Helping students see the value of group work

 ’People must see the point of thinking if they are to engage in it.’  

Kuhn 1999

When students understand the reason behind a task, their motivation to participate is likely to increase. Students are always told that group work is a necessary thing to be involved in as it is something that they will have to do when they leave university, however, if students have had negative experiences previously when being in a group, as many students have, such a rationale wears very thin. It is therefore essential that you make a more concerted effort to explain to students the benefits of group work in relation to learning, that you acknowledge their previous challenges in the context, but also that you elaborate on the specific purpose of using a group to complete the present assessment.

How it improves learning

To begin, expand the existing rationale students are familiar with. Develop students’ metacognition of groupwork by discussing it in relation to learning, and explaining how, if done well, it leads to stronger learning.

  • When working in a group, the interaction with and evaluation of others’ ideas serves to help confirm or refine (assimilate) what is understood, change or alter comprehension (accommodate), or lead to the rejection of those ideas (cognitive dissonance). These are all outcomes that strengthen the capacity of the knowledge being able to be accessed at a later time.
  • Group members retain knowledge longer than individuals (McInnis & Devlin, 2002).
  • It also can help remove the ‘curse of knowledge’ as peers who have just learnt something can often help explain ideas and concepts in a more relatable manner to those who haven’t understood yet. 
  • Advanced group skills strengthen the ability to define the challenges in a task, distribute workload and maintain progress in a project management style.

Acknowledging previous challenges and poor experiences in group work

Next, discuss with students their previous experiences, and acknowledge the barriers and challenges they most likely have experienced. Take students through strategies that will ameliorate the situation this time: how to ensure workload is evenly distributed; how to resolve groupwork conflicts; how best to form groups; how to establish and maintain group norms and expectations. 

By acknowledging these previous difficulties and perceptions and explaining how they can be resolved so the pedagogical power of group work can be realised, you are providing the student with confidence that this time the group work outcome may be more positive.    

The specific purpose of using groups to complete the assessment

For tasks to be perceived as authentic and valuable learning opportunities, students need a clear sense that they are serving the stated learning goals and disciplinary thinking goals considered above

Roberson & Franchini 2014

This may involve highlighting how certain aspects of the task are better served by having several minds involved, or how the task is comprised of several individual unique elements that make up the whole. Or it could be that you are deliberately wanting students to strengthen their collaborative abilities, or practise how to define and weight various aspects of a challenge before carrying out those tasks. Conversely, if it becomes apparent to students that there isn’t really a reason why it’s a group task instead of an individual one, then they are more likely to become demotivated. As Kuhn states in the intro to this page, if students see why the task is specifically a group one, then they are more likely to engage with it more meaningfully.

References

Kuhn, D. (1999). A Developmental Model of Critical Thinking. Educational Researcher, 28(2), 16–46. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X028002016

McInnis, J., Devlin, M. (2002). Assessing learning in Australian Universities: Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment. Australian Universities Teaching Committee, Centre for the Study of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

Roberson, B., & Franchini, B. (2014). Effective task design for the TBL classroom. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 275-302.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger or on LinkedIn

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