HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
group learning activities
Students who don’t carry their weight in a group continue to be a big concern for faculty who use groups and for students who participate in them. Most often faculty and students assume that these students are lazy and happy that they’ve landed in the group with others willing to do the work. And sometimes that’s the case. Some students are lazy. But research documents that this isn’t true of all students who aren’t participating in groups. Here are a few highlights from a study that considered how social-comparison concerns might prevent participation and approaches that help alleviate those concerns.
Many college courses today incorporate some form of group assignment, such as a project, presentation, or a collaborative paper or report. However, instructors are frequently met with resistance from students who don’t like working in groups and don’t want their grade to be affected by peers who may not pull their weight. Nonetheless, research shows that there are many benefits to group work, in terms of both active learning and expanding teamwork skills. Other benefits include better communication skills, critical-thinking abilities, time management, problem-solving skills, cooperation, and reinforcement of knowledge (Forrest & Miller, 2003; Hammar Chiriac, 2014; Kilgo, Ezell, & Pascarella, 2015). Furthermore, since the use of work groups and teams in the workplace has increased, it is important for students to have prior experience in group work. Certainly, a collaborative attitude and the ability to work with others are important at most places of employment.
Peer assessment in groups has been shown to effectively address a number of group process issues, but only if the peer assessment has a formative component. Many studies have shown that if peer assessment is used at the end of a group project, group members will punish their dysfunctional members—those who didn’t do work, didn’t turn work in on time, didn’t come to meetings, and didn’t do quality work—but they won’t confront those group members when they commit those dysfunctional behaviors. After-the-fact peer assessment gives the teacher input on who did and didn’t contribute in the group, but it doesn’t change what happened in that group or help students learn how to confront group member problems when they emerge.
Cooperative learning structures such as jigsaw and think-pair-share are widely used in college classrooms. The two most basic tenets of cooperative learning involve positive interdependence and individual accountability. “Positive interdependence means that group members perceive that the collective effort of the group is essential in order for the individual learners to achieve their goals.” (p. 176) And individual accountability establishes that students are assessed individually on their achievement of the learning goals.
Many faculty now have students work in teams to complete course-long projects that are designed to accomplish multiple course objectives and that count for a significant part of the course grade. These groups do not always function well, which concerns faculty. If experiences in groups do not develop good teamwork skills, then maybe it’s better not to use groups and have students do assignments individually. Frequently that’s what they prefer anyway.
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 am unabashedly proud of my pedagogical article resource file. I’ve been collecting good articles on teaching and learning since the early ’80s. I use the file almost every day, and in the process of looking for a particular article, I regularly stumble onto others whose contents I remember when I see them but have otherwise forgotten.
There are many reasons why students don’t like group work, and in the online classroom the list of reasons grows even longer as the asynchronous nature of online courses not only makes collaboration more difficult but almost counterintuitive.
Utter the words “group project” and you’re likely to hear at least a few groans from your students. The reasons for their dislike of group work are many, but logistical difficulties of getting everyone together and lazy group members who don’t pull their own weight are two of the biggest complaints.