Group activities have become very popular over the last few years because cooperation of students have proved to be very effective in helping to understand and memorize the presented materials. However, instructors often encounter several problems while trying to build teams. First, there are always one or two leaders in the group who dominate the discussion while other members are not able to share their opinion. Second, groups are often not focused on the task because they get irrelevant details and are distracted. Third, reporting of the results to the class. All of these problems are the result of poor planning of tasks. The teacher is able to avoid these problems if the following factors are taken into account: the developmental level of group members and the impact of activity on overall unity within the group.
The teacher should take into account that each group has some members that prefer to be passive and let more active members to do the work for them. This situation is known to be social loafing and it does greatly prevents interaction necessary for productive learning. There are six factors to be consider (Slavin 1995):
- Some students are naturally not willing to be active
- Some students prefer to dominate the discussion
- Some students if they lack confidence in their knowledge are not willing to express their opinion because of fear to appear incompetent
- Some students are afraid to appear disagreeable
- Members of new groups are more concerned about their personal image rather than group effectiveness
- The task is inappropriate for group cooperation if it can be accomplished by one member, or does not require members to agree with each other.
The instructor should provide the students with the assignments and activities that make the groups more cohesive. The trust and mutual understanding foster the involvement of all members, even those who are quiet and not willing to speak out. In addition, members of the cohesive group are concerned not about their own well being but see their success tired to the success of the group. As the result, the group members become more active and willing to cooperate with others.
As it was stated above, the major problem of ineffective cooperation within the groups is improper task. In order to involve all group members, the instructor should offer the task which requires individual accountability for group participants and motivate the discussion within the group. In addition, the immediate feedback should be provided in the form of comparison with other groups, for example. Some kind of rewards should be granted to those groups (not individual members) for the good performance output.
Instructors often fail to ensure that the task requires input from every group members. It is especially important to avoid the development of the social loafing at the first group assignment – if the group is successful based on the work of one or two members, it is very likely that the further tasks will be accomplished by these active members only while the others will prefer not to participate. However, involving all members can have a negative outcome – if group members are not confident in the successful completion of the task, they would prefer not to contribute to the failure. One of the methods to foster discussion in the group is to hand out the worksheets to each group member and ask them to think over the issue and write down the ideas they have.
The teacher should plan the activity very careful: the task needs to be not very easy (no group interaction is needed), and the assignment should not require a lot of writing (which is done by one member usually). Sometimes students might feel that they are doing more than other members of the group but will still work hard for themselves and for others in order to get the good grade. The tasks that foster motivation should require the group members to make the decision based on the analysis of the complex issue. While completing such task, everybody has the opportunity to participate.
The immediate feedback and comparison with other group’s output eliminates differences among group members as they all together have to protect their public image as the group. The instructor, for example, can provide performance data that allows making comparisons. When the feedback is not provided timely, the group members are not aware whether they are doing well or not. It should be taken into account that group members might have the different working styles – those who are used to systematic approach will put pressure on students who have another working style, especially of they are faced with the assignment deadline.
Importantly, the students will be willing to cooperate and work more effectively if their group work is rewarded in some form. The members of one group should not be rewarded selectively because the key idea of team building is cooperation, not competition among group members. The granting of the reward satisfies the basic human need for recognition and social validation. Students need to feel that they can do something of value to others.
Creating the Assignments for Groups
The ability of students to learn is impacted by the link students establish between the new information and the knowledge already stored in the memory (Gagne 1970). The assignments should be phased to promote the development of the cognitive skills. Group cooperation provides the additional opportunities to foster active learning through the discussions within the group and with the other groups.
One of the methods to involve each members involves giving the specific task to each group participant. This allows the students to feel more accountable for being engaged into the process and makes them responsible for sharing their opinion with others. In addition, when everybody has to accomplish specific portion of the assignment, the discussion will be more productive because, unless complete agreement within the group, the opinions will be different and students will be asked to explain their ideas.
There are two possible types of assignments – making the list and making the choice. Making the list assignment is less effective is facilitating the group discussion because some of the participants might say that their ideas are already listed and remain quiet. In addition, making the list is not very motivating because the other groups will probably have the same list of ideas. By contrast, when the assignment involves making the specific choice, the discussion will be more effective because the team members have to protect their choice (Michaelsen 1996).
The assignment based on making the specific choice fosters the discussions between the groups as well, because one a group has agreed on the specific choice they have to present the arguments why that item has been selected. While the to do list assignments do not foster the discussion – the presentation of the listed ideas ends up in the situation when the last presenting groups have nothing to add because everything has been already noted. If the assignment is properly developed the group cohesiveness improves because group members need to reach an agreement on their choice.
Example Group Task
The instructor of marketing has given the make a choice assignment to see whether the students are able to differentiate the different marketing concepts. The question might appear in the following form: “the country IKEA should expand to is __________ (India, South Africa, Australia, or Korea). The common approach would be to assign each group making a 5 minute presentation revealing their choice and reasons for this choice. For example, each group has to think over the question and their choice, then each member of the group should write down some ideas why the specific location has been selected, then allow the group to discuss their reasons and chose three-five reasons they think are the most important. Later each group should be given some time to present and afterwards let some time to formulate questions to ask the other groups. For example, if there are five groups in the classrooms the teacher should give five possible locations and assign each group with the different location – the group members will have to find the arguments to protect the assigned location.
In order to facilitate the inner-group discussion, the instructor has to take into account the developmental level of the groups and individuals in each group, the amount of work to be done by each member and the further discussions among the groups. One of the methods to motivate group activity is to assign extra points to those groups whose presentation has been the most informative or the most convincing. Group cohesiveness has the direct correlation with learning process – the fact that they have to think about the assignment and make the choice causes group members to be more serious while preparing the presentation of their ideas.
In conclusion, group assignments are more beneficial for the students in terms of more knowledge gained and learned skills. Students learn to apply the knowledge they have, to reason logically, to work in cooperation with other and to defend their point of views. Complaints from students that they have to do the most of the work, social loafing and other negative moments are the result of poor assignments, not student’s absence of desire to work in groups. Instructor has to develop assignments properly to make sure that every group member is involved into the discussion process and his participation is necessary for the overall group success. Of course group work is not always acceptable (term paper writing), however, the instructor should try to offer group assignments as often as possible.
Gagne, R. M. (1970). The conditions for learning (2nd Ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Michaelsen, L. K., Black, R. H. & Fink, L. D. (1996). What every faculty developer needs to know about learning groups. In To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development, 1996. Richlin, L. (Ed.). Stillwater, OK : New Forums Press Co.
Slavin, R. E. (1995). Cooperative Learning (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
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