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Lesson 6: Team projects and experiential learning

Linking team projects with experiential learning

Team projects are utilized when it is desired or productive for students to collaborate as part of their learning. Experiential Learning (EL) refers to ways that students can apply skills as part of their learning along with gaining new knowledge. In the case of team projects and EL, students develop skills by working together, communicating to cooperate, problem-solving as a team, learning from each other, and reflecting on their learning. Practicing and advancing skills relating to teamwork, including reflecting critically, forms part of the EL and confers benefits to students for future application.

    EL is learning-by-doing that bridges knowledge and experience through critical reflection. Using intentionally designed and assessed activities, EL enables students to increase understanding, challenge and advance perspectives, clarify values, develop and hone their skills and promote new ways of thinking and doing. These opportunities prepare students to lead and respond to change and thrive in an increasingly complex world (University of Calgary, 2020). There are five categories of EL at the University of Calgary. Team projects can happen across all categories:

    • Community-Engaged Learning
    • Curriculum-Integrated EL
    • Research-Based EL
    • Work-Integrated Learning
    • Co-Curricular EL

    The Experiential Learning Cycle

    EL Cycle

    Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

    Critical reflection

    Critical reflection is a practice that extends learning by providing an opportunity for deep and thorough thought and synthesis. In EL this practice is prompted by the concrete experience. Specific to team projects, reflection can be completed individually or as part of the team’s duties.

    Two key aspects of critical reflection are noticing and articulating the lived/concrete experience and its meaning, along with attending to differences in perception or assumptions across time or team members. Critical reflection also refers to the way students understand, synthesize and envision skills and knowledge development over time. Competency gains are made by prompting students to proffer plausible explanations for cause and effect (results), connect skills and meaning-making across learning spaces/courses/disciplines, imagine alternate approaches, and articulate how to apply the knowledge and skills in future scenarios.

    Sample critical reflection questions for team projects

    What happened?

    Where, when, for how long, with whom, and according to what tasks or steps? Why did you/your team proceed as you did?

    What do you make of the experience?

    What are your thoughts and feelings? How did you react? How did others react? Why did you and others react in those ways?

    What would you have done differently?

    Looking back, what would you change or do differently, if you knew before what you know now?

    What are your recommendations for others?

    What would you suggest others consider/do when embarking on this team project?

    How useful was this experience?

    Why does it matter? To what/to whom?

    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​How will you apply what you learned?

    What things will you do differently in the future as a result of this experience? In what situations can you apply things you learned?

    Additional resources

    The Government of British Columbia's New Curriculum resource on critical and reflective thinking as a core competency. 

    A resource from Queen's University Experiential Learning Hub. Ash & Clayton’s (2009) DEAL Model for Critical Reflection is frequently cited as a guiding theoretical framework for strategic engagement in the reflective process. The framework describes reflection as a three step process.

    University of Waterloo Writing and Communication Centre shares a resource that describes the process of writing a critical reflective essay. 

    Lesson checklist

    • Get familiar with the experiential learning cycle

    • Describe the benefits that critical reflection confers through team projects

    • Use questions/prompts to elicit critical reflection in team projects

    More lessons


    Lesson 1: Introduction to managing team projects


    Lesson 2: Strategies for designing and assessing team projects

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    Lesson 3: Biochemistry team project case study