NEW TOOL: Helping Students Learn How to Work in Groups

By Robyn Bergstrom and Brian Schmidt

  Increasingly, faculty members are requiring students to take more responsibility for their learning through the use of collaborative activities.  Group work is one of many Teach One Another approaches proven to be effective in increasing student learning.  Several tools and articles sharing best practices on structuring group work have already been posted on this website.  

Even with well structured group work, however, students struggle because they lack group process skills to manage these experiences.  Student focus groups reveal that many groups struggle with:


  • Unclear roles: In the formation of the group, students are not sure how to interrelate with one another. Few groups discuss roles openly and many spend a lot of time sidestepping the issues because they don't want to "step on anyone's toes."
  • Uneven workloads: One or two students carry most the burden of the group for the group while others contribute very little.
  • Lack of commitment: Students miss meetings, come late, or don't complete assignments, behavior which stifles the group's productivity.
  • Unproductive use of time: Unorganized group discussion and time spent catching up unprepared team members, wastes valuable time.

group.jpgThese problems are not uncommon-especially among freshman who lack experience working in groups.  Generally, students' skills improve as they participate in numerous groups over their undergraduate experience.  Unfortunately, some students participate in dysfunctional groups early in their experience at BYU-Idaho.  Lacking the skills to improve the situation, these students can become frustrated and develop negative attitudes toward group work.


Training students in group management skills helps students avoid many of these problems-particularly in lower division courses that use group work.  These skills will not only help students with their assignments at BYU-Idaho, but will help them improve valuable life-long skills with groups.


To assist instructors on campus on teaching group managements, a new two-page tool has been posted to the Learning and Teaching website.  The tool, Helping Students Learn How to Work in Groups, offers suggestions on what skills are important to address with students new to group work along with teaching ideas and resources.


While these skills can powerfully affect student learning, they are not intuitive to many people, so explicitly helping student develop them can significantly improve a students' experience with the group learning process.

Posted November 19, 2009 Comments (0)

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