Is group work a necessary evil?
A professor in my department recently sent out this article on group work http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/my-students-dont-like-group-work/. If you’re like me, you won’t click on the link so, in summary, students hate working in groups (surprising, I know). Students cite everything from hating their groups, to being confused about the information, to not being able to fall asleep during class as their reasons for hating group activity.
So, should we encourage group work?
Obviously, students must learn how to work well with others to survive in the work place. However, I’m sure you have all been in a group where you were the only one doing work, or the material was so challenging that you really did need more instructor from the professor. I generally despise groups, and I think professors tend to use groups as a way of making their classes more “student centered”. But, when done correctly, groups can also be the greatest learning experience.
Specifically, groups can be great for exploring a new topic, but it can’t be so far out of reach that students can’t figure out the material. For example, I’m currently in a multivariate statistics class that is run entirely by group discussion. If you were wondering, it fails miserably, largely because the students don’t have enough background to lead a successful discussion. However, when I was a undergrad, all of my classes were group-oriented, and it worked because it was mostly problem solving classes built off of information that we were already given, through lecture.
So, why am I writing all of this? Well, many of us have been told that we need to make classes more student-centered, but the answer isn’t to strip lecture out of class and make student teach themselves. I largely agree with students that group work is terrible, but that’s because it’s not being done correctly. It’s usually being used as a fallback.
Don’t use group work as a fallback.