Friday, December 07, 2007

Group work thoughts?

So yesterday I wrote up the syllabus for the second part of the Introductory course in my program. (We have Intro Part I and Intro Part II.) I'm so excited about this one. These students were really good...and Part II is going to be half the number of students...nice and intimate (well, intimate for a first-year class.) The ones who are taking Part II are the cream of the crop in terms of their interest and engagement, too.

And, if I do say so myself, I am just damn proud of the syllabus. I feel as if it's a really coherent set of readings...They are all up-to-the-minute and either Canadian or global...(It's a problem that so much of the available literature is American, speaks to the US situation - it's really easy to default to that.) I've built in good films. The units work together as a wonderful, interlocking whole. We end on an "up" note. And I've put in a couple of cool assignments. I think they're really going to like it!

My question for the blogosphere: I am having the students do presentations in groups of 2 or 3. Fun ones, I think. But I've assigned no group assignments, ever. I've resisted it, for some reason. So I am a complete novice in this area. I am wondering if you could tell me what you've found is the best way of grouping students? Having them choose their own partners/groups, or assigning them into groups? Also, what have you found is the best way of spreading out the presentations? I.e. there are six presentation days spread across the course - there's one at the end of each units...and I'd like to have them choose what they're most interested in, but what if they want all the same dates? What are your ways of spreading it out? Do you ever just assign dates/topics randomly?


Maude Lebowski said...

they way i've broken up group projects and done a pretty good job of avoiding the grouping of students who just want to work together is first, before i send the sheet around for them to sign up is that i tell them to go home and look at the material that will be open for presentations and see what topics/authors/units they're most interested in. i usually mention this about two class periods before i intend for them to sign up. and i only allow a certain number of slots for each presentation. once they are filled, too bad.

then, when it's time to sign up, i ask first if anybody has a topic they want to sign up for, and i take volunteers first. and then when that's done i just pass the sign-up sheet around--but i let the volunteers come first come first serve. this seems to work pretty well, and for the most part the students end up satisfied with the slots they get. i like to spread them out during the semester because i've found that doing them all in the last two weeks never works because something always happens and the schedule gets messed up.

i also try to eliminate what i think will be the most popular option as an option--when i teach 19thC lit, i never let any of the students choose Poe because i know everyone will want to because they'll think he'll be the easiest.

i hope this has been of some help and not too long and tedious.

dbm/gaa said...

I also group students by topics. They usually generate their own topics and then organize along those lines, but I'm pretty loose about what 'counts' as a topic and group size and you don't have to be. I find that organizing around topics means that people are in groups because of the content, not the social aspect.

Then I try and schedule the presentations to fit in with the course work, so if your topic is Waste Management then you get to present at the end of that unit. This seems more random, and therefore more 'fair' in the eyes of most students.

You might want to think of having some kind of self or peer evaluation component to the group work. This year we have assigned a one-page self-evaluation for each student where they write about how they think they did, group dynamics, and what they learned and would do differently in retrospect. This will cement the idea that group work is also about the process, and give them a place to vent if they need to.

Psychgrad said...

I can't really speak from the perspective of a professor as I've never taught a course involving group projects. But, from a student's perspective, I really like what maude lebowski does with giving her students time to think about which topics they would prefer to take on. I hate when professors give out topics in class and expect us to commit by the end of that class.

I think, if you have a structured syllabus, where students know that choosing X topic means that they have to present on X day, it will help students make their decisions.

I personally would not want to be told who I would be paired with because I would rather try to find a partner who is trustworthy and hard working. In the end, if the pairing doesn't work out, it's because of my own poor choosing as opposed to the professor's pairings. But, I have felt stressed about picking in situations where I knew many people in the class or in situations where I didn't know anyone in class.

I think if there are several groups that want to present on the same topic, you can either pick numbers to determine the "winner" or separate the topic into two -- each group focusing on different aspects of the topic. Although, I would make it clear to the groups that is it their responsibilities to make sure that there isn't overlap.

Hilaire said...

Thanks, all! These are very helpful comments.

Dr. Bad Ass said...

I've had students choose topics and grouped them that way, as others have mentioned. Another technique I've used is to divide students into categories ahead of time (large ones!) and then asked for the class groups to be formed including at least one person from each category. So -- I've had groups made up of one each: junior, senior, and postbac.

I would also second the self-evaluation and group evaluations. Another handy thing to have group members turn in is a breakdown of who did what work, like a chart or a couple of short paragraphs.

Dr. Crazy said...

I did a similar sort of group project assignment in one of my classes this semester (not a presentation, but similar to what you describe). I had students give me a list of their top two or three choices for topics/dates. Then, I assigned the groups, based on those preferences. Nobody just got assigned something that wasn't either their #1 or #2 in terms of area of interest/date of interest. I also think it's helpful to make part of the grade individual (say 2/3) and then the other part of the grade a group grade (say 1/3). That helps with making sure everybody carries their weight. From all reports, students really responded well to this structure this semester. If you'd like to see my assignment, just drop me an email.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I've usually divided up the presentations throughout the semester depending on topic - so people present on topics as they come up throughout the semester - and that means I've come up with the topics, too. Then I hand round a sign up sheet and they can sign up for the date/topic that works for them. While it just goes round the room randomly, friends do seem to end up working together sometimes.

But I haven't done a lot of group projects/presentations. I like the idea of having students generate topics and having those who want a particular topic volunteering first. (I've generated the topics in the past because I wanted to make sure certain topics were addressed, because of how I scheduled these into the course.)

I actually think that assigning groups works well - I know it can suck to get assigned with people you don't like who are slackers, but a friend of mine who's a computer scientist has always done this, because working in groups is central to his field, and his argument is that in their careers, students won't get to pick who they work with - they have to learn to work with all kinds of folks. But he also uses self-evaluations and the like to make sure that students are all carrying their own weight.