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Facilitating Group Work

Group work is an applicable procedure to enhance students’ learning that is implemented in different forms such as instructor-assigned, student-selected, and randomly assigned. Students who are involved in group work during class have been shown to develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter as well as increased problem-solving skills.  (Cooper, 1990, cited in Davis 1993).  The benefits of group work include engagement and development of team skills. Jones and Jones (2008) described five pillars of effective cooperative and collaborative learning:

  • Positive interdependence: We need contributions from each of my team members to succeed
  • Promotive face-to face interaction: How I think, talk, and act towards my other team members will influence how well we perform
  • Individual accountability: Although my team members can help me with the task, my own performance/contribution will shape my grade
  • Social skills: Working together effectively as a team means I need to develop and use my interpersonal skills
  • Processing, group & individual reflection: We need to reflect on our performance individually and as a team about what we have accomplished and learned, and how we might improve

Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink (2002) describe three uses of small groups: casual, cooperative, and team-based. Casual use of groups refers to the quick creation in class of student pairs or small collaborative groups (3 is recommended) to discuss a learning project. Cooperative group involves the use of groups to engage in more structured activities. These activities also give students time for active engagement, often providing opportunities for problem solving and application of content. Team-based learning involves a further level of structure and intentionality. It can be helpful to think of group work on a continuum, with peer discussion being the least structured activity and complex teams being the highest structured activity.

Group work scale

Cooper, J. (1990). Cooperative learning and college teaching: tips from the trenches. Teaching Professor, 4(5), 1-2.

Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for Teaching. Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco: California.

Jones, K. A., & Jones, J. L. (2008). Making cooperative learning work in the college classroom: An application of the” Five Pillars” of cooperative learning to post-secondary instruction. Journal of effective teaching, 8(2), 61-76.

Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., and Fink, L. D. Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use   of Small Groups in College Teaching. Sterling, Va.: Stylus, 2004.

Download this one-pager for implementing effective group work activities.