Incorporating collaborative assignments during class time can be an excellent way to help students develop and practice problem-solving skills, as well as teamwork and collaboration. Working in small groups can help students engage actively with course material. Moreover, as Millis (2002) points out, when students work in groups in peer collaboration, they can learn to synthesize: “students often take new material—including disparate viewpoints—and integrate, reinterpret, and transform it until new knowledge is forged. Thus, learning is produced, not reproduced.” Group work is among the “high-impact educational practices” cited by students as increasing their engagement in college courses (AAC&U and Kuh, 2008). In addition, pedagogies that engage students in collaborative learning have been shown to improve students learning (e.g., Eberlein et al., 2008). For more details, please see benefits of group work.
However, merely asking your students to work in groups will not necessarily lead them to collaborate in ways that advance their learning. When planning group work, keep in mind that students may have completed group projects in high school or in other courses, but they have not necessarily learned to collaborate effectively. Being transparent in the purpose and benefits of group work will help students understand the value of this type of learning. Most professions now require strong collaboration and communication skills, and this can be attained by practicing group work in the classroom.
Providing clear instructions as you facilitate in-class group work helps your students understand what good group work looks like and how you expect them to accomplish a group work activity. This strategy also provides students with a better understanding of your expectations of what success looks like. Bringing the groups back together as a whole class to report out and discuss their ideas, as well as ending with an instructor led summary, is an important component of group work as it provides closure for the students. Finally, incorporating specific group roles can help groups partition the work load which can be particularly useful for complex tasks and will help them learn how to function as an efficient group.
Eberlein, T., Kampmeier, J., Minderhout, V., Moog, R. S., Platt, T., Varma‐Nelson, P., & White, H. B. (2008). Pedagogies of engagement in science. Biochemistry and molecular biology education, 36(4), 262-273.
Kuh, George D. (2008). Excerpt from high-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Millis, Barbara J. (2002). “Enhancing Learning-and More! Through Collaborative Learning. IDEA Paper 38. The IDEA Center. http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_38.pdf.