Should Students Form Their Own Course Work Groups?

The following research summary comes courtesy of the publication The Teaching Professor. The Temple University Libraries has acquired a site license so that any instructor can access this always helpful resource for finding solutions to teaching challenges. We also have access to the entire archive of issues so that instructors can search for past articles on a multitude of teaching issues and tips. This link will lead you to the latest issue. Instructors can subscribe to receive an email alert for each new issue.

Now, on to the summary: If the course involves a graded group project, should instructors let students form their own groups or should the instructor create the groups? This decision is not always easy or obvious. Some students lobby hard to form their own groups, arguing that knowing each other ensures that they will be able to work together productively. On the other hand, in the world of work, most of the time employees do not get to pick their collaborators. There’s a task, and those with knowledge and relevant skills are formed into a group and assigned to complete the project, solve the problem, or develop the product.

The qualitative data revealed one significant but predictable difference between the groups. Self-selected groups got off to a much quicker start on the project. Members already knew each other and could start to work immediately. In the instructor-formed groups, there was a period of getting to know one another before they could work productively on the task. The qualitative data uncovered another less obvious difference. Self-selected groups valued their similarities. What they shared from previous interactions helped them work together and made it less likely that any individual would let the group down. Students in the instructor-formed groups valued their differences. They saw each other as making different contributions to the group and felt that these differences enabled the group to produce a better product.

Interestingly, “although student-selected groups perceived they produced higher-quality work, the actual grades assigned to the group projects did not differ between group formation conditions.” (p. 26) Despite this, these faculty researchers stop short of recommending that faculty always let students form their own groups. “Although we found that student-selected groups generally had a more positive experience than instructor-formed groups, we resist the temptation to conclude that student-selection is the superior method for forming groups. Read more at: http://www.magnapubs.com/issues/magnapubs_tp/24_4/news/603357-1.html

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