Reminders

Group Work in the Classroom

Group Work in the Classroom

When instructors assign group projects and collaborative learning experiences, it requires students to work with one another to learn the content and apply it to the project at hand, while at the same time learning important lessons regarding cooperation and teamwork.  Research shows that group work can have a very positive impact on learning outcomes for many reasons.  Group work essentially creates an environment where students "teach" and explain concepts to each other.  This reinforces the information provided by the instructor and also provides students the opportunity to "hear" or learn the material from a peer, who may be able to explain it in a way that makes more sense to the other students.  The concept of students working in groups also promotes a setting where collaboration and cooperation are valued and produce better results, teaching the students valuable life-long skills that are important in the professional workplace.

In order for group work to be effective, instructors must spend extra time creating a valuable assignment that lends itself to a fair method of assessment.  The assignment should be structured in such a way that all members of a group are required to participate and must provide each other feedback.  The resources on this page will provide tips and suggestions on how to effectively create a group assignment that will facilitate learning by all members of the group.  Following are lists of advantages and disadvantages of using group work and collaborative learning the classroom.

 Advantages:

  • Students able to take ownership of the subject matter.
  • Students develop communication and teamwork skills.
  • Content is reinforced as students work together and "teach" each other.  This improves understanding through additional discussion and explanation.
  • Content may be broken down into parts.  This allows students to tackle larger and more complex problems and assignments than they would be able to do individually.
  • Students can work together to pool their expertise, knowledge and skills.
  • Students hold one another responsible and accountable.
  • Teaches students to plan more effectively and manage their time.
  • Instructors benefit by seeing students approach problems in novel and unique ways. This can improve the instructor's perspective and make their future teaching more effective.
  • Instructors are able to have the content reinforced by giving the students ways to apply what they have learned in a collaborative setting.

 Disadvantages:

  • Assignments must be designed carefully to ensure that all members of the group will be active participants.
  • Assignments must directly meet the learning objectives of the course and relate directly to the content that has been taught.  For some material, there are a limited number of viable projects.
  • Instructors need to monitor each group, provide feedback and assist when necessary.  This may prove to be more time-consuming than traditional teaching formats.
  • The project must be designed in a way to promote assessment that is valid, fair and accurately reflects the knowledge and performance of all group members.  Grading complexities can make group assignments difficult for instructors.
  • Students may sometimes struggle with making decisions in a group setting.
  • Students have varying attitudes regarding collaborative work in the classroom.

 Many of these advantages and disadvantages are discussed more fully in the following YouTube video.  This video describes the use of group work in the college classroom and discusses best practices in regards to implementing collaborative learning and group work, choosing groups, assessment of group work and other topics.

Suggested Readings

  • Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions for productive small groups. Review of educational research, 64(1), 1-35.
  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1991). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom.
  • Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1987). Learning together and alone: Cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
  • Slavin, R. E. (1983). Cooperative learning. New York.
  • Webb, N. M. (1989). Peer interaction and learning in small groups. International journal of Educational research, 13(1), 21-39.
  • Webb, N. M., & Palincsar, A. S. (1996). Group processes in the classroom.

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Resource Links

Strategies for Promoting and Managing Effective Group Work - This resource discusses the use of group work in the classroom and how to ensure it creates a positive and rewarding learning environment.  The article specifically points out the difference between working "in a group" and working "as a group".

Teaching Strategies: Using Group Work and Team Work - The link provides a list of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about the benefits of encouraging group work in the classroom, as well as strategies for how to implement and manage group work aong students.

Effective Group Work Strategies for the College Classroom - This link explorers various aspects of group work in the college classroom including group quizzes, pairing of students, inspiring cooperation, dealing with students who do not like group work and many other related topics.

Implementing Group Work in the Classroom - Refer to this guide for specific tips on how to implement group work including tips on how to design, manage and monitor groups in the classroom.


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