|Posted by Charles Fischer on January 23, 2011 at 1:17 PM|
Here's an article about the supposed "folly" of group projects. The author proposes that the results of of group work are often lower than the individuals. Top students, for example, will often put their names on assignments that they never would otherwise. The idea is that the weaker students will pull down the better students.
However, the author does go on to argue that group work should be done right or not done at all. So what does done right mean? It means that serious time and effort needs to be put into planning the group work - and this should include the students from the beginning. All of the problems raised by the article can be turned over to the students, so that the learning experience is not just about the information in the course itself.
This leads to the real problem: efficiency. In my experience group work is about one-third academic, one-third social, and one-third problem-solving. If this is accurate, then group work essentially takes about three times as long to "cover" the material. But other learning is happening, or can happen. The students can learn how to politely disagree, how to compromise, how to divide a large task, and so on. But this also requires that the students are taught how to do these things as well.
Group work comes down to this, then: What are the objectives? If the only objective is the course material, the academic stuff, then group work is probably a bad idea. However, if the learning objectives include skills, such as listening, speaking, compromising and so on, teachers should find ways to make group work, well, work.
People should keep in mind, though, that students do NOT have a lot of practice working effectively together, so many group projects will start out pretty rough. They'll only get better with practice, though... which is where Socratic Seminar comes in.