Groups or Teams?

This week, I’d like to continue my exploration of PBL by taking a closer look at the question:  groups or teams?  In other words, how is a group different from a team, and how do each play a role in education and in the workplace?  In one of the readings before spring break, Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink differentiated between groups and teams and argued that teams result in greater quality of student learning:

The authors argue that quality of student learning increases progressively with traditional teaching < casual group use < cooperative learning < team based learning

Figure 1.2 from Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink comparing different teaching methods involving small groups.

Similarly, in the workplace, groups can be divided into three categories (listed from least effective to most effective):

  • Dependent Level
  • Independent Level
  • Interdependent Level

Dependent Level groups are highly directed by the supervisor (in the classroom, the teacher).  I would argue that this could be similar to traditional instruction, with each student getting information from the teacher on how to learn the material.  Some might refer to this as “spoon-feeding.”

Independent Level groups, I think, are the type that we are most familiar with.  The group cooperates by dividing up task, accomplishing them individually, and reporting their findings to the rest of the group.  These groups may meet infrequently and have little understanding of what the other members of the group are doing.  I think this could be analysis to what the authors refer to as a “group” rather than a team.  Although these may not be ideal for student learning, I, personally, find this structure pretty familiar both from my classroom “group projects” and my work experiences.

Interdependent Level groups are true teams.  Many argue that these groups are the only type in which the group performs better than any individual (rather than just as an average of individual abilities).  Compared to a looser group, teams meet more frequently and produce a product that is truly collective, rather than a stitching together of individual contributions (see Table 1 in the “For Dummies” article for a more detailed comparison of groups/teams).  These are considered the best for student learning as well as work performance, but I personally wonder how often this actually happens in practice . . .

In closing, although it’s clear that we want “teams” rather than “groups” in our clasrooms, I’m still not sure, as a teacher, how to encourage “groups” to transform into “teams” . . .

. . . relatively painlessly for all parties involved, that is.

What do you think?  Have your “group project” experiences (as a student or a teacher) reached the level of “team projects?”  If so, how did you get there?


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