May 11th, 2010

How Much Group Work?


So, this is a bit embarrassing. In the previous blog I noted that faculty endorsement of group work was tentative. It may be, but I’ve also been assuming that as a consequence, use of it in college courses is not as widespread as it might need to be. Well, shortly (as in a couple of hours) after posting that entry I ran across the some evidence that challenges my assumption.

Two hundred and eight students in an upper-division interdisciplinary arts and sciences program were surveyed about their experiences in groups, including how often group work had been included in their courses. Here are some highlights of what they reported.

· 96 percent had participated in an in-class group.

· 70 percent had participated in an on-line group.

· 82 percent had participated in an out-of-class group.

· 78 percent had participated in a group that worked together for two to four weeks.

· 76 percent had participated in a group that worked together for the entire course.

· 97 percent had been a group where the group activity was graded.

That’s more group work than I expected. In fact, it’s a lot of group work. Now, this is one student cohort at one institution so it may not be representative of the larger population, but these students were taking course work across a range of disciplines.

The students also responded to questions about their experiences in groups with about a third saying that overall their experiences in groups were mostly negative or mixed, another third reporting more positive than negative experiences and another third reporting mostly positive experiences in the group work associated with this particular degree program. In the sample, 55 percent agreed with the statement, “Working in small groups enhances my learning.” I’d say these results indicate that we still have more work to do on the design of group experiences so that even more of the experiences are positive and so students start to see the value of learning from and with each other.

Reference: Hillyard, C., Gillespie. D., and Littig, P. University student’s attitudes about learning in small groups after frequent participation. Active Learning in Higher Education, 2010, 11 (1), 9-20.