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Explaining the task effectively.

Being available for clarification about the nature of the assignment and how the parts of the assignment all work together to form a cohesive and compelling policy proposal for a general audience, etc.

Putting the groups together.

For more information about this, see: “How to Assemble Groups” below.

Orienting students toward their goals.

Instructing them about the phases of their work and what processes they should follow.

  • Assign and evaluate a proposal for the overall project.
  • For example, they first should develop their own learning plan. What knowledge do we need; How can we find it, etc.?
  • Next, they should develop a work plan. How will we proceed with decision-making; What deadlines do we need to meet; How should we proceed to work on this? Click here to see a form you may use to help the students come up with a work plan or a team “contract.”

Implementing and executing minimal mechanisms to ensure active, constructive participation from all group members.

  • Assign frequent (weekly or bi-weekly) group progress memos, wherein the groups are reflecting upon what they have accomplished and what their upcoming immediate and longer-term goals still are.
  • Devise methods to ensure accountability among group members (for example, assign peer evaluations. Having students imagine they’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a job works well.)

Assessing and evaluating group and individual learning.

Best practices suggest grading methods that evaluate both the group product and process as a whole, but also individual contributions. A roughly 50/50 percent split on the overall course evaluation helps ensure both individual accountability and a solid group effort.

How to Assemble Groups

Deciding who gets put into which group is always a challenging task. Should you let students pick their own groups? Should you randomly assign groups? Should you worry about demographic categories when deciding who is in which group? And so on. The following is meant to provide you with a few simple suggestions, based upon the best available research and consensus among scholars, about this task.

Q: How many students should I put in a group?

A: There is no consensus in the research about this, but five appears to the optimal (and maximum) number for most of the types of assignments we are thinking about in the CTL curriculum. If a student drops, this still would leave that group with four, which also is workable. In very small classes, where you still want more groups rather than fewer, larger groups, three students per group can work.

Q: Should I let students pick their own groups?

A: This one is fairly straightforward: No. Don’t do this. Here’s a good article on this topic (and other topics of interest):Oakley, B., Felder, R. M., Brent, R., & El Hajj, I. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2, 9-34.

Q: What about demographic factors?

A: Because one of the key goals in the CTL curriculum is to help students develop skills working with diverse people, obviously this is something to consider. For this reason, attempting to construct heterogeneous groups is best practice. Demographics across sections will vary greatly, so use your best judgment in constructing the groups.

In particular, for the types of goals we’re trying to accomplish, we should attempt to get as much variety in each group as possible (widely different majors and skill sets, different academic abilities, different interests and hobbies, if known, and so forth.) In the workplace, this is one of the main reasons teams are assigned tasks. A few people might be in creative areas (visually artistic and creative), a few might be highly skilled writers and critical thinkers, and others might be talented working with numbers and data. The idea is that each person’s strengths contribute to the benefit of the group, and individuals’ weaknesses are minimized.

Another factor to consider is the students’ schedules. You could conduct a “Doodle” poll (or collect the info some other way) and put together groups of students who have the most available time slots in common with one another. An addition benefit to this is that they cannot complain about time issues later in the semester.