Group Learning

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Group Learning
Working in groups, when they’re set up for success, strengthens students’ learning. Collaboration requires students to express their own ideas while making sense of others’, and prepares them to benefit from the real-world power of teamwork.

How Can I Do This?

Group learning goes by many different names (e.g., group work, cooperative learning, team learning, peer instruction, etc.) and spans the spectrum from two students solving a problem to a team working on a semester long project. For group learning to be effective, the students need to practice team building skills and learn to be accountable to their group as well as themselves.

How do I teach my students team skills to work well as a group?

Students have often had bad group work experiences, so it is important to explain to them and persuade them that working as a group has positive outcomes (see “Why is This Important?” below). Tell them how, in your class, working as a group will be a positive experience because you are going to help them learn how to do it well.

How should the groups be formed?

For students to get the most out of group learning, they need to work cooperatively with the same group for a period of time to solve complex problems. Getting the “right” balance of people in teams is very important. Heterogeneous groups provide a mix of resources for better quality work and help students develop social skills and awareness of diversity. Heterogeneity may mean building groups consisting of people with different perspectives, talents, or identities such as technological abilities, different years in college, age, or family background. Your outcomes will help you prioritize the different qualities that are important in your groups.

How do I develop good assignments that will work well with groups?

Finding or developing good group assignments is usually the most difficult part for instructors. The group task should make it clear to students that they have learned something, not just done something together. A good group learning opportunity demands higher-order thinking and collaboration that produces something better than they could have on their own.

How do I manage groups’ activities?

Group work is not new for most students, but successful group work might be. Working well together requires good management, both from you as the facilitator and from within the group. Not all students will know how to do this, so your investment into their development as productive collaborators will go a long way toward helping them learn.

How do I evaluate group learning?

“Freeloading” is the thing that most students complain about when they are asked their thoughts about group work. Students have to learn group accountability as well as individual accountability, and therefore they need to be evaluated on both product (content) and process (team skills). To help students feel accountable for their team skills, ask students to do peer evaluations.

How often should I ask the class to work in groups?

There are lots of ways to use group learning in your class. Choose the best times to incorporate group learning according to when it best serves the learning outcomes and your course goals and fits within your available time to prepare.

Why Is This Important?

Teaching students to work effectively in groups will help them become more critical thinkers with deeper understanding about the content. It will also foster positive interpersonal relationships, help students feel more fulfilled, and prepare them for their chosen career. Group learning helps students:

Achieve more and think critically

Groups pool their knowledge and skills, which can often help them solve more complex problems or deliver better products than individuals alone can do.

Build positive interpersonal relationships
Enjoy positive learning experiences
Prepare for careers and internships

Explore More

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Group Work in the Classroom

The Centre for Teaching Excellence compiled a list of the types of small groups.

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We crafted a one pager that overviews the essential components of TBL.

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Successful Strategies for Teams

The Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation developed techniques to help your teams work productively and successfully.