This post is co-authored by Dimity Wehr and Franziska Trede.

Are you looking for different ways to introduce and prepare students for teamwork? One useful strategy is using short films to show scenarios of teamwork behaviours for discussion and analysis. Films are an easy, non-threatening discussion starter that can trigger self-reflection and stimulate teams to make decisions on how they want to work together. They’re also engaging, creative and fun!

The recent event, Teamwork at the movies with popcorn was an interactive workshop where we generated ideas together on how to use film as a preparation resource to strengthen student agency and their capacity for doing teamwork.

Here we share what was covered, including safe ways for students to practise critiquing teamwork scenarios, strategies to stimulate self-reflection, empathy and team agency and how video can be used as a pre-teamwork assessment task.

How do you prepare students for teamwork?

Teamwork is a social activity that requires agreement on how to work together. Reaching a shared understanding about collaboration is no easy task when students bring different assumptions to teamwork and have diverse expectations of each other, so preparing students for teamwork and emphasising the importance of the team building phase is time well-invested.

Participants in the workshop shared some of their own approaches, which echoed many of the themes which have emerged as part of this evolving Hot Topic. Their strategies included:

  • Setting clear expectations (accountability, deadlines, team contracts);
  • Suggesting guidelines on distributing work and allocating roles to leverage individual strengths or to work on skills individuals want to improve;
  • Emphasising the importance of thoughtful and open communication;
  • Scaffolding tasks and providing guidance throughout the work;
  • Ensuring teacher presence (e.g. teachers regularly checking in with teams) to help guide and strengthen the team process.

Using short films as a pedagogical tool

Films can be used as an effective preparation tool for exploring many aspects of teamwork. Examples and benefits we shared in the workshop included: bringing the ‘outside world’ into the classroom​; using stories as subjective standpoints (narrative pedagogy); evoking reactions, empathy and enabling agency; reflective practice; case study analysis (showing an example and generating rules from it) and using film critique as a diagnostic assessment task. 

Students on film: the internship scenario

In our workshop, we used a short film featuring student actors from UTS. The film was part of a series illustrating common scenarios students have reported in feedback surveys, including group marks, uneven allocation of roles and lack of control over group selection. In this case, we watched an example showing an internship/ practicum assessment scenario.

photo showing students and supervisor setting up group work
Still image from the short film: ‘Can we ask for help?’

Watch from here in the event recording to analyse the scenario for yourself (if you attended our recent ‘Forum Theatre’ event, you may notice some familiar faces in the cast!). As you watch, consider the behaviours of the supervisor and students. What can be possible reasons for them behaving that way?​

Staff participating in the event were invited to identify (empathising) why the students and supervisor (‘boss’) reacted the way they did. Some of their observations are summarised here:

What reasons could explain the supervisor’s behaviour?What reasons could explain the students’ behaviour?
Juggling too many priorities/ this may not be high priorityStudents need clarity, and given no choice in high pressure environment
Modelling his own experience Misunderstandings about timeline
Not aware of his own behaviourStudents had different ideas as the task was not clear
Wants students to be independent Limited time to build relationships
Lacking leadership experience/ teamwork skillsStudents are outcomes-focused and expect/ need structure
Assumption of knowledge/ not understanding students’ needsStudents will react depending on past experience and with teamwork

Tips for using films to prepare students for teamwork

So you’re ready to give it a try? Take a look at the tips below before you start.

  1. Clearly frame why you are using the film and give students a low-stakes activity to explore ideas (such as aligning themselves with one of the characters and writing down, then sharing their perspectives).
  2. Ask students to particularly observe one actor in the film and come up with ideas about how they could have behaved differently. This encourages students to explore other possibilities and get creative.
  3. Invite students to comment on how they relate to the scenario in the film and what they are learning for their own teamwork behaviour or practice (start with where the students are). This enables more reflexive thinking, which can lead to behaviour change.
  4. Set tasks for students to discuss with each other how the lessons learnt (from the film) will enable them to form and work within an agentic, reflexive, relational and inclusive team.

Looking ahead to the next Hot Topic: Feedback and Assessment

Hot Topics are curriculum and teaching themes that have emerged in UTS from student learning experiences, student feedback surveys (SFS), consultations and other strategic projects. They are a series of professional development and engagement opportunities to enhance courses and provide longer-term support through community building and sustained critical dialogues. 

Our next Hot Topic tackles feedback and assessment, where we are drawing attention to some of the big ideas that have emerged from the research on feedback in the higher education sector over the past two decades. The Series will feature guest speakers and showcase good practice at UTS, including designing feedback loops into your teaching and developing students’ capabilities for complex appraisal. 

Keep an eye on the Futures blog and events for more on that Hot Topic soon!

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

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