Collaboration and Group Work
Group work and collaborative working environments are often promoted as tools that enhance learning for students. Working with others in small groups gives students a better forum to share their experiences and perspectives, to gain feedback, and to respond to others directly than they would have in a large classroom environment. It also can give students the chance to practice working with others and managing projects jointly amongst a group. Chickering and Gamson (1) suggest that, “Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated.” Learning to successfully collaborate with others is a skill that will help students succeed in the real-life work environment.
Despite the benefits, integrating group work into your curriculum can sometimes be a challenge. Determining which topics will lend themselves to successful collaborative activity can be difficult; instructors and students alike often have concerns regarding the assessment of group projects and the fair division of labor when working in groups; organizing or setting up groups so that they have a better chance at successfully working together can be a challenge considering the range of personalities in a classroom. There are many techniques for managing these challenges, and online technologies offer many options that can assist you.
Facilitating Group Work
As the instructor, it is important that you give your students the direction needed to successfully work in groups. Many instructors assume that students are already familiar with the concept, but in many cases students don’t have experience with group work. Providing guidance or instruction on how to work successfully in a group environment can help students learn more effectively (2).
It’s also important to have times when you are available to assist students with issues that arise as they’re working within their group. This could be achieved by setting aside class time to allow students to work together or by designating specific office hours toward help with group work activities.
Creating Group Assignments
Many faculties find it challenging to alter their curriculum to include group activities while still covering an adequate depth of material. One method for achieving this is to make sure the work that is assigned to groups clearly relates to course objectives and integrates with the material that you are already covering in class. This gives students the opportunity to work more closely and in-depth with the concepts that are being presented to them in the regular class setting. Research also finds that students find more value in group work when they can see how it relates to the course objectives. It is also important to give students some freedom regarding the project they are working on. By allowing students the ability to create their own topic or their own strategy for working within the group, students not only end up more satisfied, but they also gain experience similar to what it is like to collaborate with others in a real-life setting.
Careful consideration when organizing groups can help make group work more successful in your course. Group work is often used as a way to make larger classes more intimate and to give a greater number of students the opportunity to participate, communicate with each other, and to share their ideas and perspectives. Keeping group sizes smaller, with less than 5 students per group, will allow for more interaction among students and allow all students to have the opportunity to contribute during group meetings.
(1) Chickering, A. W, and Gamson, Z. F (1991), Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 47. San Francisco: JosseyBass.
(2) engage - transforming teaching and learning through technology. (2007-2010) Retrieved May 22, 2010 from http://engage.wisc.edu/collaboration/