By: Ike Shibley, PhD
Group work is one of those areas that some business and engineering faculty think is essential because that’s what those students will be doing in the workplace. I don’t want to undermine that view, but I do want to say that there is more to group work than just getting ready for the working world. We learn better when we share our ideas with others. When we have to articulate those ideas, have others bounce those ideas back to us, and try to justify claims or statements that we’re making, even in the hard sciences, there are many benefits that arise from working in a group.
If one student doesn’t understand something, another student may be able to help the struggling student look at a concept in a slightly different way. Hearing different ways of thinking about information, in each of our courses, is critically important. Group work can completely change the dynamic of your class. Without spending a lot of time on the theory, I do want to encourage you to try group work.
The teacher in a group class is no longer the central person. Students will still look to you for guidance and grades, but they will start to build up positive interdependence. In other words, they start to trust each other and they start to rely on each other to help learn the information. When their gaze focuses on classmates instead of you, it can be a little discouraging because the students seem to learn without your direct assistance. But what you’re doing is facilitating the effective functioning of groups. If you’re teaching groups, one of the best ways to know whether you’ve created a great assignment is to see what happens when the students get to work. If the volume level rises, you know that students are starting to learn from each other and you’ve done a great job.