5 ideas to change the refrain of “I hate group work” to “what great group experiences!”

Many of us have heard student feedback about the utter disdain for group work. However, we know from the teaching and learning literature that groups, indeed diverse groups, contribute more innovative ideas than individuals working alone. So why is group work so disparaged?

  • A part of it may be the design of the group work. Without careful planning and facilitation, group work can frustrate students and instructors and feel like a waste of time. Use these suggestions to change the refrain of “I hate group work” to “what great group experiences!”:
  • Share your rationale for using group work. Don’t assume that students know what the purpose is. Explicitly connect these activities to larger class themes, and learning outcomes whenever possible.
  • Group roles. Ask students to determine before a group project the roles that each student will play. The group members working individually and then collaboratively can create job descriptions that explain what they are doing to contribute to the group. If roles are clearly defined, this will allow for greater accountability, as well as appealing to students’ desire for real-world applications of learning. Download the Sample Group Work Project Checklist (docx).
  • Community building. Devote a segment during class for groups to interact, define group norms, and explore potential challenges. Encourage this process through guided questions such as, “I would describe my communication style as…” “A successful project would be…” or “Common pitfalls for our timeline and planning, includes…” Request students to share their group norms and roles with you.
  • Checkpoints. Separate projects into multiple “checkpoints” to present opportunities for individual learning and reflection before having students submit in their final project(s). Start the term with a low stakes project to motivate students’ engagement in group work and encourage their progress. By pooling their resources and dealing with differences of opinion that arise, groups of students can develop a more sophisticated product than they could as individuals. This is in line with making projects sufficiently complex so that students must draw on each other’s knowledge and skills.
  • Provide individualized accountability. Dr. Rebecca Cademartiri (Materials Science and Engineering) shares a Canvas Peer Review workaround to ensure students provide quality feedback to each other. To begin, set up two assignments in Canvas. The first assignment is worth zero points, requires the Peer Review option selected (see peer review assignment web guide), and assigns peer reviewers automatically (view automatically assign peers web guide). The second, no-submission assignment serves to grade peer reviewers. After scanning the reviewers’ feedback on the first assignment (view student peer review comments web guide), utilize the second assignment to enter the grades for all peer reviewers. This approach will help students discover how to give valuable feedback, and reading each other’s writing will vastly improve their work before you even grade it. To see a demonstration of this, view Cademartiri’s presentation via the CELT Online Learning Community meeting video (start at 1:12:00).

We hope you consider these suggestions to help implement group work successfully in your course.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

References:

  • Brame, C.J. and Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Retrieved October 7, 2019 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/setting-up-and-facilitating-group-work-using-cooperative-learning-groups-effectively/.
  • Huang, L. (2018, September 20). Students riding on coattails during group work? Five simple ideas to try. Retrieved October 14, 2019 from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/students-riding-coattails-group-work-five-simple-ideas-try/
  • Weimer, M. (2013, April 5). What group dynamics can teach us about classroom learning. Retrieved August 27, 2019 from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/what-group-dynamics-can-teach-us-about-classroom-learning/

Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Midterms: A valuable time for formative assessments (October 17, 2019 – Constant Contact) website.

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