Group Projects Generate a Mixed Bag of Opinions

Posted By Amy Rebecca on September 13, 2016 at 5:25 pm
Group Projects Generate a Mixed Bag of Opinions

Students and professors alike have mixed feelings about group work in the college classroom. Used correctly, group work fosters cooperation and teamwork and produces a very positive impact on academic learning goals. How? It promotes active/collaborative learning by inviting students to participate in the teaching process as they help one another to understand course content.

That means students become teachers to their peers, often explaining content in a much simpler way than professors, making it easier for students to comprehend and retain information. “Students who participate in collaborative learning and educational activities outside the classroom and who interact more with faculty members get better grades, are more satisfied with their education, and are more likely to remain in college” explains Paula Wesley from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Another benefit: Collaborative learning helps students cultivate skills, such as teamwork and being held accountable for not completing work, they will need in their future careers.

If the group work assignment is carefully constructed with attention to responsibility and accountability, then it can be a very rewarding experience for many students. According to Cathy Tooley from Tools for Success, “Group work is vital for our students. It encourages and teaches so much more than working individually – skills such as problem solving, team dynamics, listening skills, motivation, how to be heard, how to listen, how to set and intention and achieve a goal, how to persuade, how to inspire and so, so many more.” Teamwork is one of the most desired qualities sought by employers.

To better understand the effects of group work in the classroom, the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching (CIRT) has provided a helpful scorecard of advantages and disadvantages of collaborative learning.

Advantages of group projects:

  • Students able to take ownership of the subject matter.
  • Students develop communication and teamwork skills.
  • Content is reinforced as students work together and “teach” each other. This improves understanding through additional discussion and explanation.
  • Content may be broken down into parts. This allows students to tackle larger and more complex problems and assignments than they would be able to do individually.
  • Students can work together to pool their expertise, knowledge and skills.
  • Students hold one another responsible and accountable.
  • Group projects teach students to plan more effectively and manage their time.
  • Instructors benefit by seeing students approach problems in novel and unique ways. This can improve the instructor’s perspective and make their future teaching more effective.
  • Instructors are able to have the content reinforced by giving the students ways to apply what they have learned in a collaborative setting.

Disadvantages of group projects

  • Assignments must be designed carefully to ensure that all members of the group will be active participants.
  • Assignments must directly meet the learning objectives of the course and relate directly to the content that has been taught. For some material, there are a limited number of viable projects.
  • Instructors need to monitor each group, provide feedback and assist when necessary. This may prove to be more time-consuming than traditional teaching formats.
  • The project must be designed in a way to promote assessment that is valid, fair and accurately reflects the knowledge and performance of all group members. Grading complexities can make group assignments difficult for instructors.
  • Students may sometimes struggle with making decisions in a group setting.
  • Students have varying attitudes regarding collaborative work in the classroom.

Most people who have worked in groups have seen assignment go terribly awry. If not done correctly, group projects can be incredibly frustrating for many students. Poorly constructed group assignments can lead to a misbalance of responsibility resulting in one student handling all of the work, or students receiving unfair grades because someone didn’t do his or her part of the work. A recent MIT study, meanwhile, found that some women engineers felt their viewpoints were ignored when it came to group projects.

Ultimately, the responsibility of creating a group project that is both effective and fair to the students, lays in the hands of the professor. According to high school teacher Steve Sonntag, many students prefer other teaching methods, “Having worked with a variety of students and listening to them, overall, they overwhelmingly have felt that they prefer to have the teachers present the information instead.”

Although many students would like to see the end of group projects, collaborative work does offer an opportunity for students to learn to work with a diverse group of people harmoniously. For many professors, those benefits outweigh the potential problems.

Amy Rebecca
Amy Rebecca is a writer and educator currently residing in Charlotte, NC. She received her MFA in creative writing with a concentration in poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles and her bachelor’s degree in English from Muskingum University.

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