Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

"No Offense, but They're Not Experts!": Preparing Students to Collaborate in Groups with Anticipatory Case Studies

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

"No Offense, but They're Not Experts!": Preparing Students to Collaborate in Groups with Anticipatory Case Studies

Article excerpt

One of the major challenges to collaborative work in higher education is that students typically enter college classrooms in the United States without the skills they need to be productive group members. Additionally, students' attitudes about the value of collaboration with peers are frequently negative due to unsuccessful prior experiences working in groups. This article provides a discussion of the use of anticipatory case studies as a strategy to transition students into productive collaboration by challenging them to consider how they learn, the potential barriers to successful group work, possible solutions to these barriers and the development of group ground rules.

The advantages of using formal learning groups and teams as pedagogical strategies in college classrooms have been well documented and include such positive outcomes as deep learning of content, development of communication and group interaction skills and preparation for the world of work pavis, 2009; Felder & Brent, 2001; Johnson, Johnson & Stanne, 2000; Michaelsen, Knight & Fink, 2004; Pascarella & Terrenzini, 2005). While faculty are typically aware of the educational benefits of collaboration, they frequently express frustration with their attempts to successfully incorporate group learning experiences.

Numerous causes of ineffective collaborative work have been identified. Certainly, poorly designed assignments have a high potential to result in frustration for both students and instructors, and the literature on teaching and learning provides countless guidelines for designing effective group activities and projects (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005; Davis, 2009; Duch, Groh & Allen, 2001; Michaelsen, Knight & Fink, 2004; Millis & Cotteli, 1997; Stein &Hurd, 2000). However, even those instructors who understand how to design effective assignments may not be cognizant of the additional threats to successful collaboration that exist.

One additional challenge to productive group learning is the negative perceptions that students bring into the classroom. In fact, faculty can expect that a significant proportion of their students will have had unsuccessful experiences with group work that contribute to these negative attitudes (Fink, 2004). Another potential roadblock to effective teamwork is that students may lack the skills they need to be productive team members and frequently have received little to no training in group facilitation strategies (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005; Birmingham & McCord, 2004; Bosworth, 1994; Oakley, Felder, Brent & Elhajj, 2004).

Faculty members do have resources to help them create a classroom atmosphere that enhances collaborative learning. For example, instructional consultants can serve as important supports to those instructors choosing to implement group learning. Consultants can provide information on designing effective assignments and advise faculty members in methods that proactively prepare students for group work. These methods can include teaching skills to help manage conflict and improve interpersonal interaction. Consultants can also suggest providing structured opportunities to discuss the benefits of collaboration and to generate possible solutions to problems (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005).

One strategy that has been used successfully to prepare students to work in teams in business-related disciplines is the anticipatory case study. These cases provide introductory collaborative experiences while at the same time enabling students to anticipate potential challenges to teaming and to consider possible solutions to those challenges. For example, Fisher, Shaw and Ryder (1994) report on the use of a three-part anticipatory case in an orientation for new MBA students. The case study presents details of members of a hypothetical team enrolled in a management course who experience numerous group process problems. As students begin work on the case, they are asked to predict potential problems based on the details presented in the scenario. …

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