Research report "Sneak Peek:" MIT explores team dynamics at Masie Learning 2018

Jeff Dieffenbach | MITili
MIT research project at Masie Learning 2018

     [photo credit: Masie Learning]

Aided by nearly 80 Masie Learning 2018 conference participants, MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) researchers explored neuro-synchronization--the extent to which physiological states such as attention and immersion synchronize--or don't--when individuals work together to perform a task.

Read on below to learn about the preliminary findings: what the task was, how individuals versus teams performed, ... and whether the temperature of the room mattered. The full report (coming in December) will expand on this analysis and pull in physiological findings.

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The Setup

The researchers randomly assigned participants to one of two tasks. In the first, participants performed the task first as individuals, then as a team. In the second, participants performed the task as a team only. This setup provided three cases: individual only (the first part of the first task type), individual then team, and team only. Participants wore EEG headbands (image 1, below) to measure electrical activity in the brain (from which attention can be derived) and fitness armbands (image 2, below) to measure heartrate (from which "immersion," defined by Immersion Neuroscience as the combination of attention and emotion, can be derived).

headband

     [photo credit: Masie Learning]

armband

     [photo credit: Masie Learning]

Participants joined the research project in one of two rooms in each of four breakout sessions across both of the two full days of the conference.

  • Room A (El Paso 2)
    • Mon early morning: individual then team (5 people)
    • Mon mid morning: individual then team (5 people)
    • Mon early afternoon: individual then team (5 people)
    • Mon mid afternoon: individual then team (5 people)
    • Tue early morning: team (3 people)
    • Tue late morning: team (5 people)
    • Tue early afternoon: team (5 people)
    • Tue mid afternoon: team (5 people)
  • Room B (El Paso 1)
    • Mon early morning: team (5 people)
    • Mon mid morning: team (5 people)
    • Mon early afternoon: team (5 people)
    • Mon mid afternoon: team (5 people)
    • Tue early morning: team (5 people)
    • Tue late morning: team (5 people)
    • Tue early afternoon: team (5 people)
    • Tue mid afternoon: team (5 people)

The above setup resulted in the following:

  • 78 participants
  • 20 individuals
  • 4 "hybrid" teams that first participated as individuals
  • 12 "group-only" teams that did not participate first as individuals

 

The Task

Either individually, in teams, or both, participants completed a task based on "Sheep," a game developed by math teacher Adam Fried of Brookline High School (MA) and played with teachers and their friends during the 2017-2018 school year. A game of Sheep consists of ten clues within a common theme. The goal of Sheep is to come up with the most popular response to a clue from among the players (cue music from American 70s game show Family Feud).

For instance, if the theme was "colors" and the clue was "name something yellow," strong responses might include "sun," "banana," or "school bus." For the Masie project, the MIT researchers selected the Brookline theme "science" and its ten clues.

  • Theme: science
    1. Name a bone in the human body
    2. Name a muscle in the human body
    3. Name a mammal other than humans
    4. Name a constellation
    5. Name an endangered species
    6. Name an element on the periodic table
    7. Name a scientist
    8. Name an important scientific discovery
    9. Name a piece of laboratory equipment
    10. Name a work of science fiction literature

For the hybrid teams, MIT researchers presented the clue, waited for all individuals to record an answer (noting the start and finish time for each clue), then proceeded to the next clue. Once the individuals had completed all ten clues, the researchers immediately replayed the game with the individuals working as a team. For the group-only teams, the researchers skipped the individual format. Following the task, all participants completed a post-survey that captured demographic information, thoughts on how the task went, and general perceptions about working on teams based on their career experience.

Individuals and teams earned a point for each time their response was submitted by any of the individuals or teams across the full conference. For instance, the most common Masie response to "Name an element on the periodic table" was "Iron" (10 responses) followed by "Hydrogen" (7 responses) and "Oxygen" (6 responses).

 

The Participants

The post-survey revealed the following participant demographics.

  • Gender
    • 67% female, 33% male
  • "Level" (Age)
    • From 24 to 66, average 45.8
  • Native language
    • 75 English
    • Also, 1 Dutch, 1 Hindi, 1 Turkish, 1 Ukranian
    • Totals 79 because 1 response was both English and Turkish
  • Region where participant grew up
    • 70 North America, 4 Europe, 4 Asia, 1 Africa
    • Totals 79 because 1 response included North America and Asia

 

The Results

The 20 individuals, 4 hybrid teams, and 12 group-only teams combined for a total of 36 scores. The highest possible score was 152. The actual scores ranged from a low of 51 to a high of 142. The full set of responses is tabulated in the appendix at the end of this report.

 

FINDING 1: TEAMS OUTPERFORM INDIVIDUALS

Only 1 individual outscored a team, finishing 14th with 124 points (Room A/El Paso 2, Mon mid PM, Blue; where "Blue" indicates the color-coding of the EEG headband, heartrate armband, and scoresheet/survey). The top 13 scores and scores 15-17 all belonged to teams (an individual tied for 17th). Whether teams were hybrid or group-only did not affect relative ranking; that is, there was no difference in average performance between hybrid teams that first performed as individuals compared with group-only teams.

  • The Top 20
    • 1. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Mid PM Team: 142 points
    • 2. Room A (El Paso 2) Tue Mid PM Team: 138 points
    • 3. Room A (El Paso 2) Tue Late AM Team: 137 points
    • 4. Room B (El Paso 1) Tue Early AM Team: 136 points
    • 5. Room A (El Paso 2) Tue Early PM Team: 135 points
    • 6. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Early PM Team: 133 points
    • 7. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Mid AM Team: 132 points
    • 8. Room B (El Paso 1) Mon Early PM Team: 130 points
    • 9. Room B (El Paso 1) Mon Mid AM Team: 129 points
    • 10. Room A (El Paso 2) Tue Early AM Team: 127 points
    • 11t. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Early AM Team: 125 points
    • 11t. Room B (El Paso 1) Mon Early AM Team: 125 points
    • 11t. Room B (El Paso 1) Mon Mid PM Team: 125 points
    • 14. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Mid PM Individual Blue: 124 points
    • 15. Room B (El Paso 1) Tue Early PM Team: 122 points
    • 16. Room B (El Paso 1) Tue Mid PM Team: 116 points
    • 17t. Room B (El Paso 1) Tue Late AM Team: 113 points
    • 17t. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Mid PM Individual Yellow: 113 points
    • 19. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Early AM Individual Pink: 110 points
    • 20. Room A (El Paso 2) Mon Mid PM Individual Black: 98 points

The finding above is illustrated in the following "violin chart," which shows the relative distribution of scores (plot width) for individuals and teams (groups).

points by team v individual

 

FINDING 2: TAKING TIME TO RESPOND MATTERS (BUT DOESN'T ALWAYS HELP)

As a general rule, the longer individuals took to submit a response, the better they did. By comparison, the longer that teams took to respond, the worse they did. This finding is illustrated in the chart below.

time by team v individual

 

FINDING 3: TEMPERATURE MATTERS

The MIT researchers did not intend for the temperature of the two experiment rooms to be different, but they certainly were. Room B (El Paso 1, with entrance to the right of sign-in) was "ambient"--no noticeable difference compared to the main hallway. Room A (El Paso 2, entrance on left), by comparison, was noticeably cold. Many participants remarked on the relatively low temperature, with several wondering aloud whether the temperature was part of the experiment.

All of the individuals performed in the "cold" room. For the teams, here's how they ranked.

  1. Cold
  2. Cold
  3. Cold
  4. Ambient
  5. Cold
  6. Cold
  7. Cold
  8. Ambient
  9. Ambient
  10. Cold
  11. Cold
  12. Ambient
  13. Ambient
  14. Ambient
  15. Ambient
  16. Ambient

In short, there was a decided advantage for teams performing the task in the cold room compared with the ambient room. Perhaps they buried themselves in the task to distract themselves from the discomfort?

 

Conclusion

This "sneak peak" version of the report serves as a placeholder for the full report coming in December. The primary addition in the full report will be an analysis of the physiological data. Until then, stay tuned!

 

Acknowledgements

The MIT researchers thank Elliott Masie and his team for the ability to conduct the experiment above as part of Masie Learning 2018. MIT also thanks Brookline High School math teacher Adam Fried for the game Sheep.

 

Appendix

The number of each response is listed below for the 10 "science" questions.

  1. Name a bone in the human body
    1. Femur: 30
    2. Humerus: 2
    3. Clavicle: 2
    4. Jaw: 1
    5. Spine: 1
  2. Name a muscle in the human body
    1. Bicep: 19
    2. Heart: 5
    3. Abs: 3
    4. Quad: 3
    5. Deltoid: 2
    6. Hamstring: 2
    7. Thigh: 1
    8. Pectoral: 1
  3. Name a mammal other than humans
    1. Dog: 8
    2. Whale: 7
    3. Monkey: 6
    4. Dolphin: 5
    5. Ape: 2
    6. Cow: 1
    7. Elephant: 1
    8. Cat: 1
    9. Kangaroo: 1
    10. Platypus: 1
    11. Horse: 1
    12. Gorilla: 1
    13. Koala: 1
  4. Name a constellation
    1. Orion: 15
    2. Big Dipper: 14
    3. Milky Way: 2
    4. Aquarius: 1
    5. Gemini: 1
    6. Sagitarius: 1
    7. Aries: 1
    8. Pleides: 1
  5. Name an endangered species
    1. Polar bear: 7
    2. Bald eagle: 6
    3. Rhino: 4
    4. Tiger: 4
    5. Panda: 4
    6. Whale: 3
    7. Bees: 2
    8. Elephant: 1
    9. Orangutan: 1
    10. Wolf: 1
    11. Sea Turtle: 1
    12. Koala: 1
    13. Scarlet maccaw: 1
  6. Name an element on the periodic table
    1. Iron: 10
    2. Hydrogen: 7
    3. Oxygen: 6
    4. Carbon: 3
    5. Gold: 2
    6. Water: 2
    7. Chromium: 1
    8. Copper: 1
    9. Sodium: 1
    10. Uranium: 2
    11. Mercury: 1
  7. Name a scientist
    1. Einstein: 24
    2. Curie: 4
    3. Newton: 2
    4. Hawking: 2
    5. Tyson: 1
    6. Kepler: 1
    7. Nye: 1
    8. [blank]: 1
  8. Name an important scientific discovery
    1. Gravity: 12
    2. Penicillin: 7
    3. Electricity: 4
    4. Relativity: 3
    5. Light bulb: 2
    6. Polio vaccine: 1
    7. DNA: 1
    8. Earth round: 1
    9. Global warming: 1
    10. Human genome: 1
    11. Atom: 1
    12. Splitting atom: 1
    13. Radiology: 1
  9. Name a piece of laboratory equipment
    1. Microscope: 21
    2. Beaker: 6
    3. Test tube: 5
    4. Bunsen burner: 1
    5. Erlenmeyer flask: 1
    6. Telescope: 1
    7. GC: 1
  10. Name a work of science fiction literature
    1. Star Wars: 6
    2. Dune: 4
    3. Star Trek: 4
    4. 1984: 2
    5. 2001: 2
    6. Hitchhiker's Guide: 2
    7. 20k Leagues: 2
    8. Ender's Game: 2
    9. Ready Player One: 2
    10. Journey to the Center of the Earth: 1
    11. The Odyssey: 1
    12. Pratchett: 1
    13. Disc World: 1
    14. Alien: 1
    15. The Island: 1
    16. The Blob: 1
    17. It: 1
    18. Planet of the Apes: 1
    19. [blank]: 1