Group Composition Affecting Student Interaction and Achievement: Instructors' Perspectives

Article excerpt

Multiple research studies have been conducted that focus on various uses of collaborative learning in and out of the classroom in higher education institutions. The purpose of this article is to review previously published literature regarding group composition and how it affects student interaction and achievement. Group composition research has been focused on gender, ethnicity, member familiarity, ability level, as well as motivational level and source. Examples of student achievement often include test scores, grade point averages, and opinion-based surveys on group collaboration. Group composition is always associated with the effects of multiple confounding variables due to the overall nature of collaborative learning at the college level.

**********

Collaborative learning is a widely used concept and teaching strategy in college classrooms today. Ormrod (2008) defines cooperative learning in terms of students working in small groups to achieve a common goal. This definition implies that there is some interaction that needs to take place in order for students to achieve a common goal. Webb (1982) asserts that the main feature that distinguishes cooperative setting from other learning settings is interaction among students. If students are not given clear guidelines of how they are expected to accomplish certain goals, then students may act in an uncooperative manner (Ormrod, 2008).

A number of surveys have conducted at the college levels. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement (2005), 88% of first year (freshman) students and 89% of seniors have experienced in class group research projects. Stepping outside of the classroom, 85% of freshmen and 93% of seniors have worked on group research projects. With these high percentages, students have been exposed to various group situations and may display certain behaviors based on their prior experiences.

Variations of collaborative learning can be found at the K-12 and college levels, as well as in the workforce. The introduction and use of collaborative learning in the classroom began due to concepts such as the nature of the workforce; individuals spending portions of their work time collaborating with colleagues. When considering the effects of collaborative learning, many variables play a role within the spectrum of student interaction and achievement. In terms of group composition, the learning process can be investigated based on major factors such as gender, ability level, and member familiarity, which is also known as natural selection (Gruenfeld et al., 1996). The breakdown of group composition has suggested that there is a correlation to student interaction and achievement at the college level.

There are several major benefits of creating collaborative small groups in order to complete research projects, solve problems, or explore and develop new concepts. First, collaborative learning opportunities increase student learning and social-emotional outcomes such as social skills, self-esteem, and attitudes toward others (Bossert, 1988-1989; Slavin, 1990; Webb et al., 1998). Second, students acquire new skills, ideas, and knowledge by working closely together to build solutions to problems, resolving disagreements and conflicting perspectives, as well as giving and receiving assistance (Webb et al., 1995 and 1998; Webb and Palincsar, 1996; Webb & Farviar, 1999).

Third, collaborative work helps prepare college students for the workforce due to the importance of teamwork in the workplace (Hackman, 1990). In response to growing demands for efficiency and flexibility, businesses and industries are implementing teams in the workplace based on the assumption that decisions made by groups of people with diversified expertise often yield higher quality than those made by people with more homogeneous backgrounds (Jackson, 1992; Boyett &Conn, 1993; Katzenhack & Smith, 1993; Gruenfeld et al., 1996). …