Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Making groups work for students

'Great thinking always happens in groups' says Ken Robinson in a lecture for the Royal Society of Arts (see the superb short RSAnimate). Students like group work: some time ago I did a tour round UCL and every single one of the social learning spaces was full with students working in groups. But students hate group assessment, and to be honest I can't blame them. Why should they like it?

Henry Fuseli, The Oath on the Ruttli, 1779–80, oil on canvas, 267 x 178 cm,
It seems to me that the trick is get students working in groups in a way that helps them prepare for individual pieces of work. This should be easy to do since a quick look at our own work provides many examples of collaborative work that lead to individual outputs. For example, I co-organise a conference but I don't co-write a paper (although I did, once, and it was great fun). I work with a large number of other people to curate an exhibition and compile a catalogue, but the catalogue essay is my own. You get the idea.

In my final-year course this year I've started by getting the students into small groups (3 or 4) and asking them to do small research tasks between classes, along with their readings. The findings will provide the material they work on for a small piece of individual written coursework, and the idea is that as a group they will probably have more findings to draw on than if they had worked individually from the outset. I'll report in a few weeks on whether it works well or not.

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