In this section, Rahul Bhargava shares three instructional strategies for facilitating productive teamwork in CMS.631 Data Storytelling Studio.
Recruit Diverse Students
All of the projects that students work on over the course of the semester are completed in teams of three or four. One key to making teamwork work well is recruiting a diverse body of students so that they bring complementary skills to the collaboration. Once I had a group that made a board game based on playing the role of a refugee escaping civil war. One of the group members was an amazing graphic designer. She designed a board and cards for the game, but had no idea about gameplay. There was another person in the group who had a lot of experience playing video games. She was totally into coming up with the rule system and figuring out how to make the game not too complex. Their different skills fit together in a way that produced a fantastic sketch.
It can be difficult to recruit a diverse group of students. I think everyone has different ways to do this, but once you get one person from a particular department, word tends to spread virally. Early on, for instance, I had one student in the arts in the course. I asked her to reach out to peers she thought would enjoy the course. It was a way to actively seek students with artistic skill sets. In the 2017 iteration of the course, I had students from the arts, computer science, and business. It was a good combination of skills.
Mix Up the Groups
When making groups for the first three projects, I require that students work with people with whom they haven’t collaborated before. I do this so that they have an opportunity to find people with whom to work on the extended sketches toward the end of the course. To help students form groups, I ask them to engage in a series of quick conversation rotations. During these conversations, they share what skills they can bring to a group, and what they want to learn from others. It’s a good strategy for helping students identify connections with each other.
Require Peer Feedback
Each project has a peer-review component in which team members fill out a brief form rating (on a safe of 1-5) each other’s contributions. It’s not a long form—just a few questions, and an empty text field that invites them to tell me anything they think I should know about how their team members contributed. I take the feedback into account when grading students’ projects. This process makes it feel less risky to work with unfamiliar people. Students see there’s a feedback cycle and know that if the people they’re working with don’t perform well, it won’t impact their grade in a detrimental way.