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Group Work

Many students hate group work.... and they often have valid reasons.  Invariably some students do all the work and others just mooch on the hard workers.  The good students don't want to carry the slackers, and they definitely don't want the slackers to bring their grade down.  

A reality of life is that people have to work together out in the real world.  In most jobs, people have to communicate and work with other people... why should the classroom be any different?  ....think of it as a life lesson.  Daily we all have to work with, and get along with, people who's values are different from our own --- we are diverse.  Although trying at times, ironically, diversity of thought is great fodder for great solutions!  If we all think the same, wouldn't the world be a boring, unproductive place!

Furthermore, group work facilitates  THE major learning outcome for most courses: improved communication skills; when working in groups, students have to communicate!  Some students hate the communication aspect of their learning experience: they have grown up in a uni-directional education system where they sit and passively listen.  Some student excel in this methodology see Going Solo --- but many do not!

FAIR GRADING: As an instructor, I try and put mechanisms in place to encourage analysis of real-world scenarios and communication and fairness when grading group work.  These mechanisms take the form of worksheets, clear instructions and opportunities for 360 degree peer review both by the audience and their peers in the group .  Peer feedback is part of overall student grade:  for example in one of my classes, participation is calculated thus:

Peer Review of Facilitation Seminar using facilitation rubric (10%)

Quality and content of your Handout and facilitation notes (and presentation, if used) using the Reading Notes rubric (10%)

Thoughtful Active Participation in-class (10%) (using both verbal and written feedback)

Group Size:  Research by Hackman and Vidmar (1970) experimented with groups that ranged in size from 2-7 members to assess the impact of size on group process and performance for various kinds of tasks. After the groups had finished their work, they asked participants independently to indicate the extent of their agreement with the following two questions: Question #1- This group was too small for best results on the task it was trying to do. Question #2- This group was too large for best results on the task it was trying to do. The chart below indicates the average answers to these two questions on the same graph. Not surprisingly, few people in the dyad thought it was too large and few in the 7-person group thought it was too small. What is noteworthy is where the two lines crossed; they discovered that the optimum group size was 4.6 members.

Group Dynamics: When groups of students are formed (no more than 4-6 students per group) remember that time is required until they reach optimum performance: it might help to remember the forming, storming, and norming concept.  Thus early in the semester, you may want to include some ice-breaking exercises to build team trust and strength.  Also as the facilitator, you should watch for personalities that quash or control

Group Exercises
Problem solving 
Four quadrants
Speed Dating
Worksheets with Purpose  (Page in Progress)