Group Work


Increasingly, students are asked to undertake assignments and projects in small groups. Research tends to indicate that students working in small groups have better learning outcomes both in quantity of information learned and retention.

There are two aspects of group work to keep in mind when deciding upon learning outcomes. Some group work focus on output—the creation of a report, presentation, model, etc.  Others focus on the process of group dynamics and the development of interpersonal and problem solving skills.  It is important to decide how you weight these two components and to convey this information to your students.

Some useful resources include:

"Cooperative Learning: Students Working in Small Groups", Barbara Gross Davis in Speaking of Teaching, Stanford's newsletter on teaching, Winter, 1999

Teaching Strategies: Group Work and Team Work, CRLT, University of Michigan

Technologies Supporting and Enhancing Student Group Work:

With the growth of social software tools, there are many possible small group activities that can utilize technology. Some of the most common are:

Collaborative writing environments—depending upon your desired purpose, wikis (a web-based collaborative space) and blogs are tools that encourage participation and both collaborative writing and peer-writing feedback.

Leading Discussion

Complementing lecturing is class discussion. One of the most attractive aspects of a residential liberal arts education is the opportunity to engage with classmates and faculty in small groups for challenging, stimulating and rewarding discussion.

This video from the Bok Center at Harvard introduces some of the recommended practices for conducting an effective conversation.

Barbara Gross Davis, in her book Tools for Teaching, has an excellent chapter on stimulating student participation during discussion sections. Here's an adaptation from the University of Berkeley's site:

Encouraging Student Participation in Discussion

Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences also has useful information on leading discussions.

You may want to compare the techniques that you use to lead discussions to these resources.

Technologies Supporting and Enhancing Leading Discussion:

With the proliferation of social networking tools and the increasing familiarity with them by our students, faculty are using a number of tools to augment in class discussion with online electronic conversations.

Some faculty use the electronic discussion to set the stage for an in class session, posting a reading or discussion topic and asking the students to respond before the discussion session. Others use online conversations to extend the thread of an in class discussion beyond class time.  Faculty have observed that students who are reticent in class will often participate more actively electronically. Further, online discussions seem to be a more comfortable medium for students for whom English is not the first language.

At Middlebury, the two most popular technologies for online discussion are to use the comment features of either Moodle or WordPress. Both are capable of supporting online discussion. A few faculty have used Mediawiki (the wiki software currently supported by LIS) for online conversation.

Here are some resources to help you formulate your online discussion strategies:

  1. Types of Questions for Online Discussion - Penn State Learning Design Community Hub
  2. Qualities of a Good Discusser - Lehigh University

Teaching Strategies and Complementary Tools

Every instructor has her/his own way of teaching. Often there is no single strategy rather a blend of different ones. Depending on the strategies that you use when teaching, certain technologies are worth considering. The sub-pages of this section describe a variety of teaching strategies and provide information on each.

The Library's Curricular Technology Team has been hard at work developing expanded information about many technological options.  Each teaching strategy page links to relevant information about specific technologies.

Given the nature of rapid change and quickly evolving tools, these pages will, by necessity of the subject matter, be under constant revision.