The NTNU signature course

Through experienced-based learning the students are to get a meta perspective on interdisciplinary teamwork. But what makes Experts in Teamwork so valuable?

By Vilde Øines Nybakken

“Where to start?”

I have asked Associate Professor Ela Sjølie to describe Experts in Teamwork (EiT), a mandatory course for all students in master’s programmes at NTNU.

“NTNU rector Gunnar Bovim has called Experts in Teamwork a NTNU signature course. The superior goal is the focus on interdisciplinary teamwork skills. You need teamwork skills when you enter working life”, Sjølie says.

According to Sjølie, the Experts in Teamwork course startet 17 years ago by a demand from the business sector. It started as a project course at the Master of Engineering programmes, but slowly, it turned into a compulsory course for all master programmes at NTNU. The learning form is experience-based and reflection oriented.

“You learn teamwork skills through working on an actual project and reflecting about the collaboration itself while doing it. This means time to reflect on what actually happens during the teamwork to get better insight about oneself in the teamwork, and to make the teamwork better”, Sjølie continues.

Associate Professor Ela Sjølie in Experts in Teamwork emphasizes the value of interdisciplinary teamwork skills as a competence in innovation and change on many levels. (Photo: NTNU)
Associate Professor Ela Sjølie in Experts in Teamwork emphasizes the value of interdisciplinary teamwork skills as a competence in innovation and change on many levels. (Photo: NTNU)

A meta-perspective on one’s own learning

As mentioned above, an idea of experience-based learning is the main idea behind the course description. To learn interdisciplinary teamwork skills, you have to actually do interdisciplinary teamwork, not only talk about it, according to Sjølie. Two facilitators are placed in each village to help the student teams reflect on their teamwork.

“NTNU has sort of created their own method, based on theories about group dynamics, facilitation and group mentoring. First, the facilitators observe, looks into themselves to see if there’s something to share, and shares it with the group. That way, the reflections are mirrored back to the group to reflect on it”.

According to Sjølie, it can lead to change or improvement of the teamwork then and there, or it can lead to change or improvement later. Either way, there is great importance in being made aware of one’s own behaviour and expertise.

That meta-perspective on learning is actually very important in a learning context. Collaborating in a team, being made aware of one’s own contribution to the group has a learning effect in one’s own academic discipline.

Ela Sjølie

Students as change agents

Assistant Professor Marte Konstad at the Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management was a supervisor in the Experts in Teamwork village «UN’s sustainable development goals – what can we do in Trøndelag?», an Engage-lead pilot village that ran for three weeks in January 2018.

The pilot village wanted to work with concrete projects, and brought in current problems from the local community around the University, in Trondheim and Trøndelag. The student teams got to choose between Ducky, Trondheim Renholdsverk and NTNU Eiendom as external partners.

“We wanted to work with the Sustainability Goals to concretize relevant problems, brought to us by our external partners”, Konstad says. By introducing the students to entrepreneurial skills, students got methods to think differently about the problems that were presented to them by the external partners. Working with an actual problem makes the project work valuable.

Assistant Professor Marte Konstad supervised the Engage-lead pilot village «UN’s sustainable development goals – what can we do in Trøndelag?». (Photo: NTNU)
Assistant Professor Marte Konstad supervised the Engage-lead pilot village «UN’s sustainable development goals – what can we do in Trøndelag?». (Photo: NTNU)

Interdisciplinary teamwork and an entrepreneurial mindset are essential

The students got to contribute with inputs on sustainability to the companies that wants help to think differently about the chosen problems. They also got to practice the skills needed to reach the UN’s Sustainability Goals. “Interdisciplinary teamwork is important to solve the sustainability challenges we’re facing. In this village, students got to practice on evaluating sustainable projects, but they also got to practice on the interdisciplinary teamwork needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals”, Konstad says.

Through the project the students not only got to evaluate the economical value, but also reflect on a sustainable perspective on value. “Interdisciplinary teamwork is essential in new thinking and entrepreneurship, and their projects were taken further because it created value for the external partners”, says Konstad.

Read more about the pilot village here: Experts in Teamwork and Engage collaborate to put UN Sustainable Development Goals on the agenda

Good feedback from students and external partners

When we talked to one of the student groups in the pilot village in January, the students were engaged in the project even when it was still early in the process. They described the project work as meaningful. “The more I work with this project, the more useful I find it”, one of the students said back then.

Experts in Teamwork gives the students the opportunity to acquire deeper knowledge. Project Engineer Elin Valvatne in Trondheim Renholdsverk emphasized the value of getting perspectives from students through the collaboration.

“Experts in Teamwork puts sustainability on the agenda. Sustainability is in focus in the waste collection industry. There are demands both internationally, from the EU and nationally about meeting UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We’re really glad to be a part of this and eager to see the results”, Vatne said in January.

Experts in Teamwork (EiT)

  • Mandatory course for all NTNU students in master’s programmes.
  • About 2200-3000 students takes the course every year.
  • Students are divided in different classes, called “villages”, with 20-30 students.
  • Every faculty at NTNU offers EiT-courses.
  • Some villages are semester-based, others are intensive-based. Either way the students work in teams for a total amount of 15 days.
  • In 2018 there are 56 villages with Norwegian as language of instruction, and 26 with English as language of instruction.
  • Two pilot villages are completed at campus Gjøvik in 2018.

How does EiT work?

  • Through an experience-based learning form, students work in interdisciplinary teams with a self-defined project related to the village theme, and reflect around their own collaborative experiences.
  • Some villages has external business partners. In villages without established relationships with external partners, the teams can contact parties that might have an interest in their work.
  • Two facilitators in each villages observe the teams from the outside, and share their observations with the team to reflect upon it.
  • The students write reflections each day, and give and receive feedback on their interdisciplinary teamwork skills. Together with interaction exercises, they create the basis for reflection on the cooperation in the team.
  • The interdisciplinary teamwork results in two reports from each student team: One report about the team process, the other about the project. Each report counts for 50% of the final grade in the EiT-course.
  • Each interdisciplinary team consisting of five to six students gets one common grade.