Students' Perceptions of Group Projects: The Role of Race, Age, and Slacking

By Payne, Brian K.; Monk-Turner, Elizabeth | College Student Journal, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Students' Perceptions of Group Projects: The Role of Race, Age, and Slacking


Payne, Brian K., Monk-Turner, Elizabeth, College Student Journal


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.

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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), "gender is of six characteristics that tends to differentiate among individuals' learning styles." They go on to cite research suggesting that active learning strategies are believed to be more appealing to males who tend to be visual while females are more auditory. However, female students are believed to be more self-motivated, conforming, and authority motivated, but they may face prejudicial attitudes (Murray et al., 1999). Research we conducted on 140 students who recently completed a group project found that female students were more likely than male students to (1) disagree with the idea that they contributed to the group in a meaningful way, (2) agree with the idea that they did most of the work in the group compared to male students, (3) agree that they learned from other groups members, and (4) strongly disagree with the idea that there was a slacker in the group (Monk-Turner and Payne, 2004).

In terms of race, it is believed that race influences "the process of knowledge acquisition in classrooms" (Romero, 1991: 203). Among other factors, African American students often must confront challenges of racist attitudes held by their fellow students or professors. This partly explains why the graduation rate of African American students is about 33 percent less for African American students than it is for white students in predominantly white colleges (Love, 1993). One would certainly expect that concerns about confronting racism may surface when African American students work directly with white students in group projects.

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