group-work

CCO, Public Domain, Pixabay, geralt 

Well, I got to admit it, I hate group work, and I realized I am not the only one. When I was a student, it never worked, and I felt the process and the result as being unfair. When my students have to do group work today I feel sorry for them. Last year, some of the really good students ended up with lower grades than they had achieved earlier in the course, and they were angry. They hated group work too.

With this course, the ONL, I have actually gained a new experience. Until this third part of the course, the learning in communities, I had not really realized that the whole course is based on group work. The reason I haven’t thought about it, I guess, is that everything has been so smooth. I had to ask myself why this group work has been so different then my earlier experiences.

When I read Anderson (2008), I realized that the ONL course is doing everything right, everything according to the book, this book. They follow all Anderson’s good advices on how to, not only make group work function, but also how this form of learning can actually be more rewarding than other forms of learning.

Anderson focuses on the teaching presence; on how to design and organize the learning experience; devising and implementing activities to encourage discourse between all participant and content of the course; and how to add expertise through direct instructions. Some examples on how this can be utilized is to:

“change the design role of many teachers from content creation to customization, application, and contextualization of learning sequences“

“mix right between opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous interaction and group and independent study activities”

“the teacher regularly reads and responds to student contributions and concerns, and constantly searches for ways to support understanding in the individual student, and the development of the learning community as a whole”

I also realized that some of my earlier bad experiences were due to my only experience with one of the two models for group work Anderson presents, the independent study model, while the ONL course is using the community of learning model.

Anderson is also very well aware of the possibility of the enormous time effort it might take if one is to do everything correct, and is very clear that the task of creating an online course with group work “should not be a life-consuming one!” He provide sound suggestions on how it is possible to both create a good course and doing it within the limited hours teachers get for teaching.

I have gained some important insights from this part of the course, which I will take with me next time I have to, not force but encourage, my students to do group work. This module of the ONL course was somewhat different than the others; the main learning media was text, not videos. I think that was most helpful, it is more thorough and it can be used as a source to go back to at the point I need good advice to restructure own teaching.

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5 thoughts on “Overcoming the negative stigma attached to group work

  1. Great post – agree with you 100% about this (here: https://lottaabjorn.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/collaboration-anywhere-in-sight/)! “Group work” as a concept is difficult since it bears totally different constructions and you and I are compelling evidence of this. I don’t think it is possible to understand the inherent possibilities in good group work unless you experience it first-hand, which is probably why teachers in general don’t seem to manage to get this right. What are your ideas for group work in your own teaching?

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  2. I too agree with you Ida! I find it very difficult and I often get frustrated when working in groups. But I also have some good experiences from PBL work in my education in library and information science.

    And as you point out it takes a lot of time and effort to create courses with group work that really works and leads to collaboration and new knowledge shared amongst the group members. Good that you found some help from Anderson how to do this without taking too many of your work hours 🙂

    I’m glad you got some insights from the ONL course, on the topic of group work and collaboration, and I hope it will be helpful in your area of teaching in the future as well. Do you think it will?

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  3. Your reflections are mostly useful for me – Thank you! In our program many courses use groupwork and students dislike it even though the teachers are different and use various pedagogic approaches. But it may be because of the over all models and structure as you say, and the ONL course has proven to me that there must be other approaches as it obviously work so well – it is learning by doing. Great reflections in all your blog posts.

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  4. There is group work and then there is collaboration. The old idea of group work, I think, was based on the idea to divide all the work into bits and pieces and then, after all participants did their home work, put all together to one presentation.
    The ideas behind collaboration are among all, as you also point out, to reflect on problems and create solutions together within a community. And that is far from group work. When it works it is amazing to be a part of all activities.

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  5. Ida – thx a lot for this reflective and ohnest post. I found it really useful. In my opinion the group work is not about dividing a task into small sub-tasks, assign responsibilities for each, then work individually and later collect individual effort into one common outcome/presentation/poster etc. For me this is collective work, not collaboration. I think that collaboration is very much about discussion, common decision making and shared responsibility of the final result. Such a view of group work is very hard to be designed and facilitated. But I believe that only such approach makes the group work worth and effective.

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