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EXPERTS-IN-TEAM – MULTIDISCIPLINARY PROJECT
UNIQUAL, The 2nd International Conference on
Universities´ Quality Development, Kaunas University of Technology,
Experts-in-Team (EiT) is a new concept of teaching students at master level. The objective is to train
students for a future participation in multidisciplinary teams. This is accomplished by project work in
teams of five students from different disciplines, where the professor operates as facilitator instead of
lecturer. Experts-in-Team has developed from the engineering degree programme at NTNU, and is now in
the process of being extended to all master programmes at the university. Experts-in-Team was run for
the first time in the spring term of 2001 with 780 students. The project now includes approximately 1300
students in the spring term of 2005, and thus represents the largest pedagogic development project in the
history of the university in Trondheim.
Experts-in-Team represents multidisciplinary project work at master level in which both the project work
and the team process is a focal point. The assignment should challenge each student within their
respective area of expertise, and each student is responsible for that the know-how from their own area of
expertise contributes to the mutual problem solving process. In this way the students are trained in
multidisciplinary communication and to operate in a multidisciplinary environment.
Experts-in-Team represents a demanding mode of education with large pedagogic and organisational
Bjørn Sortland, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Department of Marine Technology, N-7491,
NORWAY, E-mail: Bjorn.Sortland@marin.ntnu.no
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• To establish multidisciplinary problem areas for the assignments that motivate and unite students
across the border of disciplines.
• To establish a multidisciplinary curriculum for the team process and appropriate course reading
• To prepare the teaching staff for the new role as facilitators (supervisors)
• To develop a way of organising student groups across the faculties
• To develop an appropriate method of examination
The learning goals
By working in multidisciplinary teams where each member initially may have different perspectives on
the problem at hand and also be used to different problem solving methods, the students will develop
attitudes and skills related to multidisciplinary teamwork. In solving a problem that challenges their area
of expertise, they will be trained in using their subject skill to contribute to the mutual problem solving
process. Through this process the students will be exposed to the challenge in multidisciplinary
communication, learn to operate within a multidisciplinary environment, learn to understand the
interaction between each member of the team, and learn how this interaction affects them.
The goals of Experts-in-Team are that the students should
• acquire an understanding of their own competence and how it may be used for the benefit of the
• gain experience in teamwork as means to solve interdisciplinary problems
• acquire insight in their own behaviour and how it influences collaboration in the team
• acquire insight in how they are influenced by the team work
The teaching strategy
In Experts-in-Team there is a strong focus on the team process. The learning experience of each
individual student is based on the collaboration in each team. Thus both the role of the teacher and the
student becomes different in Experts-in-Team compared to lectures. The student teams are supposed to
develop their own project assignment, and they are mutually responsible for the planning and progression.
The students should:
• learn to use and develop their own subject skill in a multidisciplinary environment
• be aware of the attitude of both them selves and other people
• be responsible for both work planning and progression
The teacher should:
• facilitate the team work to stimulate the students reflection and learning
The student teams may seek supervision all over the university.
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Organising the subject
Approximately 1300 students will take part in Experts-in-Team in the spring semester of 2005. They are
divided in classes of 30 students called “villages”, and the “village” is further divided in 6 teams. The
team consists of five students each coming from different disciplines. The “village” is presented with a
broad multidisciplinary problem area, and is supervised by a “village professor”. A “village professor”
has the same role for his “village” as any other professor running any other course, thus the “village
professor” carries the responsibility for both the project work and team process in his or her “village”.
Experts-in-Team has a normal study load of 7.5 credit points (1/4 semester). Each faculty is responsible
for organising a given number of “villages” corresponding to the number of students they include in EiT.
To emphasise and stimulate the skill development in the student teams, student assistants are used. Two
student assistants are working in team with the professor in each “village”. The student assistants are to
closely follow the work in the teams, concentrating only on the team process. They should, in
collaboration with the professor, indicate how the team process might be improved upon by facilitating
The topic for each “village” should constitute a thematic project area, and should represent a
contemporary and realistic issue. The problem area should demand expertise from various disciplines,
and it should trigger collaboration and integration of the various disciplines rather than fragmentation.
The ‘ownership’ of the problem areas should be external (outside the university), because it is desirable
for the motivation of the students to have for instance a commercial company or a public enterprise as
“customer”. Each student team is supposed to define their own assignment based on the “village”
The students can choose a “village” by means of a registration system on the Internet. Each “village” is
presented on the web, and “villages’” preferred composition of study directions or disciplines are
mentioned in order to guide the students in their choice. Through this system, the students are divided up
into the “villages” according to their own priority as well as the preferred “village” composition. The
system generates a final placement list including group assignment for each “village”. It also informs
each student of his or her “village” assignment. The complete placement lists for each “village” are sent
to the “village professor” so he can invite his students to the “village” to the first day of the semester.
Experts-in-Team is run in the spring semester over 14 weeks. Wednesdays are reserved for “village day”
which means that all master programs will not have any lecture on Wednesdays throughout the semester.
This is necessary for the students to be able to meet across the University. Each Wednesday, a meeting is
held in each “village”, compulsory to all Experts-in-Team-students. The student themselves carry the
responsibility for convening, meeting agenda, and leading the meeting. At the meeting, shared problems
are discussed and one comes to an agreement on actions to be taken. Some meetings are reserved for
technical or team process presentations by the students in accordance with a milestone plan that the
students have worked out themselves at the beginning of the semester.
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Each student team works on the chosen assignment throughout the semester, and the results are presented
as a technical report and an oral presentation in an open meeting on the last “village” day. In addition, the
students have to write a team-process report on the process dynamics in the team by describing problems,
actions taken, and the influence of each individual on the collaboration. A common grade is given to all
students in each team, based on the technical report (weighing 60%) and the process report (40%). The
presentation is also taken into account.
To meet the goal of Experts-in-Team, the professors should not only concentrate on supervision within
his discipline skill, but assist in team process supervision together with two student assistants. This
requires a dramatic change in attitude among the professors. Thus the biggest challenge in Experts-in-
Team is to make the “village professors” understand their new role as a supervisor (facilitator). Professor
Christian Thaulow, who led the early stage of the development of Experts-in-Team, formulated the
concept of teaching in the following way:
“It is the student group that owns the problem and should own it throughout the entire process. The
“village” professor must never take over the problem. By staying in the background, not only will
the chance increase that the problem will be solved, but even more important: The group will learn
to understand how to solve problems. Thus, they will acquire this new skill and will use it in new
The aim is to develop student teams that produce more than any member can do by him- or herself. This
creative and productive situation is referred to as ”flow”, and is characterised by that
• all put aside their own agenda
• all listen appropriately
• all allow to be influenced by others
• all contribute with their opinions
In Experts-in-Team the professor
has the role of facilitator
instead of lecturer
Preparing the teaching staff
The involved EiT-professors are invited to a four-day mandatory course on team facilitation (process
supervision) together with the student assistants before the commencement of Experts-in-Team. The
course is based on the principle that the attendees, by participating in a group process themselves, will
obtain more insight. The focal point is on learning to observe the dynamics in the group one supervises,
and on learning how to, directly or indirectly, intervene. The course is specifically designed for the
purpose, is still under development, and is based on experience obtained throughout the Experts-in-Team
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It is important that the professors and the student assistants attend the course together. The aim is to
establish them as a team, and prepare them for the facilitation work. The EiT-facilitation team should
through the course acquire a deeper insight in the group process by hands on experience. Based on this
understanding, one is to be trained in intervening in and influencing the teamwork in such a way that the
team members would consider the contribution as their own.
The student assistants are not supposed to give specific supervision, but rather reveal the inter-personal
processes, and make the students aware of its significance. Furthermore, for their support, a facilitation
method has been defined, and is to be run by the student assistants in all student teams during the
The courses in process supervision have also added to an extremely important development among the
attending professors: a mutual positive attitude regarding the basic concept of Experts-in-Team. As the
goal of the subject implied a radical change in attitude among the professors, and because new, previously
unconsidered, teaching skills are required, it has taken a relatively long time before all have become
confident with the subject. The objective is to create a strong motivation among students by positive
expectations about Experts-in-Team. A positive attitude amongst the professors is a prerequisite for this.
This could, namely, create a positive spiral through which students and teachers could experience that the
teaching method is working and that learning is achieved.
multidisciplinary project work
in which the team process
is to be a focal point
Managing an EiT-village
At the first day in the semester the “village” professors have the responsibility to invite their students to
the introduction day in the “village”. The aim of this day is to
• get acquainted to each other
• present the basic concept of Experts-in-Team
• present the “village” problem area
• discuss how to organise the “village”
• define a set of milestones
• divide students in teams
• initiate the team development process starting with a team contract
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Normally the EiT-professor and the student assistants are planning and running the introduction day. The
first days focus on getting acquainted allows the students to get to know each other and loosen up the
atmosphere. The fact that Experts-in-Team is mandatory and different from normal lectures makes many
students not so enthusiastic about the subject in advance. The intention of the first day is to make the
students more comfortable with the Experts-in-Team concept, and thus getting more relaxed. The students
should also draw up a team contract during the two first days in the “village” as part of the team
As the vast majority of the students had long-time experience working in groups, at first, they see the
strong focus on the team process in Experts-in-Team as something completely unnecessary. Thus, it is
essential that the role of the student assistants is clarified on the introduction day, and that the “village
professor” supports them in their work throughout the semester. By being aware of the team process, the
students should develop their attitudes and skills related to team work which is an important aim of the
Taking a presentation of the “village” problem area as a departure point, each student team must define its
own assignment and develop a plan of progress for the work at hand. The team assignment and the
progress plan have to be presented in plenum within the first four “village” days as the first milestone.
Quality control of the assignment is the responsibility of the “village professor”.
The aim of Experts-in-Team
is to develop student teams
that produce more than
any member can do by him- or herself
The students should on the second “village day” should take over the management of the “village”, and
the “villages” are to be organised and run by the students for the rest of the semester. But such a
changeover may be too abrupt for them, and one student team wrote at the end of the semester: “He (the
“village professor”) had decided to let the “village” take the important decisions itself, and let it steer
itself towards the final goal. This caused the first three “village” meetings to end in chaos and
uncertainty about what was to happen. – The “village” was in that period poorly organised as not one of
the students automatically took the leadership. At the same time, the discussion about what the “village”
was supposed to do, jumped back and forward."
Although the introduction is carefully planned according to the intentions of Experts-in-Team, still it
might be perceived as chaotic by the students. It then affects their motivation and engagement throughout
the project. Through four years of study, the students have become used to follow an extremely structured
outline, in which all is determined by the teaching staff. Therefore, they have tremendous difficulties
adjusting to the new situation. The same problem also emerged during dealing with the technical problem
area, when students have great difficulties getting in terms with something that is not in their field (i.e.,
something they were used to).
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To improve on this, one should implement a minimal structure indicating a few milestones, such that the
students have something to cling to. Working with problem areas also raises a fundamental issue in the
university education system. Professors usually are of the opinion that students cannot do something
meaningful before they have studied all subjects, whereas most subjects have a mono-disciplinary
approach. That is why the confusion among the students becomes big when large multidisciplinary
problems have to be analysed.
Many of the students have difficulties in understanding the role of the team process and thus the role
student assistants play in the teams. They want to divide the technical work at hand amongst themselves
so that they subsequently can work separately. This is the way they are used to operate, and thus, the
“village” days should be used to coordinate this procedure. A lot of attention should be paid in these
groups on the team process even though the student assistants may become frustrated when meeting such
low commitment related to the intention of Experts-in-Team.
The room chosen for the EiT-work has an important influence on the team work performance. A lecture
theatre is useless, and most flat floor lecture rooms have inconvenient furniture. A room for the 30
students in the “village” should offer flexibility such that the sitting easily can be organised both in circle
and in small groups. NTNU’s idea-laboratory is a specially designed process room. This room amounts to
about 90 square meters with parquet flooring and an extremely flexible furniture arrangement. With
intention this room is not designed for normal classroom teaching, and such a room is specially suited for
EiT-type team work.
Extending Experts-in-Team to include all master programs
As mentioned above Experts-in-Team was run for the first time in 2001, and included only fourth year
students within the engineering degree programme. The teaching strategy and the multidisciplinary focus
of Experts-in-Team represented important elements in both the teaching strategy of NTNU and the
government of Norway. In 2002 NTNU was awarded the Study quality prize from the government for the
large pedagogic development project that established Experts-in-Team as a multidisciplinary project
course across the border of four faculties. All this led to the decision by the university board to extend
Experts-in-Team to include all master programmes at NTNU. In the same way as the development of
Experts-in-Team within the engineering programme, the extension of Experts-in-Team to include the
whole university has been allowed to take several years.
In 2003 Experts-in-Team was made optional to students outside the engineering programme, and four
“villages” with professors from other parts of the university were established. The success of this first
experiment was moderate due to the fact that most of the students from outside the engineering degree
programme that registered had lectures on Wednesdays and thus dropped out when the semester started.
The lesson learned resulted in better lecture scheduling, as Experts-in-Team was made compulsory for all
master students within the Faculty of Arts in 2004. Experts-in-Team then increased to 39 “villages”
including about 1100 students of which 5 “villages” and about 150 students came from outside the
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The plans for the spring term of 2005 include 50 “villages” and 1300 students, and at this moment all
faculties at NTNU will participate with “villages” and students. Within the faculties of Medicine,
Architecture and Social science however, Experts-in-Team will not be made compulsory before 2006,
making the total number of students participating about 1600.
So far enough “village professors” and student assistants have shown up. Experts-in-Team have a
tendency of drawing attention among the professors from the faculties to be included, resulting in a large
portion of new teachers joining every year. The work as student assistants within Experts-in-Team is
completely different to the job within any other discipline course, thus a large number of qualified
candidates apply for it. Only about half of the group studies technology, and many student assistants are
recruited from the psychology department, which is regarded as extremely valuable. For the 2005 spring
semester the courses preparing 50 “village” professors and 100 student assistants are taking place, and
due to the large number of participants the course is divided in 5 parallel sessions.
Experts-in-Team is a new concept of teaching students at master level, represented by a multidisciplinary
project work in which the team both the project work and process is a focal point. Experts-in-Team is a
demanding mode of education with large pedagogic and organisational challenges, and the development
has been a large teamwork with a number of people attending. Among the professors Experts-in-Team
has contributed to a pedagogic discussion panel across the boarders of disciplines, that earlier was
completely none existing.
If Experts-in-Team is to contribute to a high quality study according to its intentions, all involved must
embrace its philosophy and continuously provide feedback on experiences, and revisions must be worked
out and implemented as a team work.
The development of Experts-in-Team has been a team work involving a number of people. The
contribution of each individual and a strong support from Rector has been the major success factor.
Throughout a two year pilot period and the two first years of Experts-in-Team the development was led
by Professor Christian Thaulow, assistant professor Margrete Fuglem and student Lillian Uthus.
Bjørn Sortland, “Experts-in-Team, Multidisciplinary project”, ICEE-2001, International Conference on
Engineering Education, Oslo, August 2001
Christian Thaulow, “Fasilitatoren – Eksperter i Team ved NTNU”, Tapir akademiske forlag 2003. (in
Letizia Jaccheri and Bjørn Sortland, “IT and art meet in a multi disciplinary University course”, ATEE
Association for Teacher Education in Europe, 29th Annual Conference, Agrigento Italy 23-27 October