group work strategies September 20

Students Riding on Coattails during Group Work? Five Simple Ideas to Try

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The idea for sharing this post came from a session I recently conducted at the annual teaching conference organized by my university. A pedagogical conundrum was raised by a colleague whose enthusiasm and question stayed with me and inspired me to write this post. The question posed by this colleague is relevant to all instructors who have ever used group work to assess their students: How should one deal with the issues that arise when members of a group are not picking up their share of the responsibilities during a group work project?


arranging students into groups June 20

A More Strategic Approach to Arranging Students into Groups

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What’s the best way to put students into groups? It’s the first task that confronts teachers who want students to work together. And the best reply is one of those “it depends” answers. Here are the questions on which it depends.

Should teachers let students form the groups? Students often prefer this approach. They tend to pick people they know, classmates who are friends, those in the same major, and those who share the same race. It’s more comfortable working with people who are known and similar. When groups are composed of friends, they sometimes struggle with the transition to a more professional relationship. They’re used to socializing, but now there are tasks to complete and that means functioning in different roles. If the group work is a project that requires extended collaboration and will benefit from a variety of opinions and perspectives, letting students form the groups may not be the best approach. On the other hand, for short, ad-hoc group work and for students who may be shy and not used to working with peers, knowing others in the group makes the experience less intimidating.



Collaborative learning assignments February 5

Group vs. Collaborative Learning: Knowing the Difference Makes a Difference

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Five years ago, I transitioned from a totally lecture-based classroom to a more student-centered, engaging one. Initially, I found that when students were placed in groups, they didn’t necessarily work together. What I discovered was that the activities needed to be structured collaboratively to promote learning.


group work activity January 2

Strategies for Designing More Effective Group Work Assignments

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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.

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group work project December 11, 2017

Group Work: Peer and Self-Assessment Form

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Overall, how effectively did your group work together in learning the course subject matter? (circle the appropriate response)

not at all            poorly              adequately                  well                  extremely well

1                             2                        3                                  4                                  5

 

How many of the group members participated actively most of the time?
(circle the appropriate number)

not at all            poorly              adequately                  well                  extremely well

1                             2                        3                                  4                                  5

 

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social loafing in group project October 6, 2017

Tips for Addressing Social Loafing in Group Projects

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Group work is a valuable learning device that teaches teamwork skills which students will use no matter what profession they enter. It is perhaps even more valuable in online classes, as more and more organizations are using distributed employees who need to coordinate their work from a distance.

But group work also brings with it the danger of social loafing, those one or two students who do not contribute their fair share to the project. Not only does it undermine the quality of the project, but it creates frustration among other group members who see it as unfair to have team members not pull their own weight. This can have a dampening effect on the motivation and thus performance of other members of the group.


College students working together in class. May 1, 2017

Four Types of Group Work Activities to Engage Students

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Collaboration helps to develop many of the key skills that will be required of students for their future success. Students can develop many of these so-called “soft skills,” or Essential Employability Skills, by engaging in group work and other forms of collaboration (Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development 2005). Collaboration leads to greater retention, improved student achievement, and increased self-esteem and metacognition, and it can be used to facilitate active learning and to promote inclusion by increasing contact among diverse groups (Bossert 1988; Bowman, Frame, and Kennette 2013; Hennessey 1999; Kennette and Frank 2010; Kramarski and Mevarech 2003; Rajaram and Pereira-Pasarin 2007; U.S. Department of Education 1992). Despite the many benefits of group work, instructors are sometimes hesitant to use it due to some of its well-known pitfalls (social loafing, disputes, individualized grading, student bemoaning, etc.).


group work in library February 10, 2017

When Others in the Group Seem Smarter Than You

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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.


students in exam review session December 1, 2016

Understanding Different Types of Group Learning

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Small group learning is learning expressly designed for and carried out in pairs or a small, interactive group. Why should we use small group learning in the college setting? Small group learning provides a practical rationale. Most of us have seen the surveys of employers who are looking for a specific set of skills in their new employees, among these are teamwork, emotional intelligence, global citizenship, communication, and leadership. These are the kind of skills that small group learning can give students practice with and help them develop in.

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