Group work is an increasingly used teaching strategy. Very little research, however, has considered how students perceive group work and whether certain factors influence their perceptions. To fill this void, the current study considers how 143 students who had recently completed a group project perceived group work. Attention is also given to the influence of race, age, and working with slackers on students' perceptions about group work. Results suggest that for the most part group work is experienced in similar among various groups, and working with slackers has a strong influence on attitudes. Implications are provided.
Group projects are becoming a central feature of many college courses. The growth in group projects parallels the increased use of active learning strategies which are often characterized as collaborative or cooperative learning strategies. Collaborative learning "refers to a variety of instructional practices that encourage students to work together as they apply course material to answer questions, solve problems, or create a project" (Colbeck et al. 2000: 60). Cooperative learning is regarded as "a more structured, hence more focused, form of collaborative learning" (Millis and Cottell 1998: 4). Group work is one type of active learning in that it encourages students to develop questions, hone their problem solving skills, and create something of substance (Colbeck et al. 2000). According to Watson (1992: 84), group work "allows students to learn by doing rather than listening."
Underwood (2003: 319) aptly points out that "students often fail to match the enthusiasm for collaborative learning shown by educators and learning theorists." For instructors, it is not uncommon to hear some students complain about doing group work. These complaints may be warranted to a degree. Some students simply may have nothing to gain from group work. According to Watson, (1992: 84), some students may be better able to learn in individual rather than competitive environments. Following this line of thought, there is reason to believe that gender, race, and age may influence the way students respond to group work. The basis for this assumption is that other teaching strategies have been found to influence genders, races, and select age groups differently.
The relationship between gender and learning styles has been well document ed. According to Honigsfeld and Dunn (2003: 195), …