Supporting Capstone Teams: Lessons from Research on Motivation

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date


Publication Title

International Journal of Engineering Education

Document Type



Teaching students in teams presents challenges. A panel discussion concerning methods for supporting successful teams was held at the 2014 Capstone Design conference. This paper summarizes the main discussions from the panel and interprets those discussions using Self-Determination Theory. Self-Determination Theory addresses the internalization of extrinsic motivators, particularly through the experience of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The panel members represented diverse areas: engineering practice, medical environments, academic, and military teams. Detailed notes from the panel discussion were distributed to and analyzed by all panel members. That analysis revealed eight research-topractice findings: promote real world experiences, match teams and projects to empower success, teach students to work in teams, develop leadership for more effective teams, encourage regular assessment of team functioning, promote individual accountability, remediate team dysfunction, and train and monitor team mentors. Each finding is discussed, linked to the literature, and to the elements of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Finally, a suggested approach to implementing team work in a capstone class is presented. The approach synthesizes the research-to-practice suggestions, and attempts to describe, model, and scaffold teamwork- and leadership-related professional skills. The panel participants offer the suggestions because of their belief that students benefit from focused teamwork-related support throughout the capstone experience.

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