This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on November 25, 2019. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
When students learn there will be group work in a course, they often let up a collective groan. Group work tends to leave a bad taste in students’ mouths due to their lack of understanding of group dynamics. If you plan to use group activities in your courses, applying a free personality assessment in advance can help students better understand who they and their classmates are and how to work well within a group.
Based on the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, this typology test measures a person’s personality along four dimensions. The typology produces results that are one of 16, four-letter codes that Myers and Briggs developed for the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. I always start with the Jung Typology Test because students usually are familiar with the idea of extroverts and introverts, if not the entire model. The report that this site gives students tells them what their code is and explains it. For an in-person class I cover each pairing (E/I, S/N, T/F, P/J), and we do a round of discussion for each one. For each round I have the students divide into two groups (E/I to start) based on their results and give each group a sheet of sticky-note flipchart for them to record their ideas about what it means to be their personality type and what others can expect from them when working together on projects. Next, they hang their ideas on the wall, and we discuss what each personality type’s characteristics mean for how we interact with each other and as a class, with each type’s group presenting its ideas. Lastly, I have students use the results to line up on a spectrum of most extroverted to most introverted, and then we talk about what the distribution of each dichotomy (e.g., extroverts vs introverts) means for us as a class and in groups. The discussion of all four pairings typically takes an hour—more if students have a lot to say.
Online students can discuss the pairings as well. I use the groups feature in my learning management system, and I let students self-enroll depending on their results and generate the same ideas during the first half of the week. Each group nominates someone to post the group’s ideas about the Jung results to the main class discussion board. We duplicate the “line up on the spectrum” activity by using a Google Sheet where students can enter their names to indicate their results on the spectrum. (I’m sure there are more sophisticated ways of doing this.) Using the discussion board to reflect on, compare, and contrast their results helps students not only understand themselves better but also get to know their classmates. To close discussion in both class formats, I ask students to reflect in our LMS journal tool about what they learned about themselves and their classmates and how this knowledge can help them work better in groups—whether in our class, in other classes, at work, or at home.
The DISC assessment, based on the research of psychologist William Moulton Marston, is one that few students have encountered before. It measures tendencies and categorizes students into one of four types: dominant, influential, steady, or conscientious. During class students divide into the four groups associated with their results and, as with the Jung results, discuss what their results mean for them and for working with others. We consider what it would mean if, for a group project, all the Ds were together, all the Is, and so on. Again students realize why a mix of personality types can lead to group success—or to conflict if group members don’t understand the personality types that surround them. In my online classes we again use the groups and self-enroll features for everyone to share their ideas at the start of the week before someone in each group volunteers to summarize the group’s thoughts on the main discussion board for the class later in the week. As with the Jung, I ask students to write a reflection paper to process their new insights into themselves and their classmates.
This activity can help students to develop empathy and emotional intelligence as well as see, via their results, their preferences about working with and in groups. One nice feature of this activity is that you can do it in class as a short, 20-minute discussion or extend it using directions provided. Like the debrief on the Jung Typology Test and the DISC, it gives students in a classroom setting a chance to get up and move a bit to choose a group that aligns with their primary instincts when given a task to complete; in a night or extended period class, then, it can be a good way to reenergize the room with more than just conversation. In an online environment we again use the groups for a self-enroll discussion of their preferred direction during the first half of the week, and then one person volunteers to bring the group’s ideas back to the main discussion board for a whole-class discussion during the second half of the week. We also end this activity with a written reflection.
I use these three assessments because they all tell students slightly different things about their personalities and have enough common ground that students can see their results have some consistency. It is true that taking the Jung and DISC tests in a heightened emotional state, either positive or negative, can skew the results, so I warn students about this when assigning them. I ask students not to take them when they are tired, frustrated, or hungry (or hangry) or when they’ve just had a really positive experience. I want them to simply be their levelheaded, ordinary selves. I’m also impressed that these activities have high completion and participation rates, for which I probably should thank BuzzFeed quizzes and educational gamification strategies.
Additionally, doing these activities creates the added benefit of my getting to know my students and their getting to know me and their classmates, and on a deeper level than we can in classes that don’t have such conversations. I ask them to share personal examples to demonstrate their results, and I do the same. They have fun guessing my results after they’ve discussed theirs. Because of this, the classes in which I use these tend to have a better overall learning environment than the ones in which I don’t use them.
If you have group projects in your courses, you can use the test results to sort students so they have a mixture of people in their groups. It’s okay if they are all extroverts or introverts, but having all Sensers or lntuiters, for example, or all Dominant or Steady group members can lead to tension and lack of progress. To help students see this, you can have small group activities or discussions in class where you assemble group in that way for them to experience that discord, recognize that their personality tendencies are the causes of that discord, and begin to understand how to work in spite of that discord.
Having students reflect on the Jung Typology Test, the DISC assessment, and the Compass Points Activity as a group can benefit their group projects. My students’ first “group” assignment is to share their results with each other and use those to distinguish the “big picture” people from the detail-oriented members, the “thinkers” from the “deciders,” so they can assign roles. We already covered these details as we broke down each assessment, so it’s good recall and application practice for students too.
Students report that learning more about themselves helps them work better with others, just as learning about how others differ from them helps them appreciate how varying personalities can help each group member and the group as a whole build on their strengths and improve their weaknesses. I have found that both undergraduate and graduate student groups seem to settle faster and work better together when I’ve used these assessments than when I haven’t. Try them in your classes as well!
Wren Mills, PhD, is a pedagogical assistant professor in the department of Educational Administration, Leadership, and Research at Western Kentucky University.