What the professor says: Listen up class; let’s divide into groups for a graded project.
What the professor thinks: How do I make this activity work? How do I make the grading fair? How do I not make it seem to the students like every other team project they’ve ever done in their college careers? And what about the student(s) in each group just along for the ride, not contributing and not interested?
Question 2: Self-selected or instructor selected?
Ninety per cent of the time the groups should be instructor selected. That allows for balance and a fair mix of strong and weak students. Allowing self-selection also always means a couple of students will be drifting and they will have to be assigned a group, thus giving those students an additional psychological disadvantage. Another interesting thing can be that after the groups are assigned, allow one person from each group to switch groups by trading with another person. But only one person per group.
Question 3: Should a group leader be selected or assigned?
Not all groups need a leader. Usually a strong student will assume control anyway. If there is the need for a leader, have the group select its own leader. First task after that is to have the leader write down all names of the people in the group, gather their contact information, and to be responsible for making certain everyone in the group introduces themselves to the others. Also let the leader know that he/she should be the one to communicate with the professor if there are questions or problems.
Question 4: What are the considerations in evaluating the work of the group?
The easy answer is to give the group a group grade. Everyone gets the same grade. Methods that involve giving individual group members separate grades include having each group member submit a memo highlighting their contributions. Or having the group leader evaluate the contributions of each member in a face-to-face meeting with the professor. Another way is to have each group member assign a grade to every other group member based on his or her contributions and efforts.
Question 5: Are evaluations ever fair in group work? And can evaluation of group work stand up to a challenge?
Short answer: No. Often professors find that the documentation necessary to be recorded to fairly evaluate each and every group member negates any value of group work. But, the very purpose of having students work in groups is to teach each student to understand themselves in terms of working with others, to understand how to get along and work with teams that often involve those they both like and dislike, and to examine how learning can occur and not occur in group situations.
Group activities are seldom great ways for students to learn course content, but they can be great ways for class discussion and for students to learn how to act and react in these sorts of situations. And because of all this, the evaluation of the group as a whole is fairer than evaluating each individual. And despite the fact that slackers will often get a higher grade than they deserve, that becomes just one of the course disadvantages to group work.
Question 6: How can group work in my course be different from every other course?
Honestly, it usually cannot but something that often works is to simply explain to students that you do not want the same old group work they’ve done before, but this time you want something that truly demonstrates the collective intelligence and creativity of all the group members. Tell them to make it great, make it interesting, make it fascinating, and make it reflective of the combined intellect of all the members.