All Things Group Work

Group work as a pedagogy has a host of benefits.

From a cognitive perspective, the interaction with and evaluation of others’ ideas can help confirm or refine (assimilate) what is understood, change or alter comprehension (accommodate), or lead to the rejection of those ideas (cognitive dissonance). All of these outcomes lead to the strengthening of the capacity of the brain to be able to access knowledge at a later time. Group work also affords a level of social constructivism, assisting in removing any possible ‘curse of knowledge’ unintentionally levelled by the instructor, 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. McInnis & Devlin (2002) suggest that working in a group helps retain knowledge longer than when the same knowledge is learnt as an individual. 

From an affective perspective, group work encourages a range of graduate attributes heavily desired in industry. From skill in collaboration to communication proficiency to responsibility of action, and how to deal with others when it all goes pear-shaped, the list goes on.

However, group work MUST be designed well for it to be an effective pedagogy. It can’t be left to chance, or to the misconception that students should already know how to do it. Such a position merely exacerbates a Matthew Effect, and creates enormous inefficiencies and loss of motivation, for both your students and yourself.

This is a series of posts on group work. It hopes to be a complete guide to designing and then implementing group work in higher education. It is broken into two sections. The first is ‘Strategies to enhance assessment design for groupwork’, and the second is ‘Strategies to enhance group skill development’. It takes this approach because poor design of group tasks will make it almost impossible to effectively develop group skills.

Topics covered include:

Strategies to enhance assessment design for group work

Strategies to enhance group skill development

  • Group formation – the role fo gender
  • Group formation – peer parity vs diversity – part 1
  • Group formation – peer parity vs diversity – part 2
  • Motivating less committed students
  • Helping students distribute tasks
  • Helping students be highly organised
  • Helping students set group norms
  • Helping students be better listeners
  • Helping students be better communicators
  • Helping students be strong collaborators
  • Helping students provide constructive feedback
  • Helping students manage conflict

References

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

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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