Student Attitudes towards Group Work among Undergraduates in Business Administration, Education and Mathematics

Article excerpt

Group work is a widely used teaching technique in higher education. Faculty find themselves utilising this method in their classes more and more, yet few studies examine what students actually think about group work. The current study surveyed Mathematics, Education, and Business Administration majors at a midsized southeastern university in order to measure students' attitude towards group work. Participants completed a 5-point Likert type attitude scale and selected positive and negative aspects of group work. The scale scores were submitted to a One-Way ANOVA and results indicated a difference in attitude across majors. Analysis of the positive and negative aspects of group work revealed generally similar results across majors, but with some exceptions. Education majors had a more positive attitude toward group work than Business and Mathematics majors and Business majors selected more negative aspects than the Education and Mathematics majors. As may be anticipated, across majors "free riding" was sited as an obstacle to group work as was the difficulty in coordinating schedules. Additionally, over one-third of students indicated that they would rather work alone.

Student Attitudes Towards Group Work in Higher Education Group work is an increasingly viable alternative to the lecture-based method for classroom learning in higher education (Fink, 2002; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991b; Parsons & Drew, 1996; Phipps et ai, 2001). Since 2001, the National Survey of Student Engagement's (NSSE) annual report has included group work, cooperative learning or collaborative learning (all used interchangeably for the purposes of this article) as one the five benchmarks for assessing effective educational practice along with level of academic challenge, student interaction with faculty, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment (National Survey of Student Engagement 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005). The 2005 NSSE results indicated that nationally, 88% of first year students and 89% of seniors reported that they worked with other students on projects inside of class at least "sometimes." Additionally, 85% of first year students and 93% of seniors reported working on projects with others outside of class. These reports suggest that the amount of active and collaborative learning is an indicator of the pedagogical effectiveness of the institution as a whole. Group work is also considered by many instructors as a methodologically sound way of utilizing class time and a robust technique for students to interact and learn from each other. Nevertheless, the reasons why faculty in higher education use groups are not necessarily linked with the results obtained from empirical research but rather, anecdotal evidence. They have heard other instructors' experience with it, or they may have the intent of introducing variation in the classroom. But what does the research really tell us about group work in practice, aside from previous studies on achievement gains (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Slavin, 1995)? Furthermore, what do the students themselves think about group work?

Review of Literature

Several studies have addressed the issue of students' reaction to the use of group work and the results vary. Overall, the past findings support the claim that students think positively of group work as a method of instruction (e.g., Hagen, 1996; Phipps et aL, 2001; Rau & Heyl, 1990; Van Duyne, 1993). Rau and Heyl (1990) documented that collaborative discussion groups during class time were well received by approximately 75% of their students, whereas the remainder would rather work alone. In addition, they found that students performed better on group test questions than on individual test questions and formed more social networks, compared to a class where group discussions were not implemented. However, on the negative side, there was free riding, as evidenced by students' end of course evaluations. …