"The Teller is the Feller": A Mixed-Methods Examination of Student Perceptions of Teammate Behavior, Basic Psychological Need Fulfillment, and Gender in Undergraduate Engineering Student Project Teams

Miller, Emily, Systems Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Bailey, Robert, Department of Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia

Undergraduate engineering project courses are frequently characterized by a large teamwork component – but these important student experiences can be diminished by teammates exhibiting undesirable behaviors such as lacking initiative or failing to advance the project. According to self-determination theory, all behavior is sparked by a spectrum of context-specific motivations: intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging with an activity for its own sake and is the type most associated with positive educational outcomes. To achieve intrinsic motivation, one’s environment must support three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This thesis is an investigation of the links between perceptions of undesirable teaming behaviors, gender, and these basic psychological needs.

Two surveys were used to collect data for this project. The Basic Psychological Needs Scale was adapted from its original form to measure the extent to which participants experienced autonomy, competence, and relatedness within the project team context. The Team Behaviors and Attitudes Survey was developed to measure how frequently and severely a participant perceived undesirable behaviors by teammates. Additionally, demographic information was collected from participants. 89 undergraduate students representing forty-three long-term project teams participated from a variety of engineering disciplines at the University of Virginia.

Results focus on the relative influence of the actor, target, and dyad on the perceptions of the actor (“rater") about undesirable team behaviors of the target (“ratee”). Thus, actors indicated not only the presence of certain behaviors in teammates but also the severity of these behaviors. With respect to gender, perceptions of peer behaviors in terms of severity significantly correlate with the gender of the actor in many cases. Male actors were found to rate others significantly more severely than female actors, regardless of the gender of the target. For two behaviors, however, the gender of the target predicts severity ratings (Failure to prioritize project and Lack of initiative). The genders of the actor and target and their interaction did not significantly predict how frequently behaviors were perceived.

An actor's perceptions of their teammates were found not to relate to the fulfillment of each of their basic psychological needs separately, except for one behavior - “Failure to prioritize the project”. In that case, students who felt autonomous and connected to their teammates but who lacked competence were likely to rate their teammates as exhibiting negative behaviors more frequently and severely. Similarly, associations between gender and basic psychological needs as a whole were not found. K-means clustering was used to characterize six motivational “profiles” based on participants’ relative levels of autonomy, competence, and relatedness within the team context. Individuals with the highest relatedness scores also tended to have the highest autonomy and competence scores, and females and males were housed relatively proportionally in this group. Furthermore, extreme imbalance between autonomy, competence, and relatedness scores was not observed – while one construct may have been experienced to a greater extent than the others, the discrepancy was not large. High scores on one construct predicted high scores on the other constructs and low scores on one construct predicted similarly low scores on the other constructs.

Supplementary analyses were conducted to add context to this study. Qualitative sense-making was employed to develop seven larger themes that speak to the values of students underlying disapproval of peer behaviors. A Social Relations Model was estimated using multilevel modeling to compare how the variance in the overall behavior scores is distributed between the actor and target; the larger source of variance was found to be the target.

This project has implications for instructors to construct and improve team functioning in undergraduate engineering project courses by better understanding how students experience their project team environments and why. Furthermore, instructors may improve peer assessments by better understanding factors related to the identity of the actor (like gender) that impact perceptions of undesirable team behaviors. Some behaviors are more conducive to straightforward and objective observance and some to subjectivity on the part of the actor.

MS (Master of Science)
Teamwork, Engineering Education, Motivation
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: