Facilitating Group Work: Tips from a Junior-Faculty Workshop

A group of junior faculty delved into a productive discussion of the benefits and challenges of “Incorporating and Facilitating Group Work” at a faculty workshop led by Gina Frey on April 1, 2016. Gina began the discussion by asking the participants their rationale for including group work in their courses. Several faculty noted that many of their professional societies now regard the ability to work proficiently in groups to be a recommended competency in their field. Others noted that students can address more challenging work when they work in groups than they can when working alone. Gina talked about research showing that group discussions help students learn. All agreed that there are benefits to working in groups but that the success of this pedagogical tool begins with thoughtful planning.

Gina began the discussion on planning for group work by stressing the importance of creating an inclusive environment where students feel comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and listening carefully to their peers. One suggestion to create an inclusive classroom was the implementation of ground rules for discussion. Gina reviewed the importance of modeling the congenial interaction style that you want to see during these discussions.

The following is a sampling of the useful tips discussed during the workshop:

  • Explain to students why group work is an important component of the class and the learning process, as well as an opportunity to build essential professional skills.
  • Point out that in addition to practicing collaborative skills, group work allows students to enhance their communication skills, develop new approaches to problem solving, and refine understanding through discussion and explanation.
  • Determine learning objectives for group work and design activities that generate discussion among students.
  • Discuss and define group roles. Groups often function most effectively when members have designated roles such as the recorder who takes notes summarizing team discussions, a facilitator or moderator who moderates the discussion and keeps the discussion focused, and a reporter who serves as the groups’ spokesperson to the whole class.
  • Break up the time into small pieces with check-ins. Breaking up a complex task into parts with time checkpoints helps groups make sure they are on track to finish by their deadline.
  • Keep groups small (3-4 students) to make it feasible for everyone in the group to contribute.
  • Provide closure to the group work by having a whole class discussion at the end to summarize the main points of the activity. Use the chalkboard to record those ideas. These strategies help students organize and synthesize the ideas from the group work.

The lively discussion produced insights useful across disciplines and the group left ready to tackle more group work projects in their own classes. For more information about how to incorporate group work into your class contact The Teaching Center.