Group work can help engage learners and promote concept application. However, the results of group work sometimes don't meet the standards we'd hoped for as educators or as learners. Here are some best practices for group work that may help yield more effective processes and products:
Carefully & Thoroughly Introduce the Group Work
Both in class and within your syllabus, introduce the value and concept of group work.
- Share the rationale: Explain how group work connects to learning outcomes. Emphasize the value of collaboration and teamwork for career endeavors (Major, 2015).
- Explain assessment methods: Share the grading for product and process. Encourage students to self-evaluate group process as one part of the project’s requirements (Abadzi, 1985).
- Provide training & support: Make sure learners have the knowledge, skills, tools & processes to succeed (Major, 2015). Provide training and practice related to group processes and norms such as agenda keeping, setting milestones, and determining communication plans (Abadzi, 1985; Brame & Biel, 2015; Major, 2015).
- Explore perspectives: Find out why learners may be ambivalent and explain why/how the experience can be different from less successful group work experiences.
Consider Team Formation
- Team Size & Make-Up: Teams of 4 to 6 learners that are heterogenous in regard to both ability and make-up are most productive in terms of both academic outcomes and encouraging peer interaction and assistance (Abadzi, 1985).
- Get started: Remember team development stages (1. Grouping, 2. Planning, 3. Organizing, 4. Investigation, 5. Presenting, and 6. Evaluating) (Ward, 1987). Add icebreakers and wrap-up activities to aid forming and adjourning. Get involved as necessary to help them assess progress and resolve differences of opinion.
- Roles: Assigning one team member as facilitator to solicit others’ contributions and assigning one team member as a reporter to observe use of group process skills can be beneficial in terms of productive outcomes (Abadzi, 1985).
Group Types & Activities
Below, we list some group types that are common in group work according to a 5-year study (Abazdi, 1985). For a list of potential group activities, such as buzz groups, jigsaw activities, and think-pair-share, review our Cooperative or Collaborative Learning guide
- Cooperative Groups or Group Investigations: Small groups of 4-6 learners with diverse ability and characteristics work together for a short time to collectively learn and accomplish learning goals or tasks. This is the most common group type and it’s used across a broad swath of classes.
- Learning Cycle Groups: Groups of learners with similar needs or interests are brought together for a short time to gain support, time, and practice to facilitate content mastery. This may be used for remediation or to facilitate personalized learning experiences.
- Peer Tutoring Groups: A small group of learners with a cross-section of characteristics is formed to emphasize content taught to the class. This is typical in a lab, field, or clinical activities where educators want to intermix learners with different levels of content exposure or experience.
Assessment of Group Work
You may wish to assess team functioning, individual understanding and contribution, team understanding and contribution, and the process overall. Note that related research indicates that evaluation of individual contributions tends to discourage cooperation, while team collaboration and communication improves if learners know the performance of all learners will be equally weighted (Abadzi, 1985). Though some might have concern that cooperative groups can be demotivating to high-achieving learners, research illustrates that learning gains for these learners increase when they are ble to assist others through explanation or demonstration of concepts and processes (Abadzi, 1985).
Possible Tools for Group Work
CMU offers a variety of educational technologies
to educators and learners. Likewise, numerous Web 2.0 tools are freely available online to support group work. Examples include:
- Doodle: Free, online polling tool to determine times a group can meet
- Microsoft OneDrive/Google Drive: Collaborative online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
- Blackboard: Group tools like group formation, group forums, group wikis, group evaluations, group assignment submission, etc.
- WebEx: Online group chat for presentations or break-out sessions, educator must schedule rooms in advance
- Web or Mobile Apps: Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, Slack for communication
- Conference Calls or 3-Way Calling: Available through some departments & many learners have this capability on their devices and plans, too.
- To see what events we may be offering related to group work, check out our CIS Events Page
- Schedule a time with CIS staff to discuss group work for your course.
Abadzi, H. (1985). Ability grouping effects on academic achievement and self esteem: Who performs in the long run as expected. Journal of Educational Research, 79(1), 36-40.
Parent, J. D., Lovelace, K. J., Hardway, C., & Seitchik, A. (2016). Enhancing team learning experiences in the classroom. Merrimack College: Merrimack ScholarWorks.
Sapsuha, S., & Bugis, R. (2013). Think pair share technique to improve students’ reading comprehension. ELT Practices in Asia: Challenges and Opportunities.