Group work success creates more than good brainstorming sessions – it involves every member of the group taking responsibility in an active learning experience.
The value of group interaction goes beyond answering a question, explaining a complex concept or a physical or social phenomenon, solving a problem. The real power of groups working together is the learning– learning practical knowledge and synthesizing the results of that learning.
Keep in mind the following elements of group work success:
• Size: Three to six people in a group is ideal. The smaller the group, the more likely each person will be to contribute to the discussion. Groups of two or three are sufficient for simple tasks for which consensus should be reached quickly. Groups of four to six are better for more complex tasks in which a greater number of ideas may improve the final results.
• Selection: You should either assign roles randomly to groups or select participants so that each group has an equal distribution of talents. Do not let individuals choose their own teams, or they will likely team up with friends or form cliques that can lose focus and get off topic.
Video on group formation (running time 4:57).
• Duration: Use the groups for brief discussions starting with simple tasks and small problems. Long-term groups will work more substantively and less superficially if they begin with easy tasks to solve– teams build rapport and gain confidence in their abilities– before moving on to the greater challenge.
To derive the greatest benefit from the group interaction, you should spend a few minutes clarifying each participants roles and the expectations for the group’s work and the output or results.
Designating Roles in Groups
Groups that are created for discussion can be easily organized around a four-person model based on roles. Each member of the group plays a specific role that supports the team’s collaborative effort. These roles include:
• Leader: Responsible for keeping the group focused on the task, maintaining the schedule (meetings, deadlines), and maintaining contact information (phone numbers, emails).
• Encourager: Encourages conversation and inclusion of all opinions, and guides the discussion toward consensus.
• Prober: Ensures that the assumptions are correct and that there is sufficient evidence for the solution.
• Recorder: Writes down the group’s solution that will be submitted for the group evaluation.
While some people will tend to lead and some will tend to follow, everyone should be willing to compromise and modify their ideas in the interest of group unity. If the groups are going to be working together on a long-term project or multiple tasks, you may wish to modify these roles to emulate roles that one might encounter in your discipline. Ensure that the participants rotate through these positions. Break a long project into at least as many tasks as there are people in each group and have the students rotate through the roles each time they start a new task.
Sharing Group Results
Group members should have an equal role in sharing of the results of their group with other groups at large. This holds them each accountable to show their work. Having to show other groups what they did increases motivation to produce higher level work. While in the past, instructors were used to having groups report out their work either verbally or on newsprint posted on walls along with a walk-around format, for long-term projects, many social pedagogies now exist that can be employed, such as a video or slide presentation or having groups create an advertisement or a Public Service Announcement (PSA), a blog, or a web page, based on their results.
Debrief participants about the lessons they might have learned from the group work. Some reflection on the learning experience adds to both depth of knowledge and the discovery of successful social interactions.