Academic journal article Education

Improving Group Work: Voices of Students

Academic journal article Education

Improving Group Work: Voices of Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

For those who use group projects, the teaching strategy is particularly appealing because of its versatility. Group projects can be organized as short-term or long-term projects. Short-term group projects might have students work together for a class period or part of a class period in an effort to learn more about a particular topic. Long-term projects could be spread out over several class periods, or the entire semester. Regardless of how long the projects are designed to last, research shows a number of benefits of group work. Among others, those benefits that have been identified in the literature include the following: (1) students learn teamwork skills, (2) students improve their critical thinking skills, and (3) students gain more insight about a particular topic.

As far as teamwork skills go, surveys of employers show that employers want college graduates to have developed teamwork skills (Blowers 2000). Advocates of group projects suggest that the pedagogical strategy affords students a firsthand experience to gain teamwork skills (Colbeck et al. 2000: Davis and Miller 1996: Young and Henquinet 2000). In this regard, it is believed that group projects "can effectively serve as a bridge between the academic community and the business world" (Lordan 1996: 43). Ideally, working with their peers, students will learn decision making skills and how to communicate with one another (Dudley, Davis, and McGrady 2001).

In addition, the symbolic interactionist in many of us would likely not be surprised by research that shows that group work helps students develop social skills (Andrusyk and Andrusyk 2003). By working with others, students are able to assign meaning to the actions of their peers as well as their own actions. They also receive feedback--formal, informal, or both--from their peers. The feedback combined with their own interpretations of group work should foster growth in terms of students' social abilities. Under the right circum stances, the well designed and implemented group work should also help students develop their critical thinking skills (Colbeck et al. 2000; Dudley et al. 2001).

While we are not aware of any studies that have examined how group projects foster the development of critical thinking skills, general findings about group work from past research tacitly suggest that the strategy could be successful in this regard. For instance, some research suggests that group projects help students to address ethical and societal considerations that arise when students work together (Roberts-Kirchoff and Caspers 2001). If the student group is diverse, students will learn about one another's backgrounds, values, and beliefs. Indeed, others have also suggested that group projects can help students learn about multicultural issues they would otherwise not learn about (Doyle, Beatty, and Shaw 1997).

Researchers also suggest that students may learn more about whatever topic is being considered if they work in groups. For example, Adams and Slater (2002) suggest that group work supplementing lectures helps make courses more interesting to students, and subsequently helps students learn more. Most instructors have stood in front of a class only to wonder if their only purpose on that day was to serve as a sedative for the majority of the class. Group work advocates argue that most any topic can be made interesting by actively involving students in the topic through some form of collaborative learning, of which group work is just one strategy.

While a number of strengths for this form of teaching strategy have been noted in the literature, potential drawbacks have limited its use. In this study, we consider how students believe group projects should be changed in order improve their pedagogical success.

METHODS

Surveys were distributed to 145 students who had just recently completed a group project. The group project was a semester long group research project that students completed. …

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