- Use this approach when you want students to learn from each other, particularly in terms of drawing on previous experiences
- or when the material is too much reasonably to be covered by one individual
- or for a practical exercise which requires more than one person to complete it (such as a surveying exercise), or where equipment and resources are limited, and need to be shared (in some lab settings).
- Working in groups with limited teacher guidance calls for a
degree of maturity on the part of the students, and probably a certain amount of social
cohesion within the group as a whole. Do not try it with a group which is still "forming" or "storming". Do not try it where there is any prior
evidence of bullying or harassment.
- This is particularly the case in relation to relatively
long-term projects which require effective management to be exercised by group members
over their own efforts, especially where out-of-class research etc. is called for.
- In practical terms, it is extremely difficult to use this approach in conjunction with an anonymous-marking system.
- Care needs to be taken with the composition of the groups: is
it more desirable to work in
- mixed-ability groups, so that the weaker members can learn
from the stronger? or
- "streamed" groups, so that the tutor can spend more
time with the weaker groups?
- Self-selected groups, based on shared interests if each group is undertaking a slightly
different project? Note that social considerations are quite likely to contaminate
"shared interest" choices, which may or may not matter. Note the importance of
thinking through the equal opportunities implications before accepting this apparently
- mixed-ability groups, so that the weaker members can learn from the stronger? or
- Attention similarly needs to be devoted to the awarding of marks or
grades for the associated assignment. There is always the possibility that one or members
of the group will not "pull their weight", and may therefore jeopardise the
assessment of their colleagues, or coast to a good mark on their backs. You can:
- call for individual assignments, based on the work done in common,
but assessed conventionally. This is the safest method but can undermine the required
co-operative culture, if individuals know that they can "break away" when it
comes to the final assessment.
- allocate the same mark to everyone in the group, with the attendant problems identified
- allocate a total mark to the group (mark for the project x number
of members) and let them work out themselves how it is to be divided up. This is a
radical approach which requires considerable sophistication and negotiation skills on the
part of the members of the group, and may constitute an abrogation of the teacher's
- award individual marks regardless of the work being
group-based. This is bound to be subjective, and further subject to your prejudices and
preferences for some students (yes, even you and me!)
- Call for a common group report, and allocate the same mark to everyone for that (out of perhaps 60% or so of the total marks for the assignment), but then allow individuals to submit additional work for the remaining 40% of the marks: this is (imho) probably the best compromise.
- call for individual assignments, based on the work done in common, but assessed conventionally. This is the safest method but can undermine the required co-operative culture, if individuals know that they can "break away" when it comes to the final assessment.
See the pages on Using the Group for general considerations about groupwork: these brief notes are only concerned with assessable group projects, not syndicate groups etc.
Clear briefing for group-based tasks is essential. Since it is in their nature that much of the work will be invisible to the teacher, and normal considerations are complicated by issues of group processes, you should always provide a written briefing which covers most of the possible eventualities (such as what happens if a group member is sick for a substantial part of the project), and be transparent about the procedures.