Attitudes About Working in Groups versus Individually

Alan Boyle, David Mogk, Karl Wirth, Suki Smaglik, Lisa Gilbert, Kathie Owens, and Lew Brown
A student comes to your office after class and states "I don't do groups." Group work is an important component of your Introductory Geology course. Teamwork is a primary learning objective of the course. Furthermore, the course is based on project-based learning, and 30% of each individual grade is calculated from group projects. What do you do? Do you require a group activity under any circumstance? Do you try to get the person to buy-in on collaborative work? Or, do we find an equitable alternative?


Eric Pyle and Dexter Perkins
Ask the question: Why are you using groups in the first place?

Is it necessary to use groups for students to attain the learning goals you have set? If so, you must seek to convince the student of the validity and necessity to participate. You must explain that there is a genuine need for the group work, even if they do not fully accept those needs at this time. It must be clear to the student what the consequences are for non-participation, including incomplete learning, poor final grade, refusal to write recommendations, etc.

If you cannot make the goals of the group work explicit and acceptable to the student, your choices are limited to two options: (a) re-evaluate your goals and objectives, or (b) suggest that the student "decamp" or find satisfaction elsewhere.

By re-evaluating your goals, you are seeking to ensure that the group work is absolutely necessary, that everyone stands to gain from the work. If the group work is not necessary, then there is an obligation that you find an alternative way for the student to succeed in the class and master the objectives.

More Responses

Written at the October 2007 POD workshop

Attitudes about Working in Groups

  • "Tell me about your experience." Listen to the problem, and open a conversation to (a) build understanding of position, (b) build fabric of acknowledgment of affect.
  • Emphasize early the importance of group work and its presence in the syllabus-establish expectation that group work is part of course. (You have the choice to drop.)
  • Offer the science: identify the values of group work, help faculty to see that learning outcomes are about skills and attitude as much as about content.
  • Create through discussion in group or with whole class: What does effective, responsible participation Look like, sound like in behavior? What behaviors are positive and contribute to community, what behaviors are negative and will deter participation.
  • Have students assess group process, with a rubric the students helped create, used formatively.
  • Get students to help plan individual accountability and group accountability (to prevent freeloaders).
  • If this question or problem is being posed by a faculty member, plumb in conversation their own values and goals, explore solutions rather than impose them.

Attitudes About Working in Groups versus Individually  

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