Advice about Facilitating Student Groups

Advice about Facilitating Student Groups

The OTL recently sponsored a workshop about Facilitating Student Groups to a packed room of faculty members.

Roberto Corrada has used groups in his law classes for 19 years and speaks about this topic nationally. He shared strategies and techniques for effectively facilitating student groups. He stressed the importance of including all five elements of Johnson and Johnson’s cooperative learning conditions in order to facilitate successful student groups:

  • Positive interdependence (students believe they sink or swim together)
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction (students encourage each other to complete tasks and achieve)
  • Individual accountability (individual performance is assessed and students are held accountable)
  • Interpersonal and small-group skills (students get to know each other, communicate well, resolve conflicts)
  • Group processing (reflection on the functioning of the group)

Roberto shared a course-long group project he uses in a law class where student pretend that Jurassic Park did happen, and they have to create an administrative law to regulate dinosaur DNA. Within the project the elements of successful cooperative learning are implemented. For example he uses a mix of individual and group grades to ensure interdependence but also personal accountability.

With his prior traditional teaching approach students did learn the material, but it was possible for them to get through the entire class without seeing a complete regulatory statute. They only got a sense of the bits and pieces of administrative law. By focusing on group projects and the problem-solving and interpersonal skills that are so much a part of being a lawyer, Roberto’s students now “get the forest and the trees.”

Nancy Sasaki shared her experiences administering student group exams in large biology classes. This approach can be new and intimidating to students so they practice through “cheat quizzes” where students are directed to consult with two other students during the quiz. Students are graded not only on the correct answer, but also on their explanations of why one answer is right and why the others are wrong. Nancy explicitly surveys the students about the exams and asks them questions about this approach so they realize how the groups exams are positively influencing their learning.

Cindi Fukami also shared her advice and experiences using groups in her business classes. She ended the session with a call to explore if “we frame our projects from a philosophy of expecting the best or expecting the worst from students? And how does that influence how students respond?”

Other advice given at this session:

  • You must dedicate at least some in-class time to student groups to show it’s importance.
  • Not all courses or assignments are good for student groups, the activity needs to be one where students can’t just divide and conquer the material, but need to rely on each other.
  • Students like choosing teams, but the learning is usually better if the teams are selectively assigned to maximize diversity among the areas that are important to the project.

You can contact any of the presenters to discuss their approaches or student group facilitation issues. Or visit our webpage about student groups and teams.


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