Studies with Practical Implications

Measuring Healthy Group Dynamics

The importance of small group dynamics is hard to overstate. Group functioning directly influences how well students learn the content, what they learn about working with others, and the attitudes they take with them from the experience. Most groups experience problems; while they usually start

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Test Questions and Quizzing Improve Exam Performance

Sometimes courses with large enrollments spawn useful innovations, and this study looked at one empirically. Large courses almost always mandate the use of multiple-choice tests, and incorporating quizzes in these courses can present sizeable logistical challenges. To cope with that situation in a large microbiology

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Students’ Decisions about Studying

This summary highlights an article in which Kornell and Bjork, educational psychologists, review findings mostly from their own research. Their work explores “self-regulated study,” which involves “decisions students make while they study on their own away from a teacher’s guiding hand” (p. 219). It’s a

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Does Self- and Peer Assessment Improve Learning in Groups?

Teachers can’t monitor what’s happening in multiple groups. Students, on the other hand, know exactly what’s happening in their group—who’s contributing what in the group as well as what they’re doing. From that position they can make judgments and offer peers feedback. The potential benefits

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Measuring Rapport with Students

Students connect with professors, not only as teachers or content experts but also as persons, and that causes some discomfort. Our relationships with students need to be professional. Because we evaluate their work and have a responsibility to treat them equally, we need to keep

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Student Feedback: Should It Change Course Structure?

When it comes to making decisions about what happens in courses, students don’t have much say. Teachers decide what students learn, how they’ll learn it, when they’ll learn it, and finally, whether they have learned it. Expertise and professional responsibilities give teacher power over what

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How Group Dynamics Affect Student Learning

The research is clear: students can learn from and with each other in groups. But that learning is not the automatic, inevitable outcome of small group interactions. Dysfunctional group dynamics, such as free riding, leadership problems, poor time management, and unaddressed conflict frequently compromise learning

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Three students working on a group exam on a laptop

Collaborative Testing Improves Higher-Order Thinking

Most faculty don’t respond enthusiastically to the idea of students doing exam or quiz work together in groups. Nonetheless, the approach is widely used, and the research continues to show significant benefits. Innovative design features like those in the study below answer many faculty objections.

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how students study

How Do Students Study?

Most students arrive in our classrooms without particularly strong study skills. They procrastinate and overestimate what they know or can cram into their heads before the exam. If they read, they spend lots of time haphazardly highlighting long passages. And they equate memorization with understanding.

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resisting active learning

Minimizing Student Resistance to Active Learning

This research was motivated by the persistent belief that use of active learning approaches engenders student resistance. Despite the well-documented benefits of active learning, students don’t always endorse these approaches with enthusiasm and that makes faculty reluctant to use these approaches. Up to this point

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The importance of small group dynamics is hard to overstate. Group functioning directly influences how well students learn the content, what they learn about working with others, and the attitudes they take with them from the experience. Most groups experience problems; while they usually start small, they’ll likely grow larger if left unaddressed. Being new to collaborative work, students don’t always recognize unhealthy group dynamics or know how to respond to them. Fortunately, researchers (O’Neill et al., 2018) have developed a measure that students can use to assess the health of their team. It “defines effective team health in terms of communication, adaptability, relationships and education,” or CARE (O’Neill et al., 2020, p. 1122). The first iteration of the instrument contained 64 items. The goal of this research was to create a shorter version (dubbed Bare CARE) that still produced stable and robust results.

The study

O’Neill, T. A., Pezer, L., Solis, L., Larson, N., Maynard, N., Dolphin, G. R., Brennan, R. W., & Li, S. (2020). Team dynamics feedback for post-secondary student learning teams: Introducing the “Bare CARE” assessment and report. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(8), 1121–1135.

The research questions

Interesting background information

The original CARE instrument measured groups’ communication, adaptability, relationships, and education (or learning) with 13 previously validated scales. “These scales were taken directly from other publications that offered reliability and validity evidence, thereby ensuring that the items were accurate, reliable and valid indicators of the intended constructs” (p. 1125).

Here are a few examples of how the instrument operationalized each of the four CARE areas: Healthy communication in a group involves cooperative conflict management—that is, if team members treat conflict as a mutual problem to solve. The group’s adaptability is illustrated when they monitor their progress toward the group’s goals. Relationships in healthy groups depend on members contributing equitably; the presence of healthy, fact-driven conflict; and trust. Those in the group educate themselves and learn whether they evaluate diverse options and work for decisions everyone can accept.

Study cohort

Data collected from those using the original instrument gave the research team access to more than 200,000 assessments. From that database they pulled 1,369 classes involving 61,549 students who participated in 14,601 teams and used this cohort to compare the pared-down instrument with the original.

Methodological overview

The team began by attempting to identify items that they could remove. They explored their psychometrics by using various tests and analyses, all thoroughly explained in the article. To further aid understanding of the process, they offer several examples showing what the analysis revealed about particular items and how they dealt with that data. They then compared the shortened version, Bare CARE, to the longer one in terms of intra-class correlations, concurrent validities, and criterion validities.


Did the psychometric analyses and content-validity exploration identify instrument items that could be eliminated?

Did the shorter a version of the CARE instrument remain reliable and valid when correlated with teamwork variables and team performance?

Cautions and caveats

Other research (reviewed by Gabelica et al., 2012) offers mixed results as to the effects of peer feedback on group functioning. Both versions of the CARE instrument measure a group’s health, but the effects of that feedback on group functioning remain unclear. Does knowing how well a group is functioning motivate members to change their behavior? Does up-front instruction on providing peer feedback increase its effectiveness? Does the feedback motivate groups to talk about group dynamics? Does it encourage them collectively to make changes? It makes sense that not discussing the feedback will minimize its effects. Moreover, some research verifies that group reflection activities do improve group performance (Gabelica et al., 2014).

Practical implications (what you might want to do about this research)

Here’s research that empirically developed an instrument (now available in both long and short forms) that students can use to assess group health. Even better, the instrument is available free of charge! Access it at (it’s the Peer Feedback and Team Dynamics one), which the researchers describe as an “evidence-based, feedback report generating software system that is available without any permissions to anyone in the world” (O’Neill et al., 2020, p. 1131). In other words, teachers can direct teams to the site, where, after registering, they fill out the questionnaire and subsequently receive a report of the results. The well-organized site also offers a variety of supporting materials for teachers and students. It’s a first-rate resource that saves teachers time and develops students’ understandings of what group dynamics entail.

Related research

Gabelica, C., Van den Bossche, P., de Maeyer, S., & Segers, M. (2014). The effect of team feedback and guided reflexivity on team performance change. Learning and Instruction, 34, 86–96.

Gabelica, C., Van den Bossche, P., Segers, M., & Gijselaers, W. (2012). Feedback, a powerful lever in teams: A review. Educational Research Review, 7(2), 123–144.

O’Neill, T. A., Deacon A., Gibbard, K., Larson, N., Hoffart, G., Smith, J., & Donia, B. L. M. (2018). Team dynamics feedback for post-secondary student learning teams. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(4), 571–585.