Cooperative Learning Through Collaborative Faculty-Student Research Teams

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Cooperative Learning Through CollaborativeFaculty-Student Research Teams*Lenore M. McWey Tammy L. Henderson Fred P. Piercy**Abstract: A structured research team experience can add a great deal to a graduate students academic and profes-sional training, and it also can support a positive research culture within a department. In this study, we discusshow one department developed and implemented collaborative learning research teams to enhance students researchexperiences. We discuss the advantages of cooperative learning and share student and faculty reflections that furthersupport the use of collaborative learning research teams.Key Words: cooperative learning, graduate education, professional development, research teams, teaching methods.Future family scholars should be well versed in the-ory, research, and best practices and have the skillsnecessary to conduct the research independently(Monroe, 1995). Yet, there are a number of chal-lenges associated with the education of familyscholars at all academic levels (i.e., Cianciolo &Henderson, 2003; Cianciolo, Henderson, Kretzer,& Mendes, 2001; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle,2002). Such challenges include integrating knowl-edge across multiple fields (Piercy et al.), ensuringthat one is using the best pedagogical approachesto teach todays college students (Henderson &McWey, in press), and identifying the necessaryskills and knowledge for students in todays infor-mation and technologically based economy (e.g.,Buono, 1996; U.S. Department of Labor, 2000).On the one hand, graduate students themselvesexpress ambivalence when it comes to research. Forexample, in one study, for every positive adjectivestudents used to describe research, such as reward-ing or helpful, students also used words likeboring, confusing, difficult, and frustrat-ing (Piercy et al., 2005). On the other hand, onegoal of most family science departments is toincrease the number of graduate students who areprepared to teach, conduct research, and provideleadership and professional services.Traditional approaches to teaching both under-graduate and graduate students include studentsattending classes, listening to lectures, and readingtextbooks and articles. Although these methods maybe good at imparting knowledge, students may notsee the immediate relevance of the content they arelearning (Cianciolo & Henderson, 2003). Thus, manyhave advocated for more innovative teaching strategiesat the undergraduate and graduate levels (Cianciolo &Henderson; Cianciolo et al., 2001; Fontes & Piercy,2000; McWey et al., 2002; Sprenkle & Piercy,1984). Specifically, scholars assert that meaningfulresearch training in undergraduate and graduateprograms involves more than requiring studentsto take research methods and statistics classes andto complete a dissertation or thesis, but involvespedagogical approaches that connect course contentto research practices (Anderson, 2003; Crane,Wampler, Sprenkle, Sandberg, & Hovestadt, 2002;Henderson & Martin, 2002; Piercy et al., 2005;Sprenkle, 2002).Cooperative learning (CL) has been identified asan effective pedagogical strategy that promotes*The research team experience described in this study occurred in the Department of Human Development at Virginia Tech.**Lenore M. McWey is an Assistant Professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program, Department of Family and Child Sciences at Florida StateUniversity, 210 Sandels Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1491 ( Tammy L. Henderson is an Associate Professor in the Department of HumanDevelopment, Virginia Tech, 401B Wallace Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0416 ( Fred P. Piercy is a Professor and Department Head of the Depart-ment of Human Development, Virginia Tech, 366 Wallace Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0416 ( Relations, 55 (April 2006), 252262. Blackwell Publishing.Copyright 2006 by the National Council on Family Relations.a variety of positive cognitive, affective, and socialoutcomes (Cabrera et al., 2002; Nolinske & Millis,1999; Slavin, 1995a). Specifically, CL strategieshave been shown to improve the retention rates ofstudents (Kluge, 1990; Totten, Sills, & Digby,1991); provide students with increased opportunitiesfor discussion, shared learning, and self-management(Slavin & Cooper, 1999); and enhance students aca-demic performance (Cianciolo et al., 2001; Nolinske& Millis, 1999; Walker, 1996). Despite the positiveaspects of CL, many assert that more needs to bedone in developing and evaluating CL pedagogicalpractices (i.e., Cabrera et al.; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b).The purpose of this study is to present a casestudy (Jarrett, 1992; Yin, 1984), reflecting the vari-ous CL processes and how one family studies depart-ment formalized CL research teams as an effort toenhance graduate student education. We do so bysummarizing the pedagogical rationale for CLresearch teams, describing how a department insti-tuted the CL research team process, presenting twospecific research teams to exemplify the CL pro-cesses, providing data solicited from student andfaculty CL participants, and discussing possible out-comes achieved by CL teams.CL Research TeamsSome consider CL strategies superior to traditionalclassroom approaches because such strategies havebeen shown to enhance students academic, social,and cognitive outcomes (Cianciolo et al., 2001;Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Walker, 1996). Using ameta-analysis of 122 CL and academic achievementstudies, researchers found that CL methods pro-moted higher student achievement than competitiveor individualistic methods across all age groups andsubjects (Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson, &Skon, 1981). In another meta-analysis, Slavin (1983)found that 63% of the studies reviewed showed sig-nificantly positive academic outcomes for students inCL environments.CL research teams engage students and faculty inan active and student-directed learning process(Henderson & McWey, in press). CL strategies aredifferent from traditional classroom approaches inthat they require students to apply their knowledge.Students roles are elevated to one of generating,making sense of, and interpreting meaningful real-world data. With CL research experiences, studentsare active and accountable participants in their owneducation (Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Olsen &Kagan, 1992; Steiner, Stromwell, Brzuzy, & Gerdes,1999). In essence, faculty and students coconstructknowledge (Deering, 1989; Hertz-Lazarowitz &Shachar, 1990). Students are accountable for theoutcomes of their learning (Johnson & Johnson;Olsen & Kagan), and teachers develop highly struc-tured tasks, facilitate students mastery of tasksand learning, give less direct supervision, and pro-vide information to students in order to helpthem achieve the desired outcomes (Deering; Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shachar).This pedagogical strategy also complementsan interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learn-ing. Through interdisciplinary research teams, stu-dents can experience first hand the connectionsand strengths of specific specializations such asmarriage and family therapy, family law, policysciences, and other disciplines. Such an interdisci-plinary approach is more likely to have familiarcontent and appeal to a broader range of students(Dinmore, 1997) with different personal or aca-demic experiences.Despite the positive aspects of CL, this approachalso may present challenges to students and instruc-tors. Negative past experiences with teamwork andthe free-rider phenomenon, where nonperformersdepend on their colleagues hard work, may serve asdisincentives to CL (Steiner et al., 1999). Studentsalso may resist CL processes because of a lack ofexperience with CL environments and the socializa-tion of competitiveness and individualism in previ-ous classroom experiences (Shachar & Shmuelevitz,1997; Sharan & Sharan, 1992; Steiner et al.). Poorimplementation and planning of CL may under-mine the positive academic and social outcomes(Steiner et al.). Therefore, it becomes importantthat the instructors adequately invest time in prepar-ing and structuring assignments, tasks, and imple-mentation of student objectives. Some instructorswhose personal and professional training haslargely focused on traditional teaching practicesmay require additional training to implement CLeffectively.Through this study, we will present a case studydemonstrating how one department developed andimplemented CL research teams. We will share spe-cific examples of CL research teams, and studentand faculty perceptions of the process also will berevealed.Cooperative Learning McWey et al. 253Development and Implementationof CL Research Teams: ACase StudyCase studies bring understanding to real-life experi-ences and can provide insight into occurrences ata single setting (Jarrett, 1992). Using data from onegraduate program, we present a case study of theapplication and use of CL research teams. We wereinterested in understanding (a) how CL researchteams could be implemented across a department,(b) how specific CL teams operated on a day-to-daybasis, (c) student and faculty perceptions of the useof research teams in graduate student education, and(d) what CL research team outcomes could beachieved. For case studies, it is important to includethe context and multiple sources of data (Yin,1984). Thus, to provide an understanding of the useof CL research teams, we detail the departmentaldevelopment of the infrastructure for the CLresearch teams, examine two such CL teams, shareperceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of thisapproach, and discuss CL research team outcomes.The InfrastructureIn order to understand how CL teams could beimplemented in one department, we had to presentthe context (Yin, 1984) in which CL teams wereformed. Although most graduate programs offerresearch experiences, what we believe to be uniqueabout this research team experience is that it wasbuilt into the departmental requirement. Thisrequirement sets a unique context for graduate edu-cation (Appendix). To that end, our academicdepartment instituted a research practicum, formal-izing the research experiences received by doctoralstudents. This practicum served as a means for doc-toral students to obtain systematic hands-on researchexperiences before drafting their dissertations, apply-ing for postdoctoral fellowships, or competing inthe job market. Some of the overarching goals forthe research practicum were to help graduate stu-dents establish independent research agendas; toenhance their evaluative, research, and written andoral communication skills; and to create their profes-sional identity. The faculty anticipated that theycould benefit as well because, through the practicum,they could gain graduate student help with theirresearch projects and enhance their teaching practices.Generally, the formalized process mandated that doc-toral students participate on research teams for foursemesters. Masters students also could participate butwere not required to do so. Further, at the professorsdiscretion, undergraduate students could participateon research teams, but again, it was not required.In order to recruit students for specific researchteams, faculty members compiled summaries oftheir research projects. Limiting information toone page, faculty listed the current research teammembers, the title of the project, a brief abstract ofthe purpose of the study, the methods that would beemployed, the expectations, the anticipated out-comes, and the primary contact person for the pro-ject. Thus, in these instances, the main researchdecisions were made before students were recruited.There was the opportunity, however, for facultymembers who wanted to begin a new project to listgeneral areas of interest and recruit students to par-ticipate in the development of a study. All doctoralstudents were given a packet of possible researchteams and were instructed to meet with the contactperson for the study of interest to discuss more spe-cific details of the project. Then, if the student andfaculty member agreed to work together on a project,the student would register for research team hours(the course number varies depending on the level ofthe studentundergraduate, masters, or doctoral).It was also important to develop grading criteria.Students were graded on an A to F scale based on pre-determined criteria. Faculty members were encour-aged to provide feedback to students about their workthroughout the research team process. Final gradeswere assigned based on students participation in teammeetings, accomplishment of tasks, and quality ofwork. For the most part, the assignment of grades wasstraightforward. In instances where students could notcomplete tasks on time, however, an incompletecould be assigned. When the student completed hisor her tasks, the grade could then be changed.Developing the CL TeamsIn order to implement CL effectively, there has tobe a sufficient planning by the instructors (Steineret al., 1999). Discussing the development of theteams also adds another contextual layer to the cur-rent case study (Yin, 1984). For the research teamsin which we were involved, we elected to use cooper-ative groups, in which we worked as partners withstudents, provided some faculty direction, and gaveFamily Relations Volume 55, Number 2 April 2006254team members the opportunity to choose project tasksfor which they would be responsible (Stodolsky,1984). We wanted the process to be a shared learn-ing experience, where we would meet collectivelybut be individually responsible for our own tasksand self-management (Johnson & Johnson, 1994;Olsen & Kagan, 1992; Steiner et al.). Further, wewanted the CL research teams to be active learningendeavors. Under CL, faculty serve as monitors ofstudents learning (Deering, 1989; Hertz-Lazarowitz& Shachar, 1990); therefore, faculty set aside timefor students to make comments, pose questions, andreview the coding of data during team or individualmeetings.CL research teams were shaped by shared goalsand rewards. In our CL research teams, studentsanalyzed the data, reviewed the literature, anddrafted the sections of publishable papers. Our CLresearch teams capitalized on diversity, heteroge-neous learning styles, and individual strengths ofeach member, enhancing students capacity andunderstanding of teamwork and creating a collegialrelationship between students and faculty members.Students were engaged in negotiating professionaland personal successes within academe while work-ing with individuals from diverse backgrounds(Nolinske & Millis, 1999). Like any CL group,there was an emphasis on shared responsibilityrather than on individual competition, reducing thedictatorship of some group dynamics and improvingthe division of labor among research team members(Goodwin, 1999; Nolinske & Millis). Faculty mem-bers monitored students progress and worked withthem to establish professional expectations or tolessen the incidence of any unhealthy competitivebehaviors that undermined the success of the team.To demonstrate how we structured CL researchteams, and the diversity of the activities studentshave engaged in through the projects, our case studyfocuses on two research teams. We chose to presentthese specific teams for two reasons. First, they wereteams in which we had direct experience and couldtherefore speak to the group processes and out-comes. Second, the composition and goals of theteams differed from one another, reflecting a varietyof CL processes. One research team was called theFoster Care Cooperative Learning Research Team.This team involved both doctoral and undergraduatestudents. The goals of this team included learningabout family policy course content by conductinga study and then producing a publishable paper. Theother team, the Metaphor Research Team,involved only doctoral students. This team had thegoals of learning about the research experience ofgraduate students across the country, developing rec-ommendations about how to improve graduate stu-dent research training, learning how to conductresearch, and producing a publishable paper.The foster care CL research team. The purpose ofthe foster care CL research team was to explore thelegal reasoning used to terminate the rights of par-ents whose children were in the foster care system.The team comprised four undergraduate students,two doctoral students, and two faculty members.The undergraduate students were seniors majoringin human development, who had an interest inattending graduate school and gaining research expe-rience, and an expressed desire to learn policythrough an applied approach. Both the doctoral stu-dents were in the same department but had differentmajors: one was studying family studies and theother marriage and family therapy. Last, two facultycolleagues who were in the same departmentdirected the team. One faculty members expertiselies in the area of marriage and family therapy andfoster care research. The other faculty memberteaches in the family studies area and specializes infamily policy and law research.The student objectives differed depending on thelevel of the student but included enhancing researchand professional competencies by analyzing andcoding data and learning grounded theory methods(GTM; Corbin & Strauss, 1990). The undergradu-ate students were expected to (a) participate ina research team, (b) code and verify data using GTM,and (c) maintain a personal journal narrating theirexperiences with the research project as well as theirreactions to the cases they were reading. In addition,the undergraduate students had the option of pre-senting the research at an undergraduate researchconference. The doctoral students also were requiredto participate in the research team meetings, codeand verify the data, and maintain a log, but in addi-tion, they were given the option of being a coauthoron at least one manuscript and a national presenta-tion. Thus, they were also a part of the writing pro-cess, and authorship agreements were negotiated(Fine & Kurdek, 1993). Collaboratively with thefaculty members, the graduate students assisted withgathering and critiquing the literature and writingportions of the literature review and results sectionsof the manuscript.Cooperative Learning McWey et al. 255The research team met weekly for a minimum of2 hrs per meeting. It was expected that every teammember, including faculty, would attend the meet-ings. At the beginning of the semester, we had aresearch team orientation where we provided eachCL team member with a packet of information, dis-cussed expectations, reviewed legal terms and prece-dents, and carefully examined the coding schema forthe research project. To ensure that everyone under-stood the material and coding schema, each teammember was assigned the same case to review, code,and discuss at the second team meeting based on thecoding schema provided in the packet. At the secondmeeting, the team reassembled to review everyonesindividual coding of the first case, leading to a discus-sion of coding discrepancies and ambiguities.At subsequent research team meetings, we usedGTM to code the cases. It took one semester tocomplete the open coding process, and the axial andselective coding was completed the subsequentsemester. One undergraduate student elected to par-ticipate on the research team for only the first semes-ter; therefore, the team had two transition meetings.In these meetings, we discussed procedures, codingstrategies, and biases. When we used the studentswork after she left the team, we were able to referback to her research team journal to track herthoughts about her coding.The metaphor research team. The purpose of thisCL research team was to conduct a study exploringa national sample of graduate students perceptionsof research and their beliefs about what wouldstrengthen the research culture in their training pro-grams. The team consisted of four doctoral studentsand two faculty members. Each of the doctoral stu-dents wanted to help collect and analyze data andcoauthor a manuscript.The faculty members led the first several meetingsand guided the team through the initial steps of theresearch process (establishing the research questionsand submitting human subjects approval). Althoughthe faculty led discussions, decisions were made asa group. We discussed order of authorship, expecta-tions for participations, and a time line for the pro-ject. Collectively, we established that we wanted theresearch team to be a collaborative endeavor wherewe each learned from one anothers strengths andcontributions.We decided to meet weekly at first, then after themethods were in place, we met biweekly. Meetingstypically lasted 1 2 hr. At these meetings, we woulddiscuss the status of the project, data analyses, anddivision of tasks. Between the meetings, we workedindependently on our individual assignments andbrought our work to the next meeting. As the pro-ject continued, the hierarchy between the facultyand the students seemed to flatten, with studentstaking the lead during research meetings and onmethodological tasks.In order to capture students perceptions, we soli-cited somewhat unconventional datametaphors,poetry, free associations, and critical experiences(e.g., what metaphor captures best your researchtraining? Finish this poem: Roses are red, violets areblue, research is . . . ). Using Johnson and John-sons (1991) team structure of learning together,the entire research team was directly involved in thedata analysis that incorporated analytic induction(Patton, 2002) and constant comparative techniques(Corbin & Strauss, 1990) to analyze transcriptions.We met as a team and discussed emergent themesand categories. In instances where researchers codeddata differently, the team met to discuss the discrep-ancies and potential biases. The resultant themesreflected both positive and negative research-trainingexperiences and ways in which programs mightimprove their research training and culture (for anaccount of this study, see Piercy et al., 2005).Student and Faculty ReflectionsIn addition to discussing the infrastructure andimplementation of the CL teams, which sets a con-text for this case study (Yin, 1984), we also solicitedstudents and faculty members feedback. Specifi-cally, we contacted nine doctoral students, who hadcompleted at least one CL research team project, aswell as 16 faculty members in the department inwhich the research practicum was implemented. Weasked open-ended questions including (a) what ben-efits did you experience in being part of a researchteam, (b) what are the disadvantages of usingresearch teams in graduate student education, and(c) what did you learn through your participation ina research team? Eight students (88.8%) and six(38%) faculty responded, providing written repliesto our questions (the average response length foreach question was approximately a paragraphwithsome responses being longer). Below, we presentcategories reflecting the perceived benefits, disadvan-tages, and student learning that reveal the outcomesof this case study.Family Relations Volume 55, Number 2 April 2006256Benefits of CL research teams. Students and fac-ulty listed a number of benefits of participating onresearch teams that were consistent with CLapproaches (Sharan, 1994; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b;Stevens & Slavin, 1995). Overall, these benefitsincluded academic and professional outcomes, as stu-dents saw research teams as a way of building theirvitae and enhancing their marketability. One benefitthat was universally noted was, in one studentswords, publications and presentation opportunities!!These are so difficultespecially initiallyalone, andcome naturally when research teams are developed.In addition, students described the CL researchteams as a tool to augment their learning and auton-omy as researchers, improving their self-esteem andconfidence and enhancing their comprehension ofpertinent concepts (Johnson, Johnson, Holubec, &Roy, 1994; Sharan, 1994; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b;Slavin & Cooper, 1999; Stevens & Slavin, 1995;Totten et al., 1991). One student stated, [I now]have the confidence that I can contribute.Another student shared that she experienced con-crete gains in research skillsactually learning newskills I didnt have before. One more studentdescribed how she was able to apply her new skills:The next semester I was able to conduct my ownresearch with a team of students only and I usedeverything that I learned in order to conductanother study. Others mentioned that researchteams afforded them greater insight into the processof research, enhancing their comprehension anddepth of understanding (Johnson et al., 1994). Forinstance, one graduate student acknowledged thatshe now had more respect for the amount of think-ing, planning, and work that goes into research. Asstated by a different student:I benefited from being a part of the researchteam by seeing how to conduct research fromthe ground up. Exploring ideas and seeingthose ideas form into research questions, brain-storming, and collaborating with seasonedresearchers allowed for a mentoring experience.This kind of experience and professional bondis hard to come by outside of the classroomand being privy to the mental organization ofthe researchers was priceless for me.Another benefit listed by a number of studentswas the opportunity to learn research while workingin groups, promoting stronger interpersonal andsocial skills and improving student achievement,learning, and critical thinking (Johnson et al., 1994;Slavin & Cooper, 1999; Totten et al., 1991). Forexample, one student found it meaningful to net-work with faculty and other students. Another stu-dent considered it a wonderful experience to workin a diverse groupage, experience, student-professor,interests, and talents. One other student noted,also the work load is shared and you get experienceworking with a group.The faculty also noted benefits of CL researchteams. Similar to students, faculty noted improve-ments in students abilities as researchers. One fac-ulty member shared: I have noticed studentsinitiating their own research projects after beinginvolved in research teams. Another faculty mem-ber stated, Students are able to apply their researchteam experiences to the classroom, which may allowthem to understand more in their research classes.Faculty also stated that they enjoyed being ableto conduct collaborative investigations related totheir areas of interest. One faculty member said, Ithought it [research teams] was a great vehicle forstudents to get practical experience with differentresearch projects and methods, and for me to getassistance with some of my projects. Faculty alsoenjoyed sharing their enthusiasm for a specific researchtopic with students as seen in the following statement:I felt it was a good way to organize my research inter-ests and include students in my research.Additionally, faculty said that they were able tofine-tune approaches to implementing CL researchteams and were able to transfer these lessons intomore traditional classes. Specifically, one facultymember, who teaches family law and policy, hasrecommitted herself to teaching students how tobrief court cases. Another faculty member, whoteaches marriage and family therapy, has integratedthe study of policy into clinical courses.Disadvantages. Students and faculty were asked tolist any disadvantages with the use of CL researchteams for graduate student education. The disad-vantage listed most often by both students andfaculty was time. Specifically, the students stated,They (research teams) are pretty demanding. But, Ithink they are well worth the time and effortrequired!! Another student stated, One of the dis-advantages of using a research team in graduate stu-dent education is that the distribution of work andthe time spent involved in the research varies fromCooperative Learning McWey et al. 257person to person. Statements related to inequitiesmay reflect ineffective planning, management, ormonitoring by the faculty members or by the group(Steiner et al., 1999).Similar to the students, faculty agreed thatresearch teams can be time consuming. For example,working through data analysis and coauthoringpapers with students are activities that can requirea great deal of faculty mentorship. One facultymember stated, Sometimes it seemed like it wouldhave been easier for me to just do the researchmyself rather than have to mentor students throughthe process. In addition, student turnover could bepotentially problematic. Currently, in our program,students can switch research teams after the comple-tion of just one semester. If the composition of theresearch team changes, it may require a largeamount of time to train new research team mem-bers. Faculty led these teams in addition to their reg-ular course load; thus, it became increasinglyimportant for the faculty member to be able to ben-efit from research teams.Related to time and workload, students alsoshared that if there is no guidance, the result couldbe embarrassing to students. One student stated:At the beginning of my Ph.D. training, I hada limited amount to contribute, especially inthe findings section, because my backgroundin research was so weak. That could possiblypull the team down or be embarrassingdepending on how it is handled.Similarly, another student said, Working ona team could highlight differences in students levelsof ability, increasing the competition aspect of grad-uate school. But, I do not think by any means thatthis has to happen. Some students who are morecomfortable with traditional classrooms and fearfulof new types of learning environments may resistCL strategies and try to redefine the nature of thegroup interaction (Steiner et al., 1999), attemptingto shift the less structured, faculty-directed learningapproach to something more familiar.Given the potential for resistance, we were notsurprised by students who could foresee problemswith making research teams a requirement. One stu-dent said, requiring it can be a problemresearchteams, in my experience, are more intimate thanclasses: there is more personal commitment, lessstructure, and more ambiguityI think researchteams require a higher level of trust than classes.Sometimes pieces of the process are missed becausework is being done outside of the group, whichwas a problem noted by another student. But theresistance to active student engagement and influ-ence on the learning process is not the final perspec-tive, as demonstrated in one statement made by astudent: I do not see disadvantages of using re-search teams because whatever is the end result stu-dents always learn how to or how not to be a part ofa team.Faculty agreed that management is important tothe success of the research team. As one facultymember asserted:Potentially, faculty might not provide a goodexperience for their student team . . . studentsshould not be used as mere gopherscarryingout menial tasks without much understandingof how their part contributes to the project asa whole. Faculty need to educate the studentteam members along the way, to understandhow each task fits into the bigger picture, suchas how a lit review is organized, ethical consid-erations in using human subjects, matchingmethods to research questions, why certainanalyses are used, and so on. I have heard somestudents comment that they were not gettingthis, and that they had difficulty making senseof their research team experience.Remembering that, optimally, CL research teamsshould be beneficial to all team participants, it isimportant to ensure that this experience generatesthe desired learning outcomes for students.What students learned. Students were asked toreflect on what they learned from the CL researchteam experience. Every student described concretegains in their abilities. One student said that she hasa better understanding of the process of research incontrast to classes, which primarily focus on themethods. Another stated, More real-world under-standing of the messiness of research, from the liter-ature review to the conclusionsincluding themethods that seem so clear-cut in classes. One stu-dent expressed that she has a deeper understandingof data analysis, and broader awareness of the op-tions available. Yet, another team member shared:I learned the process of coding in qualitativeFamily Relations Volume 55, Number 2 April 2006258research as well as how and why certain themesemerge from the data. I also learned to look closelyat researcher bias and how to acknowledge thesebiases in the research being conducted.Students discussed learning about group pro-cesses: I learned to make personal choices abouthow much I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do.I learned that a group process can be a very creativeprocess, with a result that is synergistic (more thanthe sum of the parts). Another discussed the impor-tance of leadership: I learned how important it isto be passionate about a topic. Moreover, I learnedthat at least one of the team leaders should be moti-vated to bring the project to closure with a finishedproduct of a paper.Students additional thoughts. We asked studentsif there were other thoughts that they wanted toshare about the use of CL research teams in graduatestudent education. There were no negative aspectsof research teams noted by students in response tothis question. In fact, students shared unanimouspraise for the research team experience. As illustratedby one:I think working on research teams has beenone of the most rewarding aspects of graduateschool for me. If I had not had those teamexperiences, I would leave here, despite severalresearch and statistics courses, very unsure ofmyself as a researcher and terrified of choosinga starting place for empirical work.Another student shared, Research teams ingraduate education are a wonderful concept as longas the graduate student is learning how to conducteffective research. Guidance is key in these teamsand as long as the members are aware of that, educa-tional and professional growth is inevitable. Insum, faculty members guidance must include ade-quately monitoring group activities and processes(Sharan & Sharan, 1992; Steiner et al., 1999).Although we only solicited the feedback of doc-toral students, the undergraduate students com-pleted evaluations of the research team class. As anassessment of the CL research team as a course, stu-dents completed a final evaluation and reflectivecommentaries. All the undergraduate students (n 4) rated the process as 4.0 on a scale of 1.0 4.0.The most compelling indicator of students learningoccurred in their reflective commentaries about theirgrowth and development. For instance, one stu-dents anonymous written feedback illuminates theunexpected outcomes of CL:I feel this was far more useful than othercourses I might have opted for in its place andI loved getting involved with this great experi-ence . . . you have helped me figure out direc-tions that I can go in the future and openedmy eyes to a world I had no experience in.Observed CL Research Team OutcomesBoth the foster care and the metaphor researchteams enjoyed a number of other outcomes, whichlend support to the use of CL research teams. Specif-ically, the undergraduate students in the fosterresearch team presented the results of the study ata local research conference. In addition, the facultyand graduate students have presented the findingsnationally. Collaboratively with the faculty andgraduate students, one manuscript is in press in atop-tier journal in the field (McWey, Henderson, &Tice, in press) and another manuscript is forth-coming. The metaphor CL team also enjoyed thebenefits of our collective work. We were able toaccomplish the data collection and analysis in onesemester. After data analysis was complete, we col-lectively wrote a manuscript, which has already beenpublished (Piercy et al., 2005). In addition, we sub-mitted our work for consideration in a nationalpresentation.DiscussionUsing a case study approach, we presented the useof CL research teams in a graduate program. Wediscussed the development and implementation ofthe CL research teams, shared student and facultyreflections of the experience, and presented observedoutcomes of the teams. Case studies help add toexisting knowledge by providing information aboutapplications in natural settings (Jarrett, 1992; Yin,1984). Although the case study approach allowed usto demonstrate CL research teams in context, thereare a number of limitations to this approach. We, aseducators and researchers, were eager about CLresearch teams; thus, our case study may be morereflective of our opinion than on the consensus ofCooperative Learning McWey et al. 259the department in which we conducted thisendeavor. This limitation is further compounded bythe lack of responses generated specifically from fac-ulty members. It is possible that only faculty whowere more supportive of research teams respondedto our questions. There is no basis for establishingthe reliability and validity of case studies; rather, onecan merely present multiple sources of data as aneffort to strengthen the findings (Yin). These limita-tions should be strongly considered when makinggeneralizations about the findings. Future researchcould evaluate the effectiveness of specific graduatetraining approaches in a manner that would allowfor the results to be more generalizable.In developing the CL research teams, we werereminded that any group research experience thatincludes faculty and graduate students, either formalor informal, can have its challenging moments, par-ticularly when the participants do not develop a clearcontract at the outset. Issues such as authorship(Fine & Kurdek, 1993) and expectations for perfor-mance should be discussed early on. One of the pos-itive expectations for many students is coauthorshipon publications, which may be a year or two in thedistance, if at all. Faculty may have different expec-tations for graduate students than the students havefor themselves. For example, students may joina research team thinking that they will be equalcolleagues on an exciting project or that they willshape the development of a project, whereas facultymembers may have already developed the researchproject. In order for CL teams to be successful,both faculty and students need to negotiate theprocesses and outcomes that will be mutuallybeneficial.Managing the research team, as cited by both thefaculty and the students, is important. Yet, there area number of possible situations that could compli-cate the research team. Team membership is onesuch issue. For example, suppose one graduate stu-dent has a research assistantship with the facultymember leading the project and the other graduatestudents do not, it may be difficult to make distinc-tions between expectations associated with the RAswork and the students participation on the researchteam. Additionally, what if the faculty memberbecomes busy with another project and does notprovide sufficient leadership for the research teamon the project that they signed up for? Shouldaccountability for the research teams rest with thedepartment, with the faculty, or with the team?For CL research teams to be successful, there area number of things to keep in mind. It seems thatlinking participation on a research team to credithours helps ensure continued participation. Creatinga protocol for all students to follow when choosingand registering for research teams may help reduceambiguity. Further, it is important for all involvedparties to recognize that CL research teams requirea great deal of effort and time. Specific details includ-ing what will happen if the work is not completed atthe end of one semester, how to handle students whodecide to join another research team, and distribu-tion of the workload are all important considerationsthat need to be discussed overtly and early on in theprocess. Further, although sometimes awkward, it isimportant to openly consider the consequences ofnot contributing to the team. These are only some ofthe challenges of undertaking a planned researchteam experience and questions we ourselves haveposed throughout the CL experience. They are notinsurmountable. The point is, the faculty and theteam should plan for (and hopefully prevent) possibleproblems at the outset through open communicationand through some sort of contract that outlines theexpectations and ways disagreements will be handled.Further, not all training programs are alike. Someprograms may only have undergraduate students;others may attract part-time graduate students.Although our experience is in a department wheremost students are enrolled full time, CL researchteams still may be useful in other contexts. Perhaps,in cases where direct contact between faculty andstudents is not easy (i.e., commuter students, dis-tance learning courses), the use of the Internet ande-mail could be ways to continue contact. Researchteams could also be built into courses. For example,at the onset of a semester, the professor could estab-lish teams that students could join and facilitate theprocess throughout the semester, allowing class timefor discussions about the projects.ConclusionsEducators have identified a need for change in theculture of research training in graduate education(Anderson, 2003; Crane et al., 2002; Henderson &McWey, in press; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle,2002). It has been stated that in too many graduateprograms, research training occurs in anotherdepartment where the research or statisticsFamily Relations Volume 55, Number 2 April 2006260professors are not familiar with specific aspects ofour field and rarely use context-specific researchexamples in their teaching (Crane et al.; Piercy etal). Many students consequently see their researchtraining as disjointed and unrelated (Piercy et al.).As educators, we believe that it is important for usto help demystify the research enterprise and weshould work to create more research-friendly cul-tures that include better research mentoring to doc-toral students. Involving students in CL researchteams may be one way to improve graduate studentsresearch skills and begin to change the culture ofresearch in graduate student education.CL research teams are shared learning experiences.Group work is accomplished, but individuals alsohave independent responsibility for their own tasksand self-management (Johnson & Johnson, 1994;Olsen & Kagan, 1992; Steiner et al., 1999). Further,CL research teams are active learning endeavors,where faculty and students alike coconstruct knowl-edge (Deering, 1989; Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shachar,1990). They learn research by doing research, andthe cooperative, participatory, experiential nature ofthe experience makes it enjoyable as well. As one par-ticipant in a research team said, Hey, this is fun. Areyou sure this is research? (Piercy et al., 2005).Through CL research teams, faculty can support stu-dents in becoming their own scholars, with their ownpassions for and ideas about research.In sum, we suggest that educators build into theirgraduate programs some formalized system toencourage team research projects that support a col-laborative, participatory research experience. It isclear to us that students become excited aboutresearch when they work with faculty who themselvesare excited about research and research mentoring.Evaluating the effectiveness of such an approach inenhancing specific skills and knowledge of graduatestudent researchers would be a beginning step toimproving the quality of education we provide.ReferencesAnderson, C. (2003). Cassandra notes on the state of the family researchand practice union. Family Process, 42, 323330.Buono, A. F. (1996). Building effective learning teams: Lessons from thefield. SAM Advanced Management Journal. 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Cooperative learning and social skills: What skillsto teach and how to teach them. Intervention in School and Clinic, 35,2933.Henderson, T. L., & Martin, K. (2002). Cooperative learning as oneapproach to teaching family law. Family Law, 51, 351360.Henderson, T. L., & McWey, L. M. (in press). An innovative approach:Cooperative learning research teams and family law. Journal of Marriageand Family Review.Hertz-Lazarowitz, R., & Shachar, H. (1990). Teachers verbal behavior incooperative and whole class instruction. In S. Sharan (Ed.), Cooperativelearning: Theory and research (pp. 7794). New York: Praeger.Jarrett, R. L. (1992). A family case study: An examination of the underclassdebate. In J. F. Gilgun, K. Daly, & G. Handel (Eds.), Qualitative meth-ods in family research (pp.172197). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1991). Learning together and alone:Cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning. Englewood Cliffs,NJ: Prentice Hall.Johnson, D. 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Effectiveness research in marriage and family therapy.Washington, DC: American Association on Marriage and Family Therapy.Steiner, S., Stromwell, K. L., Brzuzy, S., & Gerdes, K. (1999). Using coop-erative learning strategies in social work education. Journal of SocialWork Education, 35, 253264.Stevens, R. J., & Slavin, R. E. (1995). The cooperative elementary school:Effects on students achievement, attitudes, and social relations. Ameri-can Educational Research Journal, 32, 321351.Stodolsky, S. S. (1984). Frameworks for studying instructional processes inpeer work-groups. In P. L. Peterson, L. C. Wilkinson, & M. Hallinan(Eds.), Group organization and group processes (pp.107124). Orlando,FL: Academic Press.Totten, S., Sills, T., & Digby, A. (1991). Cooperative learning: A guide toresearch. New York: Garland.U.S. Department of Labor. (2000).What work requires of schools: A scan reportfor America 2000. Retrieved April 2, 2002, from, A. J. (1996). Cooperative learning in the classroom. Family Rela-tions, 45, 521526.Yin, R. (1984). Case study research: Design and Methods. Newbury Park,CA: Sage.Appendix. Summary of Research Team Policies and Procedures (Required for Doctoral StudentsOptional for MastersStudents), 2004 2005At a minimum, all doctoral students will complete four enrollments of a Research Team Practicum during the first foursemesters of doctoral study. Doctoral students will sign up for a special section of HD 7994 (Research and Dissertation)specifically related to faculty-student research team participation. The CRN for this special section in Fall 2004 is__________. You should register for one or more credits each of your first four semesters.In the September prosem (HD 6004), faculty will share information about available research teams that students mayrequest to join. Then, it is up to the students to contact faculty research team leaders, either at that meeting or duringthe next week, to express interest in being a member of that research team. To keep track of who is on that team, eachstudent should fill out a short form related to the team he or she will be on. This will also help us know who to cometo for the grade at the end of the semester. Turn this form in to the office by September 20. A copy of the form isincluded at the end of this document.There are several reasons the HD faculty believe that the research team requirement is valuable. First, there is value ingraduate students working closely with faculty on collaborative research, and not all graduate students have receivedthat opportunity in the past. Faculty also see the research team experience as a way for doctoral students to get to knowthem better (and visa versa), to receive a great collaborative research experience, and to put into practice the researchtraining students receive here. Most believe that this kind of experience is at the heart of what great doctoral studentsshould be. Also, the experience should increase your worth in the job market and, if a project gets funded, could leadto an assistantship for one or more students.Note. The application form is available upon request from the first author.Family Relations Volume 55, Number 2 April 2006262


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