The Pro’s & Cons of Group Work

I have compilied a list of the pros and cons of work group that I found when researching my digital project for PIDP 3250.

Pro’s:

1.       Students learn important cooperative social skills

2.       Students can better learn when they help other students

3.       Students who could have been left behind can be assisted by their peers

4.       A wider variety of activities are available to students working in groups

5.       There can be an increase creativity and there are more opportunities to build on other’s ideas

 Con’s:

1.       Groups can be hard for the instructor to monitor and can, in some cases, lead to a group being domination by the few.

2.       It can be difficult for the instructor to evaluate the progress of individual students

3.       Students can become frustrated when their individual efforts go unnoticed

The second and third cons listed are related to the point that my instructor Doug raised during an online discussion we had, how to grade group work and more specifically, how to grade the progress of individual students.

I know from experience that I have beeen disappointed with group grades in the past and have felt that my personal efforts went unnoticed.  Some of the best practices below could help to mitigate this issue.  I have split these into two categories:

Category 1 – ‘Preparing the Groups’

  1. Think of how the students will be physically arranged into groups. One good option is sitting the students in a circular type pattern so they are looking at one another.
  2. Decide how to group the students. A pre-assessment can be used to identify student’s strengths and weaknesses.  This can then be used when selecting the groups, to ensure each has a diversity of expertise.
  3. Decide how many students will be in the groups. Groups of 4-5 students are ideal because it provides each with adequate opportunity to participate and get involved.  In larger groups, it is easier for some students and their opinions to get lost in the shuffle.
  4. Keep the groups together. Avoid breaking up a group, even if they request it.
  5. Provide a mechanism for groups to deal with uncooperative members. Group assessments coupled with individual assessments can be very effective.
  6. Allow enough time for the groups to complete their work. An inadequate amount of time can result in students focusing on completing the project, and not on their learning.
  7. The Jigsaw strategy can also be a good option for group work. With this strategy, students become members of two separate groups.  One where they work with a team to become experts in a particular topic.  The other where a diverse group of these ‘experts’ work together on a common goal.
  8. Last but not least, regularly check in with the groups.

Category 2 – Designing the group projects.

  1. Ensure you make the project relevant to the course and the learning outcomes.
  2. Be completely and thoroughly prepared when you introduce the project.
  3. Make sure you guide the students progress and provide them with clear expectations and grading criteria
  4. Ensure the project will benefit from the efforts of all the students. Assign tasks that encourage involvement, interdependence, and a fair division of labour.
  5. Make the project challenging but not overwhelming.
  6. Limit the available resources to compel students to share information and material, and encourage them to source their own.
  7. Establish ground rules for group behavior or – ask the students to do it themselves.
  8. Encourage effective communication strategies. Remind students that effective communication is 80% listening and 20% speaking.

Most of my disappointment with group grades in the past was offset by the fact they were not weighted heavily.  Also, the grade was a combination of a group grade given by the instructor, and a self assessment  coupled with a peer evaaluation.  Below is a link from the University of Waterloo that offers some other suggestions for evaluating group work that may be effective.

https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/developing-assignments/group-work/methods-assessing-group-work

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