Tandem helps students working in groups track progress, collect feedback and improve teamwork

Parnia Mazhar, Communications Student Fellow

Tandem, a tool that helps track and facilitate group projects, has received the University of Michigan Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize. Tandem, one of five innovative projects to be honored, was developed by the Center for Academic Innovation and Michigan Engineering

Robin Fowler
Robin Fowler

Robin Fowler, a lecturer in the Engineering department and one of the faculty leads who helped develop Tandem, is talking about Tandem at the Engineering Education Research (EER) Meet Up,  an event celebrating International Women in Engineering Day, in a presentation on gendered experiences and power dynamics in student teams. Other faculty who helped develop Tandem and were honored are Laura Alford and Stephanie Sheffield

Register for the online EER Meet Up

Tandem is a research-based tool that supports students working on group projects. Each week, it collects data on the team, tracking its idea equity, workload equity, logistics, confidence level, and how the team is working overall. Tandem uses this data to develop a chart which students can use to analyze the areas of strength and areas for improvement within their groups. 

Helping Students Succeed Together

This information is also useful for instructors who can now easily determine which teams need additional support. Specifically, Tandem displays an Instructor Dashboard which breaks down groups into “needs support,” “approaching trouble,” and “working well.” This paired with the data chart on each group allows instructors to provide assistance to their students in an efficient manner.

“Tandem gives instructors insight they don’t normally have into how the student teams in their course are doing. Instructors often have no idea about issues that are coming up in the teams until the end of the semester. Tandem changes that. It empowers instructors to catch and address issues before it’s too late to do something about them,” said David Nesbitt, the software portfolio manager at the Center for Academic Innovation.

Identifying Team Conflict Before it is Too Late

Along with collecting data and identifying areas of weakness in team projects, Tandem also provides ways for those teams to improve. After having group members answer questions about their personalities and work tendencies, the platform assigns lessons tailored to strengthening the group’s potential differences and challenges. For instance, a team that struggles with equally vocalizing their ideas could be assigned a lesson on equitable communication. The lesson would provide them with thought-provoking questions and new insights on how some group members might prefer listening rather than speaking up. 

“Instructors of large courses don’t have time to closely monitor all the teams in their course,” Nesbitt said. “The ability of Tandem to surface challenges or potential conflicts in the teams is helpful. But proactively addressing those issues with tailored lessons is even more powerful. It allows instructors to provide high-touch support for every individual in their class.”

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and the University Library, the Teaching Innovation Prize rewards honorees with $5,000 for their impactful projects. Winners also generally share their innovations at Enriching Scholarship, a campus-wide technology conference, but due to COVID-19, this event and the monetary distributions will be delayed until a later date.