First-year Engineering Students' Multicultural Team Experiences | Seed Grant 2022

By Siqing Wei1, Li Tan2, Matthew Ohland1, Amirreza Mehrabi1

1. Purdue University 2. Arizona State University

This project investigates international students' experiences in multicultural teams by mixed methods.

Listed in Presentations

View publication

Version 4.0 - published on 22 Aug 2023

Licensed under CC0 - Creative Commons


This research was funded by the 2022 CILMAR Seed Grant. The YouTube link to the presentation can be found at:

Students learning in teams have long been viewed as an effective pedagogical tool in undergraduate engineering education. Evidence from the literature indicates that team-based learning approaches usually effectuate more favorable student learning outcomes and learning behaviors, in terms of knowledge acquisition and retention, higher-order thinking, and better positive attitudes towards learning. While studies have also shed light on how student team composition affects the learning effectiveness of students, research on such topics is relatively thin, and much less effort has focused on international engineering students or the dimension of cultural diversity. This literature gap is concerning, considering the boom of international students in the U.S. engineering education system and the benefits of creating a diverse and inclusive engineering workforce. Motivated by this literature gap, we conducted two studies on this topic. Study 1 addresses the research question of the extent to which international peers boost team-based learning effectiveness in undergraduate engineering education. Essentially, our results indicate that students in multicultural teams have, on average, a 0.042 unit higher peer-rating and a 0.039 unit higher self-rating, statistically significant at the 0.1 level on the scale of 1 to 5. Converting our effect sizes to standard deviation levels, a 0.042 unit increment in peer-rating is equivalent to 0.07 standard deviation higher level of peer-rating, while a 0.039 unit increment in self-rating is equivalent to 0.05 standard deviation higher level of self-rating. While these effects are small to modest in size, they are nontrivial, and they highlight the potential benefits of enrolling students from different countries of origin into the same learning group, in terms of boosting self- and peer-ratings. Results from our study have the potential to shed light on an effective strategy using student learning teams to facilitate team collaboration. Study 2 interrogates caveats when applying Tuckman's model as a guiding theoretical or conceptual framework to investigate student team experiences, especially in their first year, given their unique circumstances. Based on evidence collected from students in first-semester engineering foundation courses, we argue that the teaming stages are not discrete and linear but convoluted and likely iterative. As case studies, this project conducted semi-structured interviews with first-year engineering students from a summer session to better improve our understanding of teammate interaction. The interview questions were constructed following the stages and associated features of Tuckman’s team development model. Within each stage of group team development, we focused on soliciting significant milestones and key events from the participants. We also attempted to understand the role of students with multicultural backgrounds in the team and how they influence the dynamics. Our results echo the criticism of Tuckman’s model – that student teamwork experiences cannot be aligned with the five linearly prescribed stages. For example, students reported they might never experience conflicts in the storming stage. After presenting our findings on students’ experiences of team development, we will provide a critique of Tuckman’s model and offer suggestions on how to use it to guide further teamwork studies for researchers and instructions for practitioners.

If you are interested in applying for the CILMAR Seed Grant, information can be found here: Applicants should be employed and/or pursuing a course of study at Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus.

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Siqing Wei, Li Tan, Matthew Ohland, Amirreza Mehrabi (2023). First-year Engineering Students' Multicultural Team Experiences | Seed Grant 2022. (Version 4.0).

    BibTex | EndNote