Learning has expanded beyond take-home assignments and lectures. Team-based learning, for instance, supports the extended development of students by offering further education through collaborating with others. This type of learning develops teamwork skills that have become essential skills for students in today’s complex work environment. Furthermore, the use of online collaboration tools in virtual teams adds complexity to the collaboration process. This trend calls for valuable insights related to enhancing online team-based collaboration to ensure team success and learning. Scaffolds provide a promising approach because they support team processes online by providing guidance through the use of tools, activities and artifacts that enable virtual student teams to act as a team in a virtual environment. They effectively facilitate the achievement of goals for teams collaborating remotely. However, the extent and manner in which scaffolds actually support specific team processes such as planning, conflict management and coordination need more exploration. We conducted a qualitative study to explore how the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), activities and artifacts supported three types of team processes (transition, action, and interpersonal). In a semester long engineering project, student teams employed web-based collaboration tools and instructional scaffolds to support their collaborative processes. The scaffolds included training and access to a web-based application including a variety of collaboration tools (file repository, video conference, and discussion board) as well as guided collaborative activities (team profile, team building and team identity development, team charter, project plan and peer evaluation). Twenty five students participated voluntarily in one-on-one interview sessions. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed through a loose qualitative research design to allow emergent constructs to unfold that are related to the research questions. Other sources of data such as records of online team activities, team charters, class update presentations, individual reflection activities and e-mail exchanges with the professor were also used to triangulate the analysis. The results show that the scaffolds supported all types of team processes. However, emergent constructs related to individual, team and organizational characteristics prevented some of the teams from using some of the scaffolds to support their team processes. These characteristics include lack of initiative, lack of writing skills, task orientation, lack of access to the tool, team turnover, teamwork skills, technology familiarity, and perceived ease of use. These findings support existing theories such as the sociotechnical theory (STS) and adaptive structuration theory (AST). Based on the findings, we identified research and practical implications as well as proposed strategies in the implementation of ICTs and instructional scaffolds in virtual teams.
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