Purdue’s award-winning CATME team management tool surpasses 2 million student participants

Author: Jeanine Shannon
Millions of university students have had better classroom teamwork experiences and are better prepared to function effectively in workplace teams thanks to CATME, a Purdue ENE-run system that helps instructors worldwide implement best practices in managing student teams.

Millions of university students have had better classroom teamwork experiences and are better prepared to function effectively in workplace teams thanks to a Purdue University School of Engineering Education (ENE)-run system that helps instructors worldwide implement best practices in managing student teams. 

Created in 2003 with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness (CATME) is a nonprofit, web-based system and to which participating universities pay $3 per student for their instructors to assign students to more productive and better functioning teams as well as train them to work more effectively within teams. CATME’s vision is that “no student will have an unmanaged team experience.” Since its public launch in 2005, CATME has served 2,693 universities and colleges in 93 countries, 25,888 instructors, and 2,085,990 students. 

CATME creator Matthew Ohland, Ph.D., the Dale and Suzi Gallagher Professor of Engineering Education and Purdue ENE’s Associate Head of Operations, brought CATME from Clemson University to Purdue in 2006. Ohland remembers what it was like 20 years ago as a young instructor trying to create and manage student teams. “I would lay hundreds of student schedules and profiles out on my dining room table and attempt to create the kind of four-person teams that experts and research tell us will have the best chance of success,” Ohland said. “That was difficult enough to do for large classrooms, but managing those teams and making sure they stayed on track was even more difficult. CATME changed all that.”

Criterion-based team formation is accompanied by team health reports, which Ohland said allows instructors to find out early which of their teams are struggling and to provide that instructor with detailed feedback needed to fix the problem. “One instance I recount frequently is the time CATME revealed that a team report of a student ‘slacker’ was due more to the team’s last-minute, online meetings at 1 a.m. than to deliberate non-participation by the targeted student.”

In addition to “reducing the possibility of isolating team members and preventing the likelihood of different negative things happening within a team,” Ohland credits the system with helping students recognize and address behaviors in themselves and others that are a barrier to their success. CATME’s suite of tools also includes teamwork behavior training; meeting support; self and peer evaluations and team satisfaction questionnaires; and even a game-based simulation tool for students to practice rating their peers.

Throughout CATME’s evolution, instructors and students have had the opportunity to provide feedback to make the system better. Their suggestions have resulted in a comprehensive team-by-team dashboard along with the ability for students to choose whether their instructor sees certain information, including their identifying information (race and gender) and whether teammates will see each other’s comments.

Not only has CATME been an effective team-management tool for university instructors in engineering, business, health sciences and other disciplines, it’s also served as an important pedagogical tool, producing a trove of data over the past 18 years for researchers to better understand team member effectiveness, behavioral anchors, marginalization within teams, and how to assess teamwork skills for assurance of learning. More than two-thirds of the data within CATME has been released by account owners (in de-identified form) to be used for research purposes.

Throughout CATME’s evolution, the NSF awarded grants to various research teams led by Ohland to design and publish the instrument; test, enhance, and promote the system; study student learning; establish system norms, identify demographic differences in ratings, and develop a measure of engagement in the team context; and identify patterns of marginalization in ratings and comments. Additional CATME-affiliated researchers include Alice Pawley of Purdue University (also from Purdue ENE); Lisa Bullard and Rich Felder of North Carolina State University; Cindy Finelli of the University of Michigan; Richard Layton of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Eduardo Salas of Rice University; Doug Schmucker of University of Utah; and Dave Woehr of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 

CATME and/or its creator has garnered numerous awards including the Chester F. Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education; the Maryellen Weimer Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award; IEEE’s Major Educational Innovation award; and the Premier Award for Engineering Education Courseware.