Engagement

Day 2: Group formation

This course is written and facilitated by Russell Waldron and Karlene Dickens from ANU Online.

Today we examine the factors that need to be considered in the process of group formation. If you decide to include group work as part of your teaching, you have a responsibility to guide students into forming successful groups.

Preparing students for group work

We need to prime students with positive and realistic expectations that can help them make sense of their group experience, so it is useful to consider how teams and groups develop and grow.

Bruce Tuckman identified 5 stages in team development which are expanded on in this video:

Likewise, there is some popularity with the idea that the right mix of personality types or role-preferences boosts team effectiveness but the evidence is inconsistent. In practice, students can expect to adapt to the balance within their team – check out Great teams are about personalities for more on this.

On the other hand, psychological safety (a belief that it is okay to speak up with concerns) is a crucial condition for group learning processes and high performance. Team members may focus on impression management versus making others feel safe to take interpersonal risks (Newman et al, 2017). Psychological safety can also be profoundly affected by teaching decisions.

Amy Edmonson identifies 3 key strategies to foster workplace psychological safety:

  1. Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem
  2. Acknowledge your own fallibility
  3. Model curiosity

Want to know more? Check out Amy’s full video, or take a look at our espresso course on Fostering Student Wellbeing.

Group length

Group duration needs to be considered when setting up groups as short term and long term groups have characteristics.

For instance, Ad hoc groups, may form and dissolve in a single tutorial, students quickly join and contribute to the group product with low mutual familiarity. Students rehearse skills through many iterations, and randomisation exposes students to a variety of partners. Team performance is supported by conventions such as defined roles, agendas and contracts, and a technology platform can enable instructors to monitor the process. Teams may use peer-evaluation aids such as SPARKplus or CATME, and in longer work, task management aids such as Trello or Asana.

These groups are prone to social-loafing (where one student relies on others to do their work), communication failures, and individualistic internal competition. The lessons learned may not be transferable to other workgroups. Students usually expect, and instructors usually prefer, to assess individual performance.

Conversely, Team-based learning aims for high-performing teams over a period of months and supports risky learning by individuals. The need for psychological safety is supported through long-lived teams with low turnover. Disparities in team mix are mitigated either by intentionally balanced team allocation or self-selected teams. Team performance is supported by monitoring qualities of the relationships. Teams may use communication aids such as Zoom, Teams, or Facebook, and co-editing or versioning tools such as GoogleDocs or Github.

These groups are vulnerable to group-think, attrition, and marginalisation of under-performers. Team cohesion can be damaged by pairing. High performance is the output of the team, not an individual. Allocation of credit to individuals is often problematic.

How can short and long term groups work in practice? Check out this video.

Group size

What is the ideal size for student groups? Well it depends on many factors. There are arguments for groups of 3, 4, 6 or less than 12! The optimal group size needs to based on considerations such as:

Scope of task/project

  • Level of interdependence of students in task
  • Student attrition during course

Also, there’s pros and cons with small and large groups to keep in mind such as:

Smaller group size

  • Less logistics, coordination, technology, and motivation risks;
  • More personal accountability, transparency and intimacy.

Larger group size

  • Less resources continuity;
  • More group-think risks, anonymity, diversity, and role differentiation.

The group size that works best for you depends on the type of activity and what you would like the students to achieve as a result, as well as how much time you have for logistics and coordination of groups.

Group composition

Image by Jens Hoffman

Australian universities accept increasingly diverse student intakes (e.g. international and mature aged students), and must allocate groups and design tasks with this in mind. For instance, in Western organisations, teams can expect a level of constructive conflict before they develop strong cohesion and reach their peak performance (Tuckman, 1965), however this may be problematic for students from cultures or ethnic backgrounds with different norms around conflict.

Students and instructors may also assume that team members will all be equally “good” students with similar goals, and in a fit condition for study. However, we can expect that an average student group has at least one member with anxiety, experienced sexual harassment, eating disorder or harmful drinking (Said, et al, 2013).

Thus, safety and peer support needs to be a consideration in group allocation. Teams that include women tend to outperform all-male teams, possibly due to inequitable gendered expectations around emotional labour (Curseu et al, 2017). Likewise, evenly distributing people who are a minority across all teams may isolate each member from possible lines of support, but equally ethnic clusters are often viewed with suspicion or hostility.

It may be necessary to explicitly encourage teams to positively value diversity. Some student tasks that may help include:

  • Icebreaker: e.g. discover something each group member has done that you have never experienced.
  • Delegation: e.g. designate a project team member for each stakeholder, to discover and represent their interests, and to design communication to that stakeholder.
  • Self-reflection: e.g. Preparing for Teamwork (PDF)

Discussion Questions:

  • What methods have you used to form groups?
  • How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
  • What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?

Further resources

References

Curşeu, P.L., Chappin, M.M.H. & Jansen, R.J.G. (2017) Gender diversity and motivation in collaborative learning groups: the mediating role of group discussion quality. Soc Psychol Educ . https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-017-9419-5

Newman, A., Donohue, R., & Eva, N. (2017). Psychological safety: A systematic review of the literature. Human Resource Management Review, 27(3), 521. 10.1016/j.hrmr.2017.01.001

Said, D., Kypri, K. & Bowman, (2013) Risk factors for mental disorder among university students in Australia: findings from a web-based cross-sectional survey. J. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2013) 48: 935. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-012-0574-x

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-399. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h00221100

 

42 thoughts on “Day 2: Group formation

  1. Hi everyone,
    This was a really useful session. I often encounter lots of moans and groans when it come to group work.
    What methods have you used to form groups? Most of the tutorial group work is ad hoc. Generally, I let students self-select groups, particularly in the early weeks while they get to know each other. I do encourage them to work with different people each week. If I notice that students are forming the same teams each week, I may randomly allocate students to a group. The rationale I give them is in nursing they will be working with different people each shift and that this is a way of practicing how to build rapport quickly and establish an effective working relationship.
    How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work? I do find this challenging at times. As suggested in today’s post I too notice that students with similar ethic background may cluster together and some do find it challenging when randomly allocated to groups. I try to create support and inclusion by adapting how groups are formed each week based on the particular dynamic of that group. One size generally does not fit all! I do not force student to work in particular groups if they are not comfortable but do encourage students to reach out to those they do not normally work with.
    What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success? The strategies above are what I currently used with mixed success depending on group dynamic. The students I find most challenging in forming teams are those that are very vocal, that always have an answer and are first to respond. I have noticed these students perceive others that do not do the same as ‘unprepared’ or ‘unwilling to contribute’. The perceptions from the other students however is often, ‘I cannot get a word in’. Any suggestions on managing this dynamic would be great as these students often become isolated when self-selection occurs and students are reluctant to work with them.

    1. Hi Courtney,

      Good thoughts! The “Hermione Grangers” really can be difficult. Two thoughts that may help Hermione integrate into a team:
      1. The “Most Valuable Player” in a team is the person who enables the *rest* of the team to feel secure and personally effective. This is a skill which can be learned.
      2. The group will usually be represented by other members – so the group’s task is to enable every member to test their own understanding.

      But enough from me: let’s hear some techniques from others in this discussion!

      Best regards
      Russell

  2. Hi All,
    My group experiences comes from teaching an online class, the groups tended to be 4-5 students and sustained for 3-4 weeks.

    I have tried various methods for generating groups:
    Survey students and then instructor grouped by common criteria, like location or hours of availability.
    Random selecting students from the roster list.
    Grouping students in order of the list ex. 1-5, 6-11…
    Self selecting groups

    In order to support the groups I have tried requiring synchronous online group meetings with the instructor. I have also tried having students rate each other’s contribution.

    Overall, there did not seem to be a significant answer, I still experienced group loafing and variable quality in work submissions.

    1. Hi Brent,

      I like your empirical approach to teaching. There’s nothing strange about your group size or duration, the allocation methods, monitoring and peer feedback. We perhaps need to look beyond the objective arrangements and explore students’ subjective experience. Has feedback from students given any clues about their expectations and motivation in groups?

      Best regards,

      Russell

    2. Brent, Don’t you find the synchronous meetings with the instructor take a lot of scheduling and are time consuming?
      To overcome loafing and variable quality, the ANU TechLauncher work is instructor and peer assessed. The instructor gives the team a mark and the students then decide how to allocate this amongst the team. Students who get a low mark from their peers can fail the course. I was expecting this to result in conflict, but it works remarkably well.

  3. Icebreakers are so lame, but so crucial. The ‘pain’ of doing them is something that actually bond a group together, but I try to make them as creative and new as possible so it’s not so bad once people actually jump into it. We’ve used “If your PhD was a (movie, vegetable, dance move, etc.)” to great success at Shut Up & Write, and it gets people to open up, relax a little bit, and connect over shared pain/laughter. This has worked to bind together a diverse group of students (different backgrounds, different areas of study) who are connected by all taking on this enormous, difficult, and messy task.

    1. Hi Danny,

      Oh, the value of shared laughter! We know the icebreakers are tacky: they give us some reason to begin to align with each other , do a little mirroring to prime us for empathetic work, and establish the rhythm of both speaking and listening. Thanks for bringing that up.

      Best regards,

      Russell

  4. What methods have you used to form groups?
    I have used pair-to-pair group work, with pairs then reporting back to the group. This method most often involves pairing with the neighbours first, and then asking the students to get up and pair with someone they don’t know.

    How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
    I guess, in the above example, by making sure people pair with folks they don’t know.

    What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?
    I haven’t done much group teaching beyond this, but have found pair work to be quite successful for stimulating group discussion and identifying new avenues of thought.

    1. What methods have I used to form groups?
      I employ a range of methods: self-organised, self-selection based on the interest in a topic, randomly allocating students to groups and allocating students to specific tasks within groups. I feel that asking students to self-organise is generally the least successful. This tends to result in uneven numbers, reinforces cliques in the class and some groups of students who know each other can remain unfocused. However, to be honest I don’t formally evaluate group activities so have little information upon which I can rate success.

      How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
      This is a real challenge and I’m looking for ideas here. Sometimes I will allow students to self-organise into groups so students with similar cultural/language backgrounds can work together – particularly where the group only forms for a short time and therefore has to achieve a task quickly. Sometimes I allocate tasks to students within groups based on their background or personality (e.g., I will not to ask a student to report back to the class if I feel this would be too stressful). I try to offer more support to groups that appear to be struggling with the task.

  5. Hi all,

    So far, I have used a number of methods to form groups. Some of them are:
    1. I made the students count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (up to the number of groups I intended to have). Then all students got number 1 will form a group, students with number 2 will from another group and so on.
    2. I have also used self-selection as a method to form group
    3. I have also used methods like allocating students randomly from the student roll.

    Often while the groups are working, I will pay visits to them to make sure they are being inclusive. I play a role model and facilitate the group or class in such a way that fosters an inclusive environment. Often this works. I also often agree with students on common ground rules of group work.

  6. Methods used to form groups/creating support and inclusion for diverse students
    I use groups for short-term field-based activities and allow for groups to self-select in their first activities. While, yes, it can reduce interactions within a diverse student group, it also allows students to settle into their new learning environment with others they feel safe with. Subsequently, however, I like to create hybrid groups that comprise several members of each of two or more separate groups. I’m explicit with the students about my intentions and benefits of being part of a more diverse group-learning environment.
    Like others, I do not link any assessment nor seek feedback from these group activities. I am, however, eager to integrate a group-based research experience within my teaching so am finding the content (particularly yesterday’s Jigsaw material) very helpful.

    1. Matthew, I like the way you step gently into groupwork with affinity groups, then hybrid groups. Just as we start students with simpler questions and progress to more complex cases in subject matter, it makes sense to do what you do to start with a simpler social task.

      Good luck with your research experience design. Research is a complex activity requiring perspective and reflexivity, and so is team-building. Strong focus on their research subject could distract students from the necessary up-front investment in understanding both of these processes. Within a Jigsaw process, you might consider devoting a first stage to “strategies for success”, with team members allocated to just 2 seminars: team and research. I look forward to hearing more about this adventure!

      Best regards,

      Russell

  7. What methods have you used to form groups?
    Similarly to others, i have found self selection somewhat limiting in extending students to gain the most from the activity or provide the opportunity to engage in the activity. IN nursing, you are rarely independent completely and as so I reinforce this fact that each day may be filled with different people in the work team. To this end, I prefer, while the students don’t seem to, to allocate members to the group. With no formal review of this method, I too cannot vouch for its reliability in the student experience. In the new unit I teach within, the groups are self selected for the first activity then rearranged for the next. This seems to be working well and the students appear to be engaging with each other and with the team teaching group well.

    How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
    Most supportive I have experienced both as a student and an educator, is to be part of the group, move around each group and pick points to take to the next group to encourage or support the groups into believing in themselves and the track they’re taking on the activities. Inclusion stems from not only what the individual puts in but also on the support and comfort they can see happening, so I find that participating in the teams usually encourages people and guides them to believe they’re on the right track.

    What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?
    In addition to the above, I am also utilizing the online systems to promote group discussions and comments, on line chat forums and discussions. while this does not directly relate to team or collaborative group work, I am of the opinion if we can role model ongoing connection with many different people/methods/strategies, we may feel more connected next time we meet face to face, to then promote discussion and confidence in being with different people.

  8. Last week I helped out at the ANU TechLauncher team formation. On Thursday night the students listened to pitches from prospective clients and signed up for a team.

    On Saturday the teams did exercises. In the morning this was Dr Stephen Dann, from ANU College of Business and Economics, with the “Lego Serious Play” technique. Students build Lego models about their project and their role in the team. This brought out some hidden tensions in one team I am tutoring where two student both built themselves throne, indicating they expected to be the team leader.

    In the afternoon Dr Craig Davis, from Canberra Innovation Network, conducted a User Centered Process, to get the students thinking as a team and what will be useful for the client.

    These exercises went remarkably well, despite there being 300 students taking part (with about a dozen tutors to assist the two instructors).

    I worry about support and inclusion. Computer Science and Engineering are male dominated disciplines. An international female student who has English as a second language will have considerable difficulty. I know a little of what this is like having been a male international student in a female dominated discipline (education).

    About the only way I have been able to think to deal with this is to provide very structured exercises, where each student is required to do something as part of the ice-breaker. However, even this can be problematic, if the assumptions about student background are incorrect. As an example, I was in a class where we were asked to introduce ourselves. The previous ten students talked about their husband, their children, their dog and their outdoor sports. I feel very uncomfortable, not having any of those and wanted to withdraw from the course, then and there. I was still trying to think of how to introduce myself while the rest of the class had already formed teams and I was left with the only other, socially awkward, male in the class to work with.

    1. Hi Tom. That inclusion question is tough one!

      Does anyone here have a good way of handling the unique student? Have you been the exception when it was facilitated well?

      I note that outliers have a different meaning depending on discipline. For example, the gender of a lone male in a Gender Studies class will not be ignored, while nationality should be immaterial in a Photonics class.

      Regards

      Russell

  9. What methods have you used to form groups?
    Our online course requires sustained group work for 12 weeks. The groups are no more than 4 students. Students can self select or we make up the groups just before the team work starts. Students are involved in a 4-day intensive face to face, where they form their initial groups. If those students all go on to the group work course, they can choose to stay together depending on what their face-to-face experiences were. When it comes to those who have self selected we tend to randomly group together. A couple of strategies we try to use, if possible, is to try and ensure there is gender balance. We have found where there is one female member and three male members we do see gendered roles taking place when it comes to work allocation and management. Conversely, when the ratio is three females to one male, the male can feel left out and not included in the group. It is similar with minorities and we do try to make sure that the there’s only one minority student in the group. That being said, student numbers and distribution play a huge role in the distribution and make up of the groups.

    How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
    I provide support for all teams and am available if they need me. I also try to encourage them to get to know each other relating to strengths, weaknesses, etc. Because of the way our course is structured we do offer mediated sessions for issues to be aired and discussed as well as implementing strategies for future and ongoing work.

    What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?
    Like Catherine I am trying to prompt groups discussion and comments in an attempt to engender an outside of team feeling of collaboration. I try to role model the behaviour/expectations in the hope that it comes back in the student experience. I’m not sure about their success. To be quite sanguine, sometimes it just comes down to the results. I’ve heard from students that they believe that when they have a good experience with group work is that they were “lucky”; I always wonder if they realise that maybe it wasn’t sheer luck but that they managed to develop, maintain and promote a supportive collaborative environment!

    1. Hi Helen,

      Thanks for sharing these strategies. I like Catherine’s pointer about modeling continuity and diversity of connections and learning to feel more connected.

      “It just comes down to the results” – I guess if I’m honest, I’ll reevaluate my subjective experience in the light of the outcome, too. (Is that intuitive empiricism?)

      If only students would ask, “What will make my team lucky?” – because we do have some observations about that.

      Best regards,

      Russell

  10. Hi all,

    My observation is that international students tend to form a group with people speaking the same language. In the end their discussion will be in that language as well. However if I mix different students from different cultures, those from non-English-speaking countries report that they feel “shy and isolated”. The group performance and individual grade are generally not as good as those in the first case.

    As an international student myself, “don’t be shy” doesn’t make any sense. I heard it a million times. What work on me, and I think also have worked on my students are words like “forget about grammar errors”, “forget about accent”, “this is a business course not an English one”, and “just tell us what you know about XXX in your country”. Those specific instructions significantly improve their participation. I love the idea of “psychological safety” in the material. I think it’s essential in our multi-cultural environment.

    1. Hi Sunny.

      Thank you! It’s great to hear that personal perspective, and particularly the phrases that help.

      That’s a fascinating observation that “group performance and individual grade are generally not as good [in force-mixed groups] as those in the first case” [self-selected, same-language groups]. We know that working in a second language has extra difficulty. We may forget that a student’s sophisticated thoughts sometimes cannot be translated well to an audience from a different culture. On top of that, it seems to be particularly hard to allow for the severity of cognitive load on minority students who are navigating through the prejudice in a small group.

      “Tell us what you know about XXX in your country” is a great idea in a university with a global outlook.

      Best regards,

      Russell

  11. What methods have you used to form groups?
    In some programming project works, I first ask students to form their own groups. I have seen student groups form by students themselves (self-selected) perform well compared to the groups form by me. I believe this is because students in self-selected groups knew what role they need to perform within the group and how they should perform it. Also if one of the members finds it difficult to complete his task it is always easy for him to ask help from the other members. I saw some students in non self-selected groups struggled to ask help from their peers as they felt uneasy. I found this is a bit unfair to those students who cannot form groups by themselves. So in the next time, I formed all the groups by myself considering the expertise of each student. In group formation, I ensured each group contained few good students with some poorly performing students. I allowed each group to decide the allocation of tasks among themselves and make necessary changes if I see any unbalance in the task allocation. I found this method worked pretty well for students with poor performance as they learn a lot from other members of their team while contributing and performing their own role within the group.

    How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
    As I mentioned before, now I always encourage students to form groups with others students they did not know before the class. I think such group formation is important in real life since once they move into the workforce they need to work within groups. Therefore students should learn how to connect with others who may fall outside of their usual social circles. I also found having smaller groups (with 3 to 4 students) is easy to work with and task allocation is easier. This also helps each student to have clear boundaries between their tasks so that no one needs to wait until another member finishes his work. All members of a group identify roles for the group members so everyone has a particular task to do and specific way to contribute.

    What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?
    One thing sometimes I have used in most of the group activities is a feedback system. I asked each group to summarize their work and self-evaluate whether they satisfy about their own work within the group and what do they think about the work of other members. I think this is somewhat closer to the mourning stage in team development and such feedback helped them to understand what went wrong in some tasks and how they can achieve it in next time.

    1. Hi Thilina,

      You’re the first comment to mention preparation for exit from a team- what I have seen called “Adjourning”. I think there is a kind of respect involved in encouraging students’ reflection on the subjective journey and their learning about process.

      Best regards,

      Russell

  12. What methods have you used to form groups?
    I’ve used a hybrid approach in group formation. I’ll randomly assign students to groups for daily in-class group work and then I’ll let the students choose their teams for longer term group projects. At the beginning of class, I’ll have names on a slide alongside table numbers to allow the students to assemble into their groups. By mixing up the groups for one-off face-to-face interactions, it gives the students an opportunity to find the people they work well with for the longer term project.

    How do you create support and inclusion for diverse students in collaborative group work?
    While the students are working, I move around the room to check in on their work and get a sense for the group dynamics. If I notice that one student is dominating the conversation, I’ll encourage the quieter students to contribute in a supportive way. One way I’ve done this is to listen to the dominant student and then ask for the quieter student’s opinion. I’ll also point out that there are multiple ways to contribute, even simply as note-taker.

    What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?
    The hybrid approach that I’ve used has the benefit of allowing students to make informed decisions about their long term project group formation. The down-side is that students often tend to form groups with the people they knew before the class, rather than who they work well with. To prevent this, I’ll ask the students to think critically about their group interactions throughout the course. Still, I find that students tend to pair up based on their personality types rather than their working habits.

    1. Erin,

      A hybrid approach to group formation sounds like a good innovation, breaking the ice and then giving students responsibility for their long term team formation.

      I’m wary of overriding students’ choice of partners. There are a lot of *rational* considerations which are not usually visible to teachers, such as:
      – expected levels of trust and how that will affect coordination in this project
      – expected quality of communication about subject matter and how that will affect negotiations on quality
      – potential quality of future collaborations and how that expectation will motivate learning
      – probable impact of intense relationships within and outside the team

      You describe an excellent balance there – “ask the students to think critically about their group interactions” – which shows faith in their development as self-managed learners.

      Best regards,

      Russell

  13. Hi Everyone
    I teach in an online course, and I teach one of 3 components. I come in towards the end of the course, which means that the groups have already been set up and have (mostly) learned how to work well together by the time they reach me. That said, whilst I have not been actively involved in the process surrounding forming the groups, I am conscious that the groups are largely self-selected, and this process takes place early into the course and after the students have had an opportunity to get to know each other. There are some measures taken to encourage gender balance, however it is not guaranteed to work, and it doesn’t really take into account support for diverse students. Today’s session has been helpful for me in bringing the importance of this particular matter to the forefront of my thinking.

    I have found that when working with the groups, being completely honest with them about my experiences with the group work is beneficial. That is, that being able to work collaboratively in a more general sense will be an essential skill that they need in legal practice once they graduate. Secondly, that a large number of students do tend to moan and groan about ‘group work’ and all the reasons they don’t like it, however after competing the course overwhelmingly, those students comment that the group work was actually one of their favourite parts of the course. This comes down to forming groups in small numbers (usually 4), which is well suited to the complexity and nature of the tasks required to be completed. The group members are able to rely on each other to explore ideas, test their respective understanding of the issues at hand, and take comfort in the fact that the work is new to all of them and that they are all learning together.
    I have found the group work component of my teaching to be a huge success, and it is something I am very proud to be a part of.
    Tracey

    1. Congratulations, Tracey, on making a great success of it! I bet that honesty is doing good in modelling trust-building and cooperation, too.

      Best regards,

      Russell

  14. Hi All
    Firstly, reading through this made me instantly think of the Ronny Chieng episode on group work… https://www.facebook.com/ABCiview/videos/10158741010420543/ (sorry, that’s the only snippet I could find). If you have the opportunity to see the full episode, I think it is hilarious and highlights everyone’s deepest fears of groupwork.
    One method used in high schools, similar to how Erin Hill runs her groups, is the Cooperative Learning method, where students are assigned roles of Reporter, Recorder, Information Gatherer, Leader and Timekeeper. I quite like the idea of set roles so that everyone knows the expectations and responsibilities.
    When I assigned groups (sorry, I am a high school teacher by trade, so not quite the same) for the first time, I would allow students to choose a partner and then assign groups of 4-6 so that each group consisted of 2 or 3 pairs. After that, I would always aim to mix students as regularly and as much as possible if for short tasks. This way, students got to know each other and realise that even though they may not be friends with someone, they may be able to learn from or teach their peers.
    However, when forming groups for longer assignments, I always tried to ensure there was balance in each group. This is only possible if you really know your students, or if you are able to have them somehow group themselves or be grouped according to strengths/skills/interests/personality etc. I currently work with the most amazing team (and I am not just saying that because some of them are doing this course), which I know is great because everyone has different strengths and skills, so we are able to support each other and provide holistic programs. And we do (often uncomfortable) icebreaker type things every morning and have a quick 10 minute ‘stand-up’ meeting so we all know what we are up to and how we can support each other each day. I know that many people hate this type of thing, but I feel that it is super valuable.

    1. Jules. Thanks for this. The pairs thing is an interesting approach. I loved the line “Group work is like a hostage situation!”

    2. Hi Jules,

      Nice to meet you this morning!

      I loved the Ronny Chieng link – especially as someone who remembers the days before mobile phones and the internet!

      I agree that having set roles in a group can be really useful – especially for new groups, and for new learners to an institution, it can provide the necessary scaffolding and structure for participants. Similarly, giving people the choice of partner initially, but then moving towards a more random allocation to allow for mixing between familiarity and collaborating with new people seems like a nice balance.

      Its inspiring to hear about your team, and how you start your days together!

      Cheers

      Karlene

  15. I found this session really informative – I especially like the HBR article on group personalities! Typically, when tutoring, I allow students to form groups among themselves – this allows for a nice mix of students working with people they know, as well as other students they don’t know. For longer assignments, I agree with Courtney, working with individuals they don’t know is a good learning experience, as it prepares students for work outside of the university. To try and foster inclusive collaborative learning among diverse students, during group work, I walk around the classroom and facilitate conversation in groups where some students are not voicing their opinions. I try and steer the conversations so everyone’s voices can be heard. This can be effective for class work, however, for longer group tasks, this level of monitoring may not be effective as you cannot as closely facilitate.

  16. What strategies have you used and how would you rate their success?
    Having learnt from my own mistakes in facilitating groups such as support and grief counseling groups or educational/training groups, here are some ideas:
    * Sounds simple but establishing group rules and expectations (identified and agreed upon by the group).
    * Using safe (albeit cheesy) ice breakers that get people talking but importantly don’t create any sense of competition. One example is handing everyone a 5 cent coin and ask them to think about the year on the back of the coin and anything they remember from that year, give a few examples first as the facilitator to set the tone (making sure they are not personal achievements), examples might be “that year I moved to Canberra”, “the year my son/daughter, cousin was born”, “Australian lost the world cup in …” etc. Another ice breaker that helps foster a collaborative approach within a diverse range of people (as often I will assign the groups rather than leave it to them to form groups which risks people feeling left out/unwanted) is for them to speak individually with each member of their group and try to find something about each person that is (from their upbringing) culturally significantly different AND some experience they shared in common or could identify with. Importantly for this one, there is no reporting back, just a structured ice breaker that (hopefully) gets people talking and thinking about other people in their group as people with a past (rather than a commodity to help them get through a group challenge).
    * In facilitating support groups for marginalised clients (such as those with severe and enduring mental health issues or grief counselling groups), I have also found that it is important to encourage participation in a broad range of ways particularly if/when public speaking is something that is inherently difficult for some people. Having “homework” volunteers to write up summaries of key discoveries during the group and asking them to email this around to all groups afterwards (without using names etc) is one example of this.
    Hope some of this helps someone.

    1. Thanks Iain for sharing your real-world strategies! I completely agree with establishing group rules and expectations – it really can make people feel safe – which is so important, particularly for longer term groups, and when working with vulnerable people.
      I love your 5 cent coin idea – so simple but yet so effective! I might add this to my icebreaker arsenal :-).
      I also like your idea of having “homework” volunteers to capture the key insights from the group!

  17. Thank you for sharing a wealth of resources today! I imagine that like myself, lots of people would be interested in further reading but often don’t know where to look!

    I particularly like the article ‘Great teams are about personalities’.
    “A useful way to think about teams with the right mix of skills and personalities is to consider the two roles every person plays in a working group: a functional role, based on their formal position and technical skill, and a psychological role, based on the kind of person they are”. This sounds like a great method to form groups however you would need to know a great deal about the people you are working with first!

  18. I usually employ a variety of ways to get students to form groups. These include numerous variations on random selection (assigning numbers, from the roll, this segment of the room, etc), requiring students to team up with someone who is *not* their neighbour if self-selecting, and even intentionally assigning students to specific groups when I want a spread of skillsets.

    Random group formation often (but by no means always) helps with supporting inclusion. In PTD, we discussed how, in order to value and support diversity, you need to first be aware of what diversity is in your classroom. Encouraging students to interact outside their friendship circle, and often outside their comfort zone, is a stepping stone towards their becoming aware of diversity in the classroom, and the benefits of that diversity.

    These methods have generally had neutral or positive results. The key challenge is to ensure that the “Hermione’s” don’t dominate over the quieter students. One method that I employ in long-term groupwork situations is to number students within groups. Every now and then, all of the 1s, or 2s, etc, from each group will need to collaborate with each other. This facilitates interaction between teams and helps to minimise loafing, dominance, and group-think.

  19. I’ve used a number of methods from self-selection (Which usually ends up being friends or groups of people sitting next to each other), forced random groups (Where I may randomly go down the role allocating people) or forced allocation (where I allocate people to groups based on known skills – e.g. majors/degrees) to create some form of diversity.

    Each of these methods has their pros and cons but what I like doing best is some form of self-selection after a team forming/selection activity. During these activities, I may ask students to work out their expectations of their own effort and marks for the subject and also get them to do something like a BELBIN Team roles activity where they work out what kind of role they tend to play. Once they have done these initial activities I get them to talk to other students to form groups of like-minded students (in terms of effort they wish to exert) and diverse roles. This generally tends to be an effective group forming strategy for my classes

  20. I’ve used a number of different methods in my classes. Like many mentioned earlier, self-selection is one of the most common methods, especially at the beginning of semester. In one of my classes I use quite a bit of group work, so after allowing them to self-select for several weeks, I will start reshuffling them to make sure that they get to work with different people (e.g. by having students from the left side of the class find a partner on the right side).
    In my Methods of Teaching Languages course, I had groups of students teach a foreign language using different techniques, and the students clustered by language. Unfortunately, this resulted in most domestic and international students ending up in different groups, which is something I regret because it limited their opportunity for communication. I wouldn’t want to separate all the international students either because they will lose support. I wonder what the best way to organize 4-member groups would be in a class with the ratio of domestic to international students being 2:1. Maybe, I could have most teams that are 50-50 with some that are fully domestic? I’d love to know what other people would suggest.

  21. In some courses I’ve tutored, groups are formed by the tutor, based on diversity factors. This works really well because the course is linguistics, and ensuring that each group has a spread of non-native English speakers, speakers of different language and cultural backgrounds, people with varied life experiences etc makes the groups fairer. Drawing on these varied experiences is a part of the task. Student feedback indicates that sometimes they struggle with having such varied groups, but that the process of learning to work together is valuable to them.

    I like the student task ideas suggested in the post as ways to both encourage appreciation of diversity, but also getting students to think more critically about why they are doing the group work and what they might get out of it.

  22. In forming groups I always let the students self-organise. But I give a heads up to the entire class to contact me via email if they have problems joining any groups. Some are really shy, insecure or just feel awkward to join. They wait for everyone to get to their groups then approach me to say they don’t have any group – giving me the responsibility to then include them into groups that have already been formed – or if there’s enough of them with no groups, form another one.

    I honestly have not thought about support nor inclusion in my collaborative group works. They know about the general support that I am available to offer to anyone but I’ve never really thought about inclusion. But after taking this course, I am now more aware about it and would build that in, in the future.

  23. While my first reflection on this course was very positive, for this theme, I have had the opposite experience. In fact my takeaway from my most recent ‘prototyping workshop’ was that… groups perform best when the teacher is sitting at the table. With three groups of 4 undergraduate students, a mix of ANU students and international students on exchange, we sat down to rapidly prototype a big ‘international relations’ problem, which was geared towards coming up with an object or a service, in the space of 3 hours. I had to join one of the groups as there had been tension between a domestic and an international student already. Our group came up with a solution to the problem posed. The other two groups, with clever students and a relaxed vibe in both, just aimed for a very low result and spent the rest of the time chatting. The exercise and set-up worked; the groups were carefully balanced (and problems were headed off from the outset); and yet, the result was underwhelming. My takeout? To the point made above, creative tension and initial conflict as a group is formed, lead to the best group work. So perhaps concentrating loud voices in one small group rather than spreading them out might have been the winning formula.

  24. I really enjoyed the UW video in this module. Much like the physics teacher, I use to use a deck of playing cards in my ESL class to allocate students to groups or to assign them roles. Like the teacher in the video mentions, what is so great about this is that you have randomisation. What I also like is that you can reshuffle groups really easily, e.g. for the second stage of a jigsaw activity.

  25. Hello All,
    I agree with Tom’s comment about LEGO benefiting diverse teams in collaborative group or project work. I have used Stephen Dann’s LEGO facilitation skills for other purposes too, eg., not specifically for teamwork, but the nature of the LEGO activities has an automatic spin off that tends to benefit teams. It also shined a light on areas of dissonance or conflict within teams allowing for immediate intervention, resolution or follow support as needed. This has saved a few projects which otherwise might have gone off the rails. LEGO also emphasises equal voice, turn taking and active listening, all important for effective functioning of teams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*