positive interactions
create a team environment in which all students gain the benefits of
team research. These skills must be taught in class and reinforced during
authentic, ill-structured investigations (Cohen, 1991).
- Team research helps students manage choices
during an investigation.
When students are working cooperatively, they are more likely to make
productive use of the choices offered by designers than students working
independently (Carrier & Sales, 1987). (See offering students choices
to read about what choices can be offered during authentic, ill-structured
How does a designer encourage team
For authentic, ill-structured investigations it is
important that the instructions for the tasks provide a level of support
that is neither too constraining nor too open-ended. Assigning students
to specific team roles or providing detailed discussion-scripts can
limit the amount of investigation-related discussion (Salomon &
Globerson, 1989). On the other hand, providing no guidance to team members
may lead to inequities in interaction within the group, which in turn
leads to differentiated learning outcomes. The research literature on
cooperative learning has been intense over the last two decades. The
following suggestions emerge from this literature.
- Create task instructions that maximize student
Smith, Johnson, and Johnson (1981) and Cohen, Lotan, and Leechor (1989)
offer two approaches to team tasks that maximize investigation-related,
peer interactions. (1) The first approach used controversy to stimulate
team research. In a study by Smith, Johnson, & Johnson, students
worked in four-person teams. Within the team, two-person pairs prepared
opposing sides of a debate concerning the proposed reintroduction of
wolves into Minnesota. After the preparation period, the opposing sides
presented their cases to each other. After the presentations were completed,
the pairs switched their positions. Using the information provided during
the debate, each pair argued the opposing position. Finally, the four-person
team reached a consensus and wrote a report. Although the controversy
approach is highly orchestrated, it is effective at generating investigation-related,
peer interactions that lead to conceptual understanding. (2) The second
approach is less orchestrated but also leads to investigation-related,
peer interactions. In a study by Cohen, Lotan, and Leechor, students
working on ill-structured problems took turns as the facilitatorÑencouraging
the group to think and talk together. The addition of this role led
to increases in investigation-related, peer interactions and higher
- Ensure equity in student interaction.
Research has documented that under normal circumstances, without constructive
intervention, there are systematic inequalities in participation among
members of cooperative groups. These differences are primarily related
to differences in academic status. It is important for designers to
create activities that lessen these status differences. One successful
approach is to ensure that the activities require multiple abilities
(Cohen, 1994, pp. 24-25; see also multiple abilities). In that way,
it is very likely that no one member of the group will be an expert
at all of the required abilities. These types of activities meet the
definition of a group task, where no one student can complete the activity
without input from others (Cohen, Lotan, & Catabzarite, 1988). In
addition, during the investigation, it is important for teachers to
highlight the task-specific competencies of low-status students. When
other students in the class learn that low-status students have relevant
competencies, it raises the low-status students' level of participation
(Cohen, 1994, p. 25).
- Provide students with opportunities to practice
Because team interaction is highly correlated with academic achievement,
it is important that students develop team skills. Designers can offer
team skill building activities for students to engage in prior to their
team research. Cohen and Cohen (1991) offer suggestions: (1) Prior to
engaging in team research, students select rules of conduct. (2) At
scheduled intervals during the team research process, the teams discuss
and evaluate how well they are working together, and the teacher offers
valuable feedback on their efforts (Johnson & F. Johnson, 1994).
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