“I’d really rather work alone. . .”
Most of us have heard that from a student (or several students) when we assign a group project, particularly one that’s worth a decent amount of the course grade. It doesn’t matter that the project is large, complex, and way more than we’d expect an individual student to complete. That doesn’t deter these bright, capable students who are confident of their abilities and really don’t want to work with others much less depend on them for their grade.
Research on the effectiveness of Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) continues to accumulate. In part, the findings are impressive because the method is highly prescribed, which means it’s being used similarly at a variety of institutions, with different student cohorts and in a range of fields, although most of the research on the method has been done in chemistry.
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.
Like many matters regarding teaching and learning, there isn’t one best way to put students into groups. The best way is related to what you want students to learn from their group experience. Here’s a brief discussion of how that works for three common ways of forming groups.
Group work and teamwork. In college courses the terms refer to students working together, often on an assignment or an activity. Group work is the more neutral term, whereas teamwork implies something about how the students are working together. And although teamwork is easy to identify when we see it on a playing field or court, what does teamwork look like in a college classroom?
Although letting students work together on exam questions is still not a common instructional practice, it has been used more than might be expected and in a variety of ways. Sometimes students work together in groups; other times with a partner. Sometimes those groups are assembled by the instructor and sometimes students are allowed to select their partners or group members. Sometimes the groups share multiple exam experiences; other times they work collaboratively only once. Sometimes the group submits one exam with everyone in the group receiving that grade; other times students may talk about exam questions and answers but submit exams individually.
Last week, a student named Mary visited me during my office hours and presented me with an interesting dilemma. In one of her classes, a professor had distributed a study guide with a series of questions to help the students prepare for an upcoming exam. Mary, being the millennial student that she is, decided to upload the study guide into Google Docs and invite the rest of the class to contribute to the document. Students answered the study guide questions from each of their individual notes and then refined the answers from their peers.
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.
Glenda Hernandez Baca, professor/coordinator of teacher education at Montgomery College, Takoma Park Campus, encourages the use of collaborative learning throughout online courses. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following ideas for facilitating collaborative learning in group projects and in threaded discussions:
When you first start teaching online, there’s the temptation to put on your Superman cape and try be ultra responsive and ever-present. So intent on ensuring that each and every student has a successful learning experience in your class, you answer student emails at any hour of the day or night, respond to every discussion board post, and design elaborate assignments that take advantage of all the latest technology tools available.