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There are a number of benefits to students when they work in groups. Meg Morgan, Associate Professor of English at UNC Charlotte, talks about those benefits as well as some of the challenges to using student group work.
Hello. This is Meg Morgan, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and a Faculty Associate with the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.
Welcome to Teaching and Learning Matters. This is the first in a series of three podcasts about the use of groups for student projects. Today I will discuss the pluses and minuses of using group work in your classroom.
Over the past 20 or more years, teaching pedagogies increasingly have included students working in groups. So, when we teach students at the university level, we should expect that they have had that experience. However, we don’t know if it has been a positive one for them.
Here are some benefits to students when they work in groups. First, many students learn better in a social environment - they learn when they talk or when they hear others talk; they learn when ideas are negotiated and accepted or rejected. So, for those students, working in groups is a clear advantage.
Another benefit is also a social one: students may work with others who are not like them at all and may learn to be more tolerant and accepting of difference and diversity. I sometimes try to put students with opposing opinions in a group to get them to find some common ground on an issue.
Third, students working in groups can create an intellectual or social network, especially when they are in the same area of study. This network can provide support, even outside of the class.
Finally, working in groups is common in the workplace. Using groups in your course may help prepare them for situations outside of the university.
Despite the benefits to group work, there are also some disadvantages. Some students hate group work, mainly because they see it as busy-work and as threatening their grade if they work with what they perceive as inferior group members. It often takes more time to work in a group than if the student did the project alone. Finally, some groups malfunction: students don’t get along, someone tries to control the group, another group member wants to do all the work or none of it at all.
In addition, setting up group projects presents some challenges for the teacher. First, as a teacher you must be highly organized and must have the ability to look into possible future outcomes. You don’t have to be prescient, but it sure helps to have a Plan B or C.
Second, you should have options if a group malfunctions. For example, if a student refuses to come to group meetings, what options can you give the group to help make the group more functional?
Finally, group work demands that you, as the teacher, give up some control of your classroom and make the students responsible for what happens. You can offer advice and point out options, but ultimately the group is responsible for its own project.
This does not sound very hopeful, but I will tell you that I seldom have problems with students I put in groups, mostly because I set up the groups to meet certain standards of behavior that the group itself agrees upon.
Thank you for listening and be sure to join us for the next podcast in the series in which I will discuss the conditions that make group work most productive.
And remember, Teaching and Learning Matters.
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