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22st Annual OLC International Conference
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Using Shared Epistemic Agency and Team Contracts to Promote 21st Century Skills Among B.S.N. Students in a Team Project

Suzanne Hayes (SUNY Empire State College, USA)
Jacqueline Michaels (SUNY Empire State College, USA)
Teresa Smith (SUNY Empire State College, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 9:15am
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A3
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 5

How can team contracts to help learners develop 21st century skills to promote group collaboration, knowledge construction, and group regulation?

Extended Abstract


This presentation describes the results of two case studies examining the effectiveness of team contracts as an instructional design element in a six week long team project to encourage B.S.N. students to assume greater responsibility for their learning and as a way to scaffold the development of shared epistemic agency (SEA). Attendees will come away with a better understanding of: 1) how the concept of shared epistemic agency relates to 21st century skills; 2) prior research on the effectiveness of team contracts in shaping group processes, performance and norms; 3) the strengths and limitations of team contracts in shaping the epistemic and regulative dimensions of the SEA construct.

Theoretical frame

According to the National Research Council (2012), 21st century skills often reference problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-regulation, which align with three domains of competence -- the cognitive, interpersonal and the intrapersonal. Consistent with this framework is the SEA construct, which is demonstrated by groups of learners who collectively: assume responsibility for their own learning; are active and productive contributors, systematically organize their efforts; create knowledge though negotiation and refinement of their thinking; and develop, advance and improve shared artifacts. (Dam?a, Kirschner, Andriessen, Erkens, & Sins, (2010).

Specifically, SEA calls for learners to demonstrate intentionality in two areas, the epistemic and regulative (Dam?a, 2010). The epistemic refers to knowledge-related activities that support group collaboration in the production of shared artifacts. The regulative encompasses activities that support team collaborative processes in which learners demonstrate forethought and planning, monitoring and reflection, and making adjustments in strategy.

To encourage students to assume greater responsibility for their learning in collaborative projects, the use of team-negotiated contracts or charters as an instructional design element can scaffold the development of SEA. Prior research indicates that these contracts are useful for: planning how a team will manage teamwork activities; aiding students to articulate, discuss, and negotiate their mutual expectations for the group; specifying goals, performance standards and team roles. Contracts have also been shown to improve performance levels and establish emergent norms affecting communications, effort, cohesion, and mutual support (Mathieu and Rapp, 2009; McDowell, Herdman, and Aaron, 20110).


The site selected for this study was a comprehensive state college for working adults in the northeast. The study examined a 15-week long fully online 4-credit course, NUR 302 Advanced Health Assessment, offered in the fall 2013 term. Of the 18 students in the class, nine volunteered to participate and were assigned to two teams. Each team was tasked with designing an interprofessional plan of care for a fictional patient using a team wiki. At the start of the project, all teams were required to negotiate a team contract using instructor provided guidelines.

This qualitative study used three separate form of analysis to examine student interviews, team and self-assessments, and team contracts. When analyzed in combination they provided insight into each team's experiences, expectations and beliefs about the nature of their collaboration with their peers during their final project.


Overall, both teams demonstrated a very strong regulative orientation which overshadowed their epistemic efforts and valued the contract as an agentive approach to managing the risks of many project-related "unknowns" as first term students.

Team A's contract was highly procedural and task focused. They identified two internal measures considered as important as course grades: contributing one's fair share of the assigned work and meeting commitments on time. Team B included no substantive provisions in the contract related to knowledge creation dimensions of their shared work, Instead, the team assigned ten topics they believed were key elements for inclusion in their plan of care - indicating a misalignment in which they applied a regulative approach to an epistemic task.

Team B addressed their unease with the fully online project by broadening their contract to go beyond due dates and checklists. They identified "shared responsibility" as a group norm and stipulated that poor participation and failure to complete assigned tasks would be distributed over the remaining team, reflecting their high professional standards as practicing RNs. The team's only epistemic element called submitting work that used scholarly and evidence-based resources. Team B also included provisions related to providing mutual support and assistance and agreed to divide responsibility for leading various project tasks


Clearly both team's contracts and attitudes accorded primacy to the regulative dimension of SEA, which encompasses the interpersonal and intrapersonal domains, over the epistemic or cognitive domain. In order to have students fully develop 21st century skills, there is a pressing need to better prepare students to understand goals and purposes of knowledge construction pedagogy. Although many students made reference to the need for multiple viewpoints in collaborative work, they were unable to translate this thinking into project goals or productive action. Both teams also referenced a model of collaboration in which students, who are assigned individual tasks, work independently to complete their work, return to assemble their results, and then edit for coherence and consistency. Specific recommendations include: 1) Developing student awareness of the distinctions between regulative and epistemic activities as they relate to collaboration. 2) Guiding new BSN students toward gaining a better understanding of the nature and purpose of academic conversations and how to participate effectively. 3) Encouraging use of regulative functions of metacognitive awareness and reflection at both the individual and group levels.

Dam?a, C. I., Kirschner, P. A., Andriessen, J. E. B., Erkens, G., & Sins, P. H. M. (2010). Shared epistemic agency?: An empirical study of an emergent construct. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19, 143-186.

McDowell, W. C., & Herdman, Andrew, O. (2011). Charting the course?: The effects of team charters on emergent behavioral norms. Organization Development Journal, 29(1), 79-88.

Mathieu, J. E., & Rapp, T. L. (2009). Laying the foundation for successful team performance trajectories: The roles of team charters and performance strategies. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(1), 90-103.

National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century.

Lead Presenter

Suzanne Hayes, Ph.D.