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Steve Cavrak <[log in to unmask]>
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ACS staff discussion list <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 1 Sep 2004 10:54:49 -0400
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"Briefly, student management teams consist of small groups of students,
usually four, that represent the class, plus the professor. All team
members receive a handbook (for free too ! -see references) for
guidance. Teams hold weekly meetings between students, with the
professor attending every other week. They meet in neutral areas away
from the professors' office, and they maintain a written journal or
[b]log that the professor receives at the end of the course. Team
members are chosen in a number of ways (detailed in the handbook), and
choices can often depend on wanting to solve a particular, recurrent

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The posting below introduces a very promising approach to obtaining
feedback on faculty teaching and student learning.  It is by Edward B.
Nuhfer, Idaho State University and is number 23 in a series of selected
excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter
reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has
a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you
are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at
[] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the
printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to
share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of
learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, May, 2004,
Volume 13, Number 4,  Copyright 1996-2004. Published by James Rhem &
Associates, Inc. (ISSN 1057-2880) All rights reserved worldwide.
Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
[log in to unmask]
UP NEXT: Learning Community Models

                        Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

             ------------------------------------- 1,444 words

                        STUDENT MANAGEMENT TEAMS

Student Management Teams: Fractals for Students Too-
Developing in Fractal Patterns VII
Edward B. Nuhfer, Idaho State University

Suppose you don't have a center for teaching on your campus, your
travel budget precludes attending attractive workshops, but you still
want to do something to improve your teaching based on an action that
holds more promise than buying the latest, greatest
brain-based-best-practices book. An untapped source of faculty
development brainpower sits before you in the classes you teach. You
can harness that power through something we've come to call "student
management teams" and discover for yourself some of the same ways to
improve that a development expert would discover. Readers of recent
DEVELOPER'S DIARYs won't be surprised to learn that this approach fits
the fractal model. Like most elements in a "fractal" approach, this one
applies across scales to improve single courses, your general approach
to teaching, the articulation between series of courses, your
department's programs and your college's, depending on how fully you
want to apply the tool. Like all faculty develop!
  ment, none of this is magic. It takes some work and the will
<> ingness to
listen and adjust with changes, but its structure helps that occur. It
is an inexpensive approach and one that rests on sound research
principles and over a decade of experience from users in every
conceivable setting.

Teams' 'Who What Why'

Briefly, student management teams consist of small groups of students,
usually four, that represent the class, plus the professor. All team
members receive a handbook (for free too ! -see references) for
guidance. Teams hold weekly meetings between students, with the
professor attending every other week. They meet in neutral areas away
from the professors' office, and they maintain a written journal or log
that the professor receives at the end of the course. Team members are
chosen in a number of ways (detailed in the handbook), and choices can
often depend on wanting to solve a particular, recurrent problem.

Discussions are focused but informal. If one asked for a generic answer
to what teams talk about, one might describe the trigger question: "We
experienced the past week of class, and if we could do that over again,
how could it be done better?" In operation, they have some close
similarities to cooperative learning groups, and are now getting
mentioned in books on cooperative learning (Millis and Cottell, 1998).
Faculty are at some disadvantage in promoting students' awareness about
teaching, learning, and thinking, because talking too much about these
things in their classrooms takes away from their assigned job of
providing classroom content (see the previous two DIARYs). Yet, there
are great advantages to holding these conversations and looking at the
learning process from both student and teacher viewpoints. Student
management teams nurture such conversations outside of class. The time
spent proves well worth the investment, and the outcomes seem as good
or better than s!
  hort event interventions such as diagnostic formative surveys with
single consultations or small group instructional diagnoses.

How Teams Started

Thinking in fractals involves seeing patterns across many endeavors on
campus and at many scales. When education is occurring effectively,
every component of the generator that affects teaching, learning, and
thinking is generally present. The fractal generator is not merely for
developers or faculty. It's also for students. It is striking how "good
teaching" by any means has long been associated with maximized
interaction with students. But development for many years seemed at
odds with this philosophy. It promoted development practices that
insured teachers would avoid meaningful direct conversations with
students about the learning process occurring in their classes. We were
taught to go to colleagues', chairs', deans' and developers' offices,
to lock ourselves in our own offices reading "how to teach" and "how to
assess" books, to view teleconferences and videotapes touting others'
successes, and to fly across the country to inspirational workshops
(Nuhfer, 1997). "Stude!
  nt feedback" too often meant nothing more than a tabulation of results
from questionnaires that students responded to by blackening bubbles on
scales of one to five during the last week of classes. In what other
enterprise would an exercise of completing such a form be seen as
satisfying the requisite for good communication practices? There was a
communications gap that needed breaching.

Deming Discovered

Student management teams began with the descriptions by Edward Deming
of the "quality control circles" he developed during his assignments to
Japan in the early 1950s (see Deming recognized that
industries in Japan had terrible communication about process between
managers and workers. We often find the same lack of communication
between teachers and students about process; so the transfer seemed a
natural one.

As far as we know, Kogut (1984) was the first to publish on use of
quality circles in the classroom. The obvious need and the well-known
nature of quality circles by 1984 makes it incredible that earlier
reports aren't available. A grant in 1990 from the University of
Wisconsin System enabled us (myself and ten pilot staff from every
college in that University) to begin our work with these teams. We
quickly recognized how student management teams could foster a powerful
way to make some faculty development happen-with or without a
developer. (No, teams can't replace developers, but they can be a way
to enact formative assessment, consultation and provide action plans
for improvements in one package). Since our work was completed, faculty
in at least 500 universities have employed teams, making them the most
widespread structure for the employment of students in faculty

Many academics associate Deming with Total Quality Management (TQM),
which was based on his work. TQM fell into disrepute within academe
when it became a needlessly complex perversion of Deming's applied
philosophy. Where "TQM" became more of a time-sink than a practical
management system, it was largely abandoned. Deming's simple philosophy
was borne out of respect: people within an enterprise, whether
manufacturing widgets or education, have the greatest incentive to
improve both the enterprise and the work needed to enact it. They have
knowledge born of firsthand experience, and they deserve to feel heard,
be heard, be taken seriously and to have control over their working
environment. Deming's approach was not dependent on "experts" or
centered on their interests.

All that real TQM ever required was a formal structure for regular,
purposeful exchange of ideas and a means to archive and implement the
best ones. The structure adapted for a course is simply a team-a
variant of a "quality circle." A short manual provides guidance in how
to form the teams, run them and use the pooled knowledge- not much more
is needed.

It's in the Book

By 1993, we had a manual with enough collective knowledge from multiple
teams to adequately serve any faculty with enough initiative to form a
team. We did not need to provide workshops after that. We certainly
learned about how teams failed and succeeded and what kinds of
professors were suited to using them. We also uncovered bad advice,
such as mixing compensation for teams with grades. By 2002, we posted
the manual, which we still update annually, in HTML and PDF format at This made it
available free to faculty and even got us out of the hassles of selling
manuals. This article will allow NTLF readers to access all of this
information. A workshop in a newsletter?

Do It Yourself

Everything you need to do it yourself is in the free manual first
posted in 1991. Today's manual is a significant improvement over
earlier versions. The basics of how to form teams, manage and
compensate them, case examples of use and advice for both student and
faculty members remain from the early work. As we developed a unifying
picture of development, the manual has become more "fractal" in the
sense of being more in accord with a unifying model of education. The
major components of teaching, learning, and thinking are all in there
now, even though the word "fractal" or "generator" isn't emphasized.
Ethical considerations are there, as well as examples of how to use
student management teams to assess at scales of departments and
programs, and not just courses (Revak and Nuhfer, 2001). Further, some
evaluation and assessment techniques, guidelines for chairs, and a
growing bibliography of primary sources contributed by others who have
published on team use have been gradu!
  ally added since the early editions. Enjoy!

Acknowledgments: I'd like to thank my early colleagues from the
University of Wisconsin at Platteville, more recent ones from the
University of Colorado at Denver and Idaho State University, and those
from many from other universities who have pioneered uses and added to
our knowledge about student management teams. We look forward to
contributions of experiences from NTLF readers who try them.

*  Kogut, L. S. 1984. "Quality Circles: A Japanese Management Technique
for the Classroom." Improving College and University Teaching, 32, pp.
123 - 127.
*  Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G. 1998. Cooperative Learning for
Higher Education Faculty. American Council on Education. Phoenix, AZ:
Oryx Press, pp. 218 - 219.
*  Nuhfer, E. B. 1997. "Student management teams-the heretic's path to
teaching success." In W. C. Campbell and K. Smith, eds., New Paradigms
for College Teaching (Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.), pp. 103-126.
*  Nuhfer, E. B., and others. 1990-2003. A Handbook for Student
Management Teams. Current edition is available for free download at
*  Revak, M., and Nuhfer, E. B. 2001. "Student management teams as
assessment tools." Policy Center on the First Year of College,
Assessment Listserv, available through the index at and at