Open Thread Wednesday: Handling Breakdowns in Teamwork

2473702741_c4f6b53fa8_mMany of us at ProfHacker have written about digital projects for classes that demand collaboration. I teach game design, so my students are often involved in projects that demand a range of skillsets and are modeled after an industry that is largely team-based. It is essential that my students develop their skills at collaboration and playing different roles on teams in demanding projects. However, as the end of the semester looms, a few teams always fall apart. A student drops out of the class or disappears; a student is ill and misses several supervised team development days; a student proves unable or unwilling to do the work or team dynamics go awry.

Here are a few of the policies I’ve been trying for handing these breakdowns in collaborative work:

  • Invisible teammates are ex-teammates. After a certain number of absences from essential days, or one unexcused absence from a major checkpoint, a team-member is automatically removed for the project. The remaining teammates can make a case for keeping that team member involved if they feel that a substantial out-of-class contribution has been made.
  • Rubrics always have a solo-version. While I only distribute the team rubric for an initial project, I always have a version ready for a modified solo project. The solo project may still be demanding (an inevitable consequence of digital projects), it will represent a pared down essentials version of the work and be as equitable as possible to allow students cut from a team a final chance to redeem their work.
  • Accountability at all stages of the project. From visible checkpoints and team presentations where all members must be involved to a final reflection on the teams’ work and the individual contribution, I ask my students to demonstrate their contribution at multiple stages. In a final digital project, it can be hard to “see” an individual student’s work unless the roles are very strongly demarcated–and for true collaboration, that seems to rarely be the case.

What are your strategies for dealing with fractured teams, particularly on demanding digital projects? Share your advice and policies in the comments!

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