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Team Science Is Harder than It Looks, But the Free E-Learning Resources on TeamScience.net Can Help

Empirical findings on the nature of scientific inquiry (i.e., "the science of science") indicate that research is increasingly being conducted by teams rather than individuals. Working on a cross-disciplinary research team also has been shown to be associated with producing more creative research that has higher scientific impact.

Line graphs showing steady increase in the percentage and mean size of teams from 1960 to 2000 in the fields of science and engineering, social sciences, and patents. The field of Arts and humanities remains relatively flat in both charts.

Figure reproduced from: Wuchty S, Jones BF, Uzzi B. (2007). The increasing dominance of teams in production of knowledge. Science.

Why then aren't more researchers embracing team research?

The reality is that team-oriented research tends also to be more difficult to orchestrate. It takes significant coordination costs to organize the effort of multiple team members from different fields. Discipline-specific terminologies and philosophical assumptions present challenges for evolving a shared mental model of research methods and objectives. Other hurdles include navigating interpersonal conflict and concerns about equitable sharing of credit and resources. Considerable time, effort, and skill are usually needed to build collaboration among team members who may be geographically distributed, in different time zones, and often more accustomed to competing than collaborating with each other. These hurdles and others associated with team science are very real.

Team Science dot net home page

Fortunately, resources are available for researchers excited about team science and savvy enough to recognize the challenges they will face. One such tool is the suite of eLearning modules hosted at http://teamscience.net.

The resources found on teamscience.net were developed by a group of researchers at Northwestern University, in collaboration with a top eLearning design company, Noggin Labs, Inc. The website is designed to foster active engagement with empirically derived content, including more than 100 short video clips capturing insights from leading authorities on team science, animated lessons, and opportunities for self-testing.

Online self-assessment survey from Noggin Labs

Content on the site is divided into 4 web courses or "modules." Each module requires approximately 60 minutes to complete thoroughly. However, users are also able to explore content at their own pace, and can easily save their place and return to a module multiple times.

The modules use content from a variety of sub-disciplines within health research to illustrate major themes. Materials are designed to appeal to a diverse audience of health researchers, including senior investigators, junior investigators or trainees, and institutional research development officers (RDO's). The primary job of a RDO is to identify opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaboration and to facilitate team science. (Does your institution have one?)

Online self-assessment survey from Noggin Labs

Module 1, "The Science of Team Science" introduces key concepts, findings, and principles of team science. Modules 2-3 are scenario-based courses that enable learners to vicariously experience creative interdisciplinary opportunities and work through challenges unique to conducting team science in different research contexts. The learning modules provide case-based exposure to the team science research process in Behavioral Science (Module 2); Biomedical Science (Module 3), and Clinical Medical Science (Module 4).

Learners who complete all 4 modules, including the pre and post self-assessments, can receive a Certificate of e-Course Completion that officially recognizes their accomplishment.

Whatever your position, prior experience, or discipline-specific area of expertise, the resources at http://teamscience.net should help you learn how to practice team science in ways that maximize the benefits and minimize risks. We invite you to try these free tools at teamscience.net, and we welcome your feedback.

About the Authors

Bonnie Spring, PhD, ABPP, is Professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Arlen C. Moller, PhD, is Research Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

References

Bonnie Spring, Arlen C. Moller, and Holly Falk-Krzesinski. Teamscience.net. Northwestern University, 11 Apr. 2011. Web. http://teamscience.net/.

Hesse, B.W. (2011). COALESCE (CTSA Online Assistance for Leveraging the Science of Collaborative Effort). JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 306, 1925–1926. This is a review of the TeamScience.net online training tools.

Wuchty S, Jones BF, Uzzi B. (2007). The increasing dominance of teams in production of knowledge. Science.

Guimerà R, Uzzi B, Spiro J, Amaral L. Team assembly mechanisms determine collaboration network structure and team performance. Science. 2005; 308: 697–702.

Cummings JN, Kiesler S. Coordination costs and project outcomes in multi-university collaborations. Res Policy. 2007; 36: 1620–1634.

Rhoten D, Parker A. Risks and rewards of an interdisciplinary research path. Science. 2004; 306: 2046–2046.

Funding

Supported in part by: CTSA grant 3UL1RR025741 Multidisciplinary Clinical and Translational Science Program (PI: Philip Greenland) and National Library of Medicine contract N01-LM-6-3512 from the Office of Behavioral & Social Sciences Research, (PI: Bonnie Spring)

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If you are interested in contributing a column, please contact Amanda Vogel at Amanda.Vogel@nih.gov.

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