Group work has the unique ability to deliver results that extend far beyond a single term’s academic grades. Asking students to work together as a team benefits them in several ways. The nature of collaboration among peers leads to greater critical thinking skills, stronger collaborative skills, more accountability, improves self-regulation, and enhanced communication skills. Students hone the ability to develop and build an argument that stands up to scrutiny while increasing retention of knowledge and understanding of key concepts. Putting together groups that reflect diverse experiences means greater perspectives that lead to more effective problem solving with more creative solutions. And the strong social and academic ties that arise from group work can improve overall student retention.
How Group Work Challenges Students
Before developing strategies for better group work results, it’s important to understand why some students find group work unsatisfactory. Given the diversity in personality types, it’s natural that introverts and extroverts will see their roles in group work differently. Students’ ability to self-manage can vary greatly and those differences skills like time management and empathy can cause frustration. Some students may feel a lack of confidence in trusting the instructor to accurately see how much each student contributes and the quality of those contributions. And students may also have concerns about their fellow students’ commitment to the project.
Group Work Challenges Faculty, Too
It’s not just students who find group work challenging. While there are some distinct benefits to faculty, such as the ability to assign more complex projects and perhaps an overall fewer number of projects to review, there are some obstacles, too. It can indeed be hard to objectively see how students are contributing and the quality of their contributions. Faculty may make erroneous assumptions about students’ ability to collaborate and self-manage in a group work setting. And faculty may have difficulty in fairly assessing and evaluating individual and group project results. To score only one and not the other can fail to meet students’ expectations and that frustration can be damaging.
Develop Strategies for Effective Learning Through Group Work
A school’s faculty has great latitude in making students’ group work experience productive and worthwhile. Much of it comes down to the foundations laid by faculty members in advance of the assigned activity and in the introduction of it. Have a clear idea of what the final goal of the project should look like and communicate these expectations to students. Consider reviewing key principles of successful group work, such as assigning roles and delegating tasks. Balance individual effort with group productivity by soliciting reflections on both.
At an institutional level, make it easier for students to collaborate by providing a web-accessible educational technology space where groups can exchange ideas and feedback amongst themselves, including sharing documents and feedback. Provide students with confidence in the process of assessment and evaluation by offering ed tech analytics as an objective tool.
Group projects have long been a part of the educational experience because the benefits can heavily outweigh potential drawbacks. Building self-management, collaboration, negotiation, communication, and critical thinking skills serve students well beyond academics and into employment. Faculty play a role in establishing a strong framework for success in assigning group work, and institutions can support them both by implementing education technology tools like web-accessible collaborative workspace and analytics for objective assessment and evaluation.
Hearing an instructor say they are assigning a group assignment can be both relieving and terrifying as a student. Many group projects involve more total work than individual assignments. However, after the work is split between all group members, it is often less work per person. At least, that’s how it is supposed to be.
More often than not, there is at least one student in every group who does not “carry their weight” in the group. This causes a lot of stress to the remaining group members. They do not want to get a poor grade on the assignment, so they have to complete the extra work that the lacking members were supposed to do. They are too afraid to tell the instructor this information because the other student is bound to be combative which leads to a “he said/she said” situation of finger pointing. The instructor is typically forced to dismiss the group members who actually did the work because they have no way of knowing otherwise. Instructors also don’t like to pick sides so they just leave the situation alone and don’t dive any deeper. Obviously, this is frustrating. As an involved student with a full course load, internship, and a part-time job, it’s hard to keep up as it is without having to carry the weight of extra coursework. The animosity this builds with other students really isn’t setting anyone up for success either.
In theory, the group work experience should improve lifelong interpersonal skills that will transfer into the professional world as well as other aspects of life. Most students take advantage of this opportunity to grow, but a small minority hold the success of everyone back. Students often designate certain sections of a project to each member, and the tools provided do little to help encourage communication between members. This ends up hurting the entire group in the short term and long term. In the long term, students are not developing the interpersonal skills that are essential to successful group work in the professional world. In the short term, the students are not learning all of the content the instructor intends for them to learn through the group assignment.
From the students’ perspective, the cons of group work can often outweigh the pros, but these can all be fixed with simple solutions that involve only a small amount of extra effort from both the students and instructors. First, students need to realize the benefit of group work themselves, giving them more incentive to work collaboratively and cooperatively with their group members. Not only will this develop these interpersonal skills which group work is designed to target, but students may even inspire this willingness to collaborate and engage from the entirety of the group. Second, the group members need to leverage technology to be in contact with each other as much as possible, allowing each other to ask and respond to questions. This can certainly be helped by the professor or university assigning the work on a collaborative platform, such as Omega Notes.
Improving communication and effort between both students and instructors go hand in hand when improving the effectiveness of group work. When communication is improved in a group, often effort will begin to improve and set precedent for an individuals’ next experience with group work. This is due to the fact that the students believe they are improving their efficiency and not wasting as much time when completing the project.
Today, technology has allowed this form of communication to improve drastically from what it was previously. Students can communicate and see other members’ work instantly with instant messaging, shared documents, and collaborative learning platforms. When students have questions, they are able to ask instructors through message boards instead of waiting until class time or office hours. From the student point of view, they are asking questions when they are stuck and getting responses immediately so they don’t lose their train of thought. From the instructor perspective, they are able to see which groups and group members are putting in the most effort into the assignment. Instructors are also able to confirm whether or not the students are on the correct path to achieve the goals that have been set relating to both content retention and real-world professional skills.
Case-based learning provides several important benefits to students. In addition to making stronger connections between theory and practice, students also develop greater interpersonal skills through working with peers. But instructors face some inherent challenges in using this teaching method (Mostert, 2007). It does require significant preparation on the part of the teacher and the students and it can be hard to encourage, let alone assess, student participation and performance. Using collaborative learning systems can resolve these issues, providing students and faculty alike with a useful tool that makes using case based learning practical, efficient, and effective.
Ease Prep for Students and Faculty
One of the challenges for faculty in carrying out case-based learning is preparing the case in advance for students to review before class. Traditionally, faculty were limited by the scope and type of resources available; likewise, students may have experienced limitations around access, especially when a single set of case study materials were placed on reserve at the library for an entire section of the class to access.
Collaborative learning systems can allow faculty to go beyond print materials for case-based learning and include interactive, audio or visual media; not only does this provide a stronger case study, but it also meets the needs of students who learn in different ways. In addition, the ability to use non-print resources may also allow faculty to develop more dynamic case study materials, boosting student engagement. By providing students with all of the materials needed for case-based learning through an online access point instead of a physical one, collaborative learning systems allow access from anywhere; students can more easily prepare for the case by completing the reading and materials review in advance, no matter where they are.
Boost Student Participation
A collaborative interface modeled on today’s social media environment can deliver a more familiar experience for learners; this in turn can improve participation by removing the tech learning curve that might otherwise slow student participation in a collaborative learning system. It ensures equal access by all students in the class from anywhere. Collaborative EdTech software solutions facilitate student participation by allowing students to work in small groups; students may be more likely to participate in smaller groups of 5-10 versus speaking up in a larger class of 30 or more students.
In some cases, students may be new to the case-based learning method. Using a collaborative learning system can keep everyone focused on the observations, discussions, and decisions that factor into genuine understanding through this teaching method. Having a single space to store notes, questions, and related student-prepared material can help maintain that focus. And being able to share student-created materials, like notes, among peers can prepare the entire cohort for a case-based learning experience in the classroom.
Effectively Measure Student Performance in Group Settings
Concerns about measuring student performance are common in group work settings. By carrying out case based learning activities in collaborative learning platform where EdTech data is collected and analyzed, faculty can assure students of an assessment that’s complete and impartial. Real-time snapshots of student activities allow faculty to intervene promptly as needed, reducing information asymmetry while offering faculty a chance to provide feedback to students that can be acted on right away.
Many of the challenges of case-based learning can be overcome by adopting collaborative learning system to support student work. From preparation to practice to follow up, having a single tool as the central point of service for case based learning can make the experience more valuable for all involved.
Ask most students and they’ll probably tell how group work may be one of the least satisfying experiences they’ve ever had in school. Yet research suggests that group work, such as case-based teaching, can provide significant benefits. Students who participate in group-based active learning methods improve critical thinking, decision-making, and analytical skills, as well as the interpersonal skills necessary for discussion, collaboration, and consensus; all skills which are transferable outside the classroom (Bruner, 1991). Despite this fact, there remains an area of need within group work: a reliable method of evaluating student performance objectively and efficiently.
The Problem with Measuring Student Involvement in Group Work
Instructors always have the option of soliciting self and peer-assessments after group work, but those may not be the most reliable indicators of who’s engaged and who’s struggling. And direct faculty observation is time-consuming and can be disruptive; the very nature of faculty observation can prompt students to behave in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily. There have been efforts to develop evaluation tools and rubrics, but these can be time and labor intensive.
The EdTech Solution
Education technology can provide not only tools for use in group work, but also the kind of data that allows faculty to assess student performance during these activities.
A specialized EdTech platform can provide group work activities directly to students. Students can interact with each other by asking questions or taking notes that are shared among group members. As a collaborative tool, the platform can reduce barriers to participation by providing another avenues of communication (e.g., written over verbal) for students who may not all have the same learning and communication styles.
When students use an EdTech platform as a collaboration tool for group work, they may be more engaged. Many of today’s learners are already exceedingly adept at navigating digital spaces, and these tools give students the opportunity to interact with the course material and their peers in a way that feels natural to them and yet still focused on academics. Shared notes, comments, and questions can illuminate connections and facilitate understanding of complex ideas for students. On the faculty side, having access to data regarding student use of the materials on an individual and class basis allows for earlier intervention where needed so that students are less likely to fall through the cracks.
Objective and Usable Measurements
The data generated by EdTech analytics allows instructors to measure a student’s engagement and performance in group work settings like case-based learning at an individual level. Data includes analysis of collaboration and comprehension metrics, too. With real-time insight into group dynamics, instructors can better develop interventions tailored to student success. EdTech analytics can be trusted to provide faculty with reliable and objective analysis of group work that’s easily accessible and readily usable. And students can have confidence that their work and participation are being evaluated objectively.
Collaborative EdTech Platforms: The Solution For Group Work
As much as some students may lament it, group work is here to stay because studies show it gets results. Shifting group work, like case studies, to an online collaborative platform may encourage greater participation among students with diverse communication styles in an environment that’s already comfortable for them. And the EdTech analytics available to instructors through faculty access to the same platform can provide teachers with an effective way to measure and evaluate individual and group participation, a win for teachers and their students.
According to Pew Research Center, nearly 90% of adults between the ages of 18 to 29 use social media. The student population reaching college age now, Gen Z, grew up with the internet and social media as an everyday part of their life. Research has already shown that this digital native generation learns through a completely different pedagogy, and a large majority of universities are not accustomed to accommodating this way of teaching. If university administrators and educators want to keep students engaged, they need to adapt to the needs of an increasingly digitized generation of students.
Facts About the Digital Natives
A large majority educators are not digital natives, and most are continuously surprised by how much social media and digital technology influences the lives of younger generations.
91 percent of Gen Z have their digital devices in bed
71 percent use Snapchat more than six times per day
59 percent say screen time makes them happy (more than time with their family, which is 40 percent)
Gen Z uses up to five different social channels per day
Gen Z spends 2 hours 55 minutes per day on social media
Don’t Judge Digital Natives, Adapt to Them
If you research Gen Z extensively, you’re certain to walk away with an interesting perspective which challenges many Gen Z stereotypes. Gen Z is acutely aware of global issues, and they value diversity. In many cases, social media platforms are powering this extensive exposure to global narratives.
82 percent of Gen Z think carefully about what they put on social media
77 percent are extremely interested in volunteering
63 percent prefer to connect to peers and everyday people, not celebrities
It’s easy to dismiss social media and this digital generation’s plea for a change in pedagogy as a misguided youthful request. In reality, we’re faced with a major cultural shift and it’s up to our educational system to respond in kind. It’s clear that Gen Z-ers want to better themselves and their communities as a whole. Will our educational institutions provide them with the tools they need to succeed?
The Solution: Collaborative Learning Environments
If a university is looking to adapt to modern learning pedagogy, look no further than digital collaborative learning environments. Collaborative learning systems, offered by companies like Omega Notes, are backed by research principles such as online collaborative learning theory (OCL). OCL theory offers a structure to learning in which students are encouraged and supported to work collaboratively. Through collaboration, students are empowered to invent, explore ways to innovate, and to seek the conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems rather than just merely memorizing the correct answer.
Collaborative learning environments offer a social experience powered by the interconnected technology that modern learners yearn for. When institutions successfully leverage collaborative learning technology, they can expect to see engaged students who are more passionate about the learning experience their professors are able to offer. When educators play to the strengths of Gen Z, they’ll find a generation or youth eager to learn and work as an active participant in their education.
Technology just for technology’s sake serves no one and is generally in direct conflict with the aim of higher education– to assist students in meeting their career goals through the acquisition of knowledge and skills necessary for the workforce. But higher education has become increasingly expensive over the years, and it’s hard to blame students who want to be sure they’re getting as much as they can out of their financial investment. There are several reasons why ed tech, in particular, is one way schools can help students achieve a better return on the time and money they commit to an academic program.
Higher Quality Learning
Course materials and the myriad ways to access them via ed tech fits seamlessly into how young adults already interact with their world electronically. These digital natives are already navigating Internet resources and social media; ed tech tools can harness the comfort and familiarity of that environment by making interactions with course materials more engaging. Studies suggest that higher rates of engagement have the potential to improve outcomes, not just in the retention of information but of student persistence in completing an academic program.
The traditional lecture-based teaching style doesn’t always fit a student’s learning profile. Ed tech facilitates differentiated learning in the classroom to ensure that all students have the opportunity to not only get the education they’re paying for but to excel academically. Students can acquire knowledge according to a variety of learning styles while working collaboratively with peers to benefit from each other’s strengths in tangible ways.
A Higher Ed Experience Aligned with Student Values
Many of today’s college students are mindful of not only how much money they may be spending for an education but also how much of an environmental footprint their education might have. Instead of pricey printed textbooks, ed tech tools like Omega Notes supports responsible stewardship of natural paper resources, with the added benefit of saving students money; by accessing course materials online instead of buying printed textbooks, students could save some of the more than $1,100 in textbook costs they spend each year.
Greater Accountability for Students
Faculty can establish ed tech parameters that enforce student accountability in completing work on-time, ensuring everyone progresses in keeping with the syllabus. And in cases where students aren’t able to keep pace, an educator can use ed tech tools and data analytics made possible by them to get a better understanding of how students are doing overall and revise curriculum accordingly or deploy early intervention strategies to reduce students falling behind and failing.
Virtually all students understand that earning a postsecondary education requires a significant investment of resources, and they’re ready and willing to make that commitment. But as the ones who are ultimately responsible for the time and money it takes to complete an academic program, it’s understandable that students would be aware of and concerned with maximizing the return on that time and money. With that goal in mind, colleges and universities can use ed tech as an effective tool to support students’ academic performance in a cost-conscious environment.