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Students benefit from learning in groups

Harvard publishes an excellent quick guide to Working in Groups, with information valuable to both instructors and students.

  1. Getting Started - Organizing the Work, Understanding and Managing Group Processes
  2. Include Everyone and Their Ideas - Encouraging Ideas
  3. Group Leadership - Concerns of Individuals that May Affect Their Participation
  4. Focusing on a Direction
  5. How People Function in Groups - Roles That Contribute to the Atmosphere of the Group
  6. Some Common Problems (and Some Solutions)

Students achieve these benefits from cooperative learning:

  • Higher academic achievement
  • Greater persistence through graduation
  • Better high-level reasoning and critical thinking skills
  • Deeper understanding of learned material
  • Lower levels of anxiety and stress
  • Greater intrinsic motivation to learn and achieve
  • Greater ability to view situations from others' perspectives
  • More positive and supportive relationships with peers
  • More positive attitudes toward subject areas
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Positive interdependence - Team members are obliged to rely on one another to achieve the goal. If any team members fail to do their part everyone suffers consequences.
  • Individual accountability - All students in a group are held accountable for doing their share of the work and for mastery of all the material.
  • Interactivity - While some of the group work may be parceled out and done individually, some must be done interactively with team members providing each other with feedback.  One of the most important aspects of cooperative learning is that students teach and encourage each other.
  • Appropriate use of collaborative skills
  • Students are encouraged and helped to develop and practice team skills such as leadership, communication, and conflict management.
  • Group processing -Team members set group goals, periodically assess what they are doing well as a team, and identify changes for working together more effectively.

Source: Felder and Brent (1994)

It is important to note that, as Hartley and Robson (1999) point out, people are not born knowing how to work in a team. Simply putting students into a group does not create a team, and does not accomplish the desired results. Giving students the opportunity to practice team skills without teaching them how makes it unlikely that they will use them effectively.