[X-posted on Assessment for Learning 101]
One of the most-read posts on this blog is David Mazella’s classic, “Why do students hate groupwork?” The original post prompted a lively discussion, including comments by students themselves telling us why, in fact, they hate groupwork.
I was thinking about this discussion yesterday at my MLA panel, “Academically Adrift,” which featured Josipa Roksa, one of the authors of the book after which the panel took its name. Offering a brief overview of her findings (with co-author Richard Arum), Josipa introduced the section on study groups by saying, “This is the one that always gets me in trouble.” And indeed, part of the discussion that followed concerned this issue.
In short, Arum and Roksa found that students who worked in study groups showed significantly lower learning than those who studied on their own. What does this mean for collaboration?
To me, the most interesting point that came out of the conversation was that the problem might not be group work itself, but the way it is done. Roksa speculated that there is a tendency for the professor to assign group work without enough structure and also without providing any training for students in collaboration itself. We tend to come up with a project, give it to a group of students, and say “go collaborate,” which turns out to be ineffective. She briefly discussed a colleague of hers who teaches a semester-long course specifically on collaboration. So perhaps her answer to the question posed by Dave’s original post might be that students hate it because they don’t know how to do it and as a result they don’t learn much.
What I found particularly interesting was Roksa’s emphasis on collaboration as a skill that needs to be learned. As someone raised on theory that taught me how gender, race, and all kinds of identity formations are constructed, I had never given much thought to collaboration as “constructed” as well. Perhaps for too many of us, it seems like something that students should just know how to do. But apparently they don’t (and in fairness, we often don’t either). I wonder, then, if we should be thinking about ways to get collaboration skills into the curriculum—not just in the form of collaborative assignments but as a learning outcome goal in itself.