group work strategies September 20, 2018

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


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, 2018

A More Strategic Approach to Arranging Students into Groups


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, 2018

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


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.

social loafing in group project October 6, 2017

Tips for Addressing Social Loafing in Group Projects


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


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


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 a group November 19, 2015

How to Improve Group Work: Perspectives from Students


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.

By: Claire Howell Major, PhD Add Comment Enter the term “group work” into a Google search, and you’ll find yourself bombarded with dozens of hits clustered around definitions of group work, benefits of group work, and educational theories underpinning group work. If you dig a little deeper into the search results, however, you’ll find that not all of the pages displayed under the moniker of “group work” describe the same thing. Instead, dozens of varieties of group learning appear. They all share the common feature of having students work together, but they have different philosophies, features, and approaches to the group task. Does it matter what we call it? Maryellen Weimer asked this important question in her 2014 Teaching Professor article of the same title, with the implicit idea that one approach might be better suited for a given task than another. She believes that the answer to the question is yes. And she’s right. As the adage goes, it is important to choose the right tool for the job at hand. A hammer is not the best tool for drilling a hole, and a drill is not the best tool for driving a nail. Both are good tools, when used for the appropriate job. While there are several different forms of group work, there are a few that are more often used than others and have a body of research that supports their effectiveness. So it is with group work. If you don’t choose the best possible approach, then you will be less likely to accomplish the goals and objectives of the assignment. While there are several different forms of group work, there are a few that are more often used than others and have a body of research that supports their effectiveness. Three of these are cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and reciprocal peer teaching. Cooperative learning: In this form of group learning, students work together in a small group so that everyone participates on a collective task that has been clearly assigned (Cohen, 1994, p. 3). A classic example of this approach is Think-Pair-Share (Barkley et al, 2014), in which the teacher assigns a question and then students think for a minute independently, form a pair to discuss their answers, and share their answers with a larger group. The goal is that all students achieve similar outcomes. Each student considers the same teacher-assigned question, and they all work on performing the same tasks: thinking, pairing, and sharing. Collaborative learning: In this form of group learning, students and faculty work together to create knowledge. The process should enrich and enlarge them (Matthews, 1996, p. 101). An example of this form of group work is a collaborative paper (Barkley et al, 2014). In a collaborative group, students work together to create a product that is greater than any individual might achieve alone. They do not all necessarily do the same task, however, but rather may divide the work among themselves according to their interests and skills. The goal is not for the same learning to occur, but rather that meaningful learning occurs. Reciprocal peer teaching: In this form of group learning, one student teaches others, who then reciprocate in kind (Major et al, 2015). Arguably, this approach is a variation of either cooperative learning or collaborative learning, depending on the task. An example that leans more toward cooperative learning is the jigsaw, in which base groups study together to become experts (Barkley et al, 2014). The base groups then split, and new groups are formed with a member of each base group serving as an expert in a particular area. An example that leans more toward collaborative learning is microteaching, in which individual students take turns teaching the full class (Major et al, 2015). These three approaches are all tried-and-true group-learning varieties. They all have been shown to benefit students on a number of outcomes, from the acquisition of content knowledge to the development of higher-order thinking skills (Davidson & Major, 2015). How is it possible, then, to choose the right pedagogical tool for the learning task? Pedagogical considerations: In choosing any approach to group learning, it is essential to start with the learning goal. What should students be able to do after the completion of the activity? If the goal is for them all to gain the same information, cooperative learning may be the best approach. If the goal is for them to create new knowledge, then collaborative learning may be the best approach. If it is to share knowledge, reciprocal peer teaching may be a good approach. Learner considerations: When making any pedagogical consideration, it is essential to consider the students. Their level of expertise is important, for example, and if they are new to a subject and need foundational knowledge, then cooperative learning may be the best approach. If they are advanced students, then collaborative learning or reciprocal peer teaching may be more engaging for them. Contextual considerations: While contextual considerations are not always the most glamorous, they certainly play a part in our ability to carry out group work. For example, if the class is a large one, a short collaborative activity such as a Think-Pair-Share may simply be more manageable than a long-term collaborative activity; likewise, reciprocal microteaching may be a great approach in an online class but would not be as feasible in a large lecture scenario. A collaborative paper might be a great way to introduce graduate seminar students who work as research assistants at a flagship university to the process of co-authoring, but the same approach might not work as well for first-year students at a community college. The intent here is not to prescribe a specific approach based on a checklist of considerations. Rather, it is to say that, as teachers, we need to know what the instructional options are and to take into account the goals, the learners, and the learning context when making pedagogical decisions. Ultimately, we are in the best place to know what will work best in our unique situations, and it is thus our responsibility to choose well when deciding to use group work in the college classroom. References: Barkley, E.F., Major, C.H., & Cross, K.P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions for productive small groups. Review of Educational Research, 64(1), 1-35. Matthews, R.S. (1996), Collaborative Learning: creating knowledge with students, in Menges, M., Weimer, M. and Associates. Teaching on solid ground, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Major, C.H., Harris, M.S., and Zakrajsek. (2015). 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to put students on the path to success. London, Routledge. Weimer, M. (2014). Does it matter what we call it. The Teaching Professor, 28(3), 4. Claire Howell Major is a professor of higher education at the University of Alabama. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaireHMajor. Add Comment Posted in Effective Teaching Strategies Tagged with assignment strategies, collaborative learning, cooperative learning, group work, group work strategies Edit Login Follow the discussion Comments There are no comments posted yet. Be the first one! Post a new comment Enter text right here! Comment as a Guest, or login: Login to IntenseDebate Login to Login to Twitter Name Email Displayed next to your comments. Not displayed publicly. Submit Comment Subscribe to Sign up for our FREE Newsletter! You have our promise not to sell or share your email address — ever! State authorization TOPICS: Academic Leadership Asynchronous Learning and Trends Blended and Flipped Learning Curriculum Development Distance Learning Administration EdTech News and Trends Educational Assessment Effective Classroom Management Effective Teaching Strategies Faculty Development Faculty Evaluation Instructional Design Learning Styles Online Education Philosophy of Teaching Teaching and Learning Teaching Careers Teaching Professor Blog Teaching with Technology Online Classroom newsletter You might also like:
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Choosing the Best Approach for Small Group Work


Enter the term “group work” into a Google search, and you’ll find yourself bombarded with dozens of hits clustered around definitions of group work, benefits of group work, and educational theories underpinning group work. If you dig a little deeper into the search results, however, you’ll find that not all of the pages displayed under the moniker of “group work” describe the same thing. Instead, dozens of varieties of group learning appear. They all share the common feature of having students work together, but they have different philosophies, features, and approaches to the group task.

Male student on laptop April 20, 2015

Five Steps to Improving Online Group Work Assignments


Online Group Projects – Yikes! You can hear the moans and groans of students echoing through your computer monitors as you start the first week of your online course. The reasons for requiring a group project vary from one discipline to another, but there are educational and career motives for requiring group projects. Students will have an opportunity to develop team skills, improve communication skills, and leverage their own personal interests and experiences to contribute to a group project.