Learning to Lead Collaborative Student Groups to Success

Learning to Lead Collaborative Student Groups to Success

Micah Gideon Modell (SUNY Korea, South Korea)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1067-3.ch010


This chapter discusses the barriers to achieving the myriad benefits often attributed to collaborative group projects. It begins with an explanation of what collaboration is and the value the method offers to both learners and instructors. It then presents a variety of ways in which these projects can fail to achieve their goals and even have a negative effect on student performance, attitudes towards collaboration and self-efficacy. It also explores some of the ethical concerns that accrue when these problems are not addressed. It then explains how instructors can mitigate these problems today.
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The week before final projects are to be submitted and presented, a student asks to speak with the instructor after class. Experienced with long-term collaborative group projects, the instructor can anticipate the topic of the discussion will be the team’s dysfunction—even if the specific details are as yet unknown. Perhaps the student will explain that a member of the group seldom attended out-of-class group meetings or rarely completed the tasks assigned. Alternatively, the student might explain that one member dominated the rest of the group and would not hear of any alternative perspectives, or some other group dynamic in which one student exerted disproportional influence on the group’s work product. The student might express frustration with the anticipated grading, with the group’s results, or with the overall collaborative experience.

The instructor may or may not have reason to distrust the account offered by the student. Perhaps the instructor has observed some corroborating activity, or maybe another team member already expressed contradictory complaints. Maybe the student is part of a very large class and the instructor has only passing familiarity with the particular group. In any event, the instructor could not have been monitoring the group’s every activity throughout the semester and would therefore be faced with a number of questions:

  • Can instructors know what’s really going on in a group?

  • How can instructors know if student groups are having problems?

  • Is there any reason for instructors to try to resolve such problems? How can these problems affect the course objectives?

  • What should instructors do when a group faces dysfunction?

The rest of this chapter explores these questions and provides some guidance to the reader intending to address those problems which arise. This chapter focuses on collaborative group work involving students beyond high school in a face-to-face environment.

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