Call for Contributions: In-Class Group Work Activities
Use of group work in college courses continues to grow. It’s supported by research that consistently documents students’ learning from and with each other in groups. But as many of us have discovered, putting students in groups does not guarantee positive learning outcomes.
Whether they happen within a class session or an online module, ad-hoc group activities can be instrumental in developing the skills that students need to learn from group experiences. They can be gateway experiences to larger group assignments; at the same time, they provide breaks from lectures and offer yet another way to engage students. But teachers must come up with activities that get students collaboratively exploring course content. As fascinating as college teachers find their assigned readings, most students do not discuss these with much or any enthusiasm. Likewise, with group problem-solving. A lot of students sit back and let others take the lead.
Beyond finding good activities, other logistical details influence group outcomes. Although right decisions do not exist in an absolute sense, how groups are formed, how they report out, whether grades are involved, and how the activities are debriefed play into the success of group activities.
We think this is another arena where we can learn from each other, and so we’re asking you to share your experiences with small group activities that you use in your courses. We aren’t asking about project work or other large group assignments, but about those ad-hoc events during which students jointly complete a short activity or assignment.
Once again, please share your experiences with these kinds of small group activities. You can answer some or all the prompts below; informally in an email is fine. You’re also welcome to write a short article (700 words or less). Voice your opinions, offer advice, tell us what doesn’t work. There’s learning to be had from mistakes. We’d love to be able to include some examples—activities you’ve used that do get students engaged with each other and the content. Please submit your material to Maryellen Weimer (email@example.com) by April 15, 2022. Thanks in advance for taking time to tell us what you’ve learned.
- How do you form the groups? Some random method? Let students form them?
- If you use a number of shorter activities, do students stay in the same group, or do they change groups for every activity?
- What size works? Must all the groups be the same size?
- What about students who don’t like to work in groups? Can they opt out and do the activity on their own?
- How much time do you allocate for the activity? What if some groups finish before others?
- What are the characteristics of short group activities that work with your content and for your students?
- Share examples: your favorite small group activities, especially those that can be adapted for use with different kinds of content; share an activity that didn’t work and tell us why; share an activity that didn’t work at first but that you were able to fix.
- Are there any good resources on group activities that you can recommend?
- What if groups make mistakes, come up with the wrong answer, or are persuaded by a group member who’s misinformed?
- What if the groups handle the task superficially, go along with whatever the first person suggests, and then socialize?
- What if only one or two group members do all the talking in the group?
- Must the groups produce something? If so, what?
- What happens to whatever the groups produce? Is their work submitted to the teacher? To another group?
- Have you figured out effective ways to have groups report out? How do you avoid having groups repeat what other groups have already reported?
- How do you debrief the activity? How do you determine whether students achieved the learning goals of the activity? Do you debrief group processes and ask students what they learned from how the group functioned?
Summarize what you’ve learned about using short, in-class or online, group activities. Offer advice based on your experiences: three things to do for sure and three things to avoid at all costs when using group activities.
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