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Weekly Tip: Skill Building Through Group Learning

 

Individual commitment to a group effort…makes a team work, a company work, makes society work, a civilization work.

—Vince Lombardi

Why Have Students Work in Groups?

When it comes to group work, many faculty often wonder how to accurately determine individual contributions. Lejk et al. frame group work as an opportunity for students to learn together and from one another, as opposed to being a form of assessment. In other words, rather than being product driven, group work can be used to provide skill building opportunities.  Learning then, is assessed not through the final group product, but rather through components students complete individually. In turn, student and faculty frustrations can be eased.

In this tip, we present a variety of approaches that allow students both autonomy and the reassurance that their grades are not dependent on the work and performance of their group members.

A Take on Group Work

Before: To set the tone for group work, prepare students by trying one or more of the following:

  • Rethink group work: Provide students with low-stakes opportunities to practice and reflect on their prior experiences and expectations when working in a group. Ask students to reevaluate what they need to do as individuals and how to help their group to be successful as the project progresses.
  • Set clear expectations: Introduce students to objectives and skills that they will gain and be able to demonstrate through group work. These may also include hard skills like the ability to create a spreadsheet and soft-skills like strong interpersonal communication can be included. Expectations can be provided and discussed before students begin working in groups.   
  • Contract: Once expectations are set, it can be helpful to implement a student-to-student and student-to-instructor contract. Implementing a contract keeps students accountable and helps to uphold expectations. Be sure to define consequences for non or low-performing students.
    • Increase student buy-in by collecting student input on what they expect from their peers and have students vote on the expectations they think they should be implemented and upheld.
    • Create opportunities for students to individually communicate with you about the ways the pre-set group expectations have been followed or neglected by group members.
  • Required roles: Required roles allow students autonomy and promote balance in the group. Roles provide students with the sense that they are contributing and responsible for something in the group. Possible roles include, but are not limited to, project manager, team liaison, recorder, etc.

    Learn more about assigning roles for group work.

During: Support students and keep abreast of their progress while they’re working in groups.

  • Check-ins: Meet with groups or have students provide a detailed description of tasks completed and a working draft of their final product before the project is complete. During your check-in student concerns can be addressed and you have a chance to preview where students are at and provide guidance and insights.
  • Records: Task students with keeping records of meeting attendance, email chains, and detailed contributions along the way using Google Docs or OneDrive.
  • Uphold contract: Reinforce predefined contract expectations for low or non-performing students.

After: After completion of the project, allow students an opportunity to debrief, revisit the experience, and think about how what they’ve learned can transfer to the workplace.

  • Individual assessment: Have students complete an individual assessment. This is where students are asked to apply what they learned through their experience doing group work and is often worth more than the product produced in the group. The individual assessment can take the form of an exam, essay, or a recorded presentation.
  • Evaluations: Have students complete a project evaluation that only the student and instructor will view. Evaluations can be individual and/or an evaluation of their group members. Implementing a rubric can help guide students through the evaluation process. Students could be asked to consider what worked, what could be improved, and who did what on the final product.
  • Reflections: Prompt students to think critically about their experience and reflect on working in a team. Questions that students could be asked are: How did working with each person on the team expand your knowledge and understanding a given concept?” “What do you wish you did differently?” or What did you learn that you believe can be applied in the workplace?”

Types of Skills Developed

Employers often look for soft skills to develop dynamic and productive teams. Creating group projects that draw on students’ strengths and provide opportunities to improve upon how they work with others is key to students’ success beyond school. Through group projects, students learn how to:

  • Collaborate, brainstorm, and problem solve
  • Communicate effectively
  • Work with and navigate different perspectives
  • Recognize and appreciate strengths and skills of others
  • Identify their own gaps in knowledge

Resources

Collaborative Learning in Higher Ed: Evoking Positive Interdependence

 

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing aoi.li@wsu.edu.

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact aoi.li@wsu.edu or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.