group work activities
The January 15 post on group testing generated a nice collection of comments, more interesting alternatives, and requests for references.
I’ve been doing some reading on group test-taking (often called cooperative or collaborative testing in the literature). I am stunned by the number of studies and the many ways the strategy has been used. I’m not going to summarize the research in this post, but rather offer a collection of options. Most of these ideas appear in more than one article so I’m not citing references.
There’s lots of research documenting the positive effects of group experiences on learning outcomes. Less is known about the specific aspects of group experiences that contribute to their overall positive impact. Thomas Tomcho and Rob Foels decided to explore this question by looking at the research on group learning in the field of psychology, as reported in the journal Teaching of Psychology.
A legal historian by training, I have taught many general education courses that draw students from across majors and disciplines. It is not uncommon for the 21st century college student to become somewhat disengaged with the works of Plato or Kant, and this is especially the case when these readings are complex and/or students are outside their topical comfort zones. As a result, in-class discussion suffers, momentum and dialogue are hindered, and students may feel alienated from the course. This is exacerbated by varying levels of engagement with out-of-class readings, producing uneven student learning outcomes.
Students don’t always like working in groups. Ann Taylor, an associate professor of chemistry at Wabash College, had a class that was particularly vocal in their opposition. She asked for their top 10 reasons why students don’t want to work in groups and they offered this list (which I’ve edited slightly).
I recently revisited something I have always considered a great resource. It originally appeared in a 1992 issue of The Teaching Professor and was published then as a Study Group Member’s Bill of Rights. It outlined what individuals had the right to expect when they participated in study groups. Students not only have rights, they also have responsibilities. Those rights and responsibilities are relevant in any group activity used to accomplish educational goals. The version below attempts to capture those larger expectations and duties.
Looking for a way to get your students to collaborate and think critically? Consider group quizzes, a technique that Ida Jones uses in her business law courses at California State University, Fresno.
If the course involves a graded group project, should instructors let students form their own groups or should the instructor create the groups? This decision is not always easy or obvious. Some students lobby hard to form their own groups, arguing that knowing each other ensures that they will be able to work together productively. On the other hand, in the world of work, most of the time employees do not get to pick their collaborators. There’s a task, and those with knowledge and relevant skills are formed into a group and assigned to complete the project, solve the problem, or develop the product.
One of the common objections to group work is that bright, capable students are held back when they share group activities and grades with students of lesser ability. This is of concern to teachers and students. Often very good students strongly oppose group work. They worry that an ineffective group with weak or nonproductive members will compromise their grades. Many openly express the belief that they can do the activity, project, paper, or presentation better on their own and would prefer doing it that way.
I dread the moments when I look out into a classroom and see a collection of blank stares or thumbs clicking on tiny keypads: a pool of disengaged students, despite what I thought was a student-centered activity. Recently, I have been considering how teachers (me specifically) undermine our own efforts to engage students.