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Guidelines for Group Projects

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

With group projects becoming fashionable in most disciplines, we frequently hear grumblings from students regarding the final grade at the end of the semester. The idea behind assigning group projects is to provide students with a ‘real world’ experience where one has to work with people of varying personalities. Though this is entirely true, most companies have competent people with some relevant work experience which makes for a productive group. With most class projects, I have experienced that even good students try hard to make it work and sometimes fall short of their expectations in the end.

Recently, I came across an excellent article on some findings regarding group projects for courses. The paper is ‘Why some groups fail: A survey of students’ experiences with learning groups, SB Feichtner, EA Davis – Journal of Management Education, 1984.’

The authors surveyed students based on their experiences with group projects and found certain interesting trends. I strongly urge you to read the paper, but am happy to summarize findings that I found to be particularly interesting in the paper.

Guidelines for group formation and in class activity

  • Students are more likely to have positive experiences in classes where groups are either formed by the instructor or by a combination of methods (e.g., one instructor collected data on students’ research interests and then grouped those with similar preferences). By nearly a 2 to 1 margin, if students formed their own groups they were likely to list the group experience as being a ‘worst’ group experience.
  • Groups need to remain stable enough through the semester for group cohesiveness to develop so that groups can work effectively on their tasks. Changing groups for every project in the course is found to be a particularly bad idea (and ineffective).
  • Students’ *worst* group experience was when only 10% of total class time was devoted to group work (with an average of 22 hours spent in group work outside the classroom), whereas the *best* group experiences were found when an average of 36% of class time was devoted to group work (with an additional 31 hours spent outside the classroom setting).
  • Students were more likely to have had a good experience when there were 0/1 required group presentations. For 2 or more group presentations were required, students reported a ‘worst’ experience for the group project.
  • Having too few graded group assignments was detrimental to the process of becoming cohesive as a group.
  • Use peer evaluations to grade the project, but do not allot more than 20% of the grade for peer evaluations.

Guidelines for instructors

  • Students are very likely to blame group’s problems on the attitude or lack of competence of the instructor. On the flip side, students who had a positive experience are least likely to credit the instructor.
  • Carefully think through what you want the students to gain from the experience of working in groups. Make sure that the projects are relevant to the class. A large portion of students identified relevance as the number one distinguishing factor between their most positive and least positive group experiences.
  • Be well prepared for every class so that students dont think you are incompetent. Refer to first bullet point 🙂
  • Extremely important to ‘listen in’ when groups are discussing amongst themselves in class. Helps point out problems early in the process and minimize students’ frustrations.
  • Provide immediate feedback to the class with respect to the performance of each group.
  • Encourage students to give their group a name, maybe a logo and sit together during class. Helps engender a feeling of cohesiveness and allows for a productive outcome.

This paper opened my eyes to many of the myths that I have had regarding group constitution for class projects. What are your experiences? Have you had success with varying group sizes, group members through a course?