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An Experiment in Every Student's "Favorite" Assignment: Forming Groups for a Group Project

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Many of our courses include a group project assignment that represents a significant portion of each student’s grade. We tell our students – and the presenter believes – that group projects are important because when students get into their careers they will often be called upon to work as part of a team or group. Practicing now, before they are in positions that really matter to them from a work perspective, will help them in the future. But no matter what we say, students tend to dread group projects for many reasons, including the way the groups are formed. For the first major group project of her career as an adjunct professor, Ms. Mead wanted to find a method that was deliberative and active – not random, nor completely student-selected, nor totally at her discretion. In her presentation, she described how she found an approach that appealed to her (using some basic technology), applied that approach to her First Year Seminar class, and kept track of the results. She discussed methods of forming groups for group projects; compared and contrasted the success of those methods; explained how she applied the method that most appealed to her and how her students reacted; and how it ultimately worked in terms of the overall success of the group projects. The presenter provided basic data regarding her assessment of the method’s success.

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An Experiment in Every Student's "Favorite" Assignment: Forming Groups for a Group Project

  1. 1. AnExperimentinEveryStudent’s“Favorite”Assignment: FormingGroupsforaGroupProject Kathryn J. Mead, MSOD College of Southern Maryland La Plata Campus, MD 20646 USA AFACCT‘19Conference HostedbyCecilCollege Session1.11,January10,2019,9:00a.m.–10:00a.m. Session5.11,January11,2019,9:00a.m.–10.00a.m. kmead@csmd.edu
  2. 2. Kathryn J. Mead, College of Southern Maryland, kmead@csmd.edu Abstract: An Experiment in Every Student's "Favorite" Assignment: Forming Groups for a Group Project Session 1.11, January 10, 2019 Session 5.11, January 11, 2019 Many of our courses include a group project assignment that represents a significant portion of each student’s grade. We tell our students – and the presenter believes – that group projects are important because when they get into their careers they will often be called upon to work as part of a team or group. Practicing now, before they are in positions that really matter to them from a work perspective, will help them in the future. But no matter what we say, students tend to dread group projects for many reasons, including the way the groups are formed. For the first major group project of her career as an adjunct professor, Ms. Mead wanted to find a method that was deliberative and active – not random, nor completely student-selected, nor totally at her discretion. In her presentation, she described how she found an approach that appealed to her (using some basic technology), applied that approach to her First Year Seminar class, and kept track of the results. She discussed methods of forming groups for group projects; compared and contrasted the success of those methods; explained how she applied the method that most appealed to her and how her students reacted; and how it ultimately worked in terms of the overall success of the group projects. The presenter provided some basic data regarding her assessment of the method’s success.
  3. 3. A Little About Me Prior experience: 31 ½ years as a Federal employee All Department of Defense Education: Master of Science, Organization Development Social/Behavioral Science Teaching Experience: Just completed 3 semesters of Community College teaching College of Southern Maryland
  4. 4. A Little About the Class First Year Seminar (FYS-1010) Required of all new students who test at college level in math and reading Class size 22 students 10 men, 12 women Full semester length Met twice a week for 15 weeks, 1:20 per class session Also: From what I observed and learned about my students in the first month, the class was about one-half people of color.
  5. 5. About the Project • Capstone project for the course • Assigned Week 6, due Week 15 • Worth 20% of grade (200 points out of course total of 1,000) • Requires student groups to: • Choose a topic or local site • Conduct research and write a summary of that research • Create a Public Service Announcement (PSA), including a 30 – second to 1-minute video and associated script • Prepare and/or provide three related visual aids • Present the PSA video in class during last week of classes • Complete Peer Evaluations and a Self-Assessment Also: I had the students do a lot of group activities in class throughout the Course of the semester, to help them get to know each other.
  6. 6. Forming the Groups Students’ choice only Random My choice only As I approached assigning the first major group project of my career as an adjunct instructor at the College of Southern Maryland, I wondered what the best approach might be to forming the groups. Should I have students select their own teams? Use a “schoolyard pick” approach (assign captains and have them select the teams)? Should I assign people to groups with no input from students? Have the students count off by numbers and essentially create random groups? None of those felt right to me. So I did what so many of us do these days when faced with a question: I Googled it!
  7. 7. Research Results I searched on Google for “ways to form college students into groups for a group project.” I found all the approaches mentioned previously, as well as some meant for short in-class activities. But after some digging I found article on InsideHigherEd.com written by John Warner, dated March 30, 2017. The article described an approach Warner developed and refined while teaching a Technical Writing class at Clemson University. The class had an 11-week group project, and he too was searching for the best way to form the groups. He experimented with different methods, found none worked better than the others, and in the end borrowed part of his approach from a former colleague and adapted it by adding a new dimension. Warner’s approach resonated with me because it was a deliberative, active process that made sense based on my experience with and education and training in group dynamics. Article discussed things Warner’s students didn’t like about group projects --Having to do all the work by myself --Lack of trust (between student group members) --Someone in the group “taking over” all the work --Lack of communication I adapted Warner’s method to my class.
  8. 8. The Process I decided to use Warner’s process and devoted part of a class session to the first part of the process. In class, students: Completed a “Group Project Resume” (see the template on the next slide) Posted their resumes on the wall Circled the room, reading classmates’ resumes (with 22 students, it took about 15 minutes for everyone to get a chance to read the resumes) Gave each student a 3 x 5 card and told them to write on it: Their own name Names of 3 students they’d like to work with Name of 1 students they’d rather not work with I collected the 3 x 5 cards at the end of class and told them I would take their requests into account and let them know who would be in their groups the following week. At home, I: Prioritized the cards based on preferences Tried to give each student at least one choice Thought about group size and composition
  9. 9. Sample Group Project Resume Group Project Resume of ________________________________________________ Name 1. My school/work/activity schedule gives me time for group project work as follows: 2. I would prefer (circle one): A group with a leader (who will assign project tasks) A group with decentralized decision making (we decide on project tasks as a group) 3. I am good at: (e.g., organizing, writing, researching, creating videos, etc.) 4. I have the following weakness(es): (e.g., I’m good with ideas, but bad with follow through) 5. My values with regard to this project and the class are (circle one): I want to get an “A” at all costs. I have a “D” means “done” attitude. Somewhere between the two above is fine with me. 6. I would also like my group to know:
  10. 10. Process Results I really was not sure how hard it was going to be to take their desires into account, but as it turned out, it was pretty easy! One of the things Warner had noticed – and I noticed as well – is that some people who habitually sat together in the classroom did not want to work with those who always sat near them. Something else I noticed: at least two of my students appeared to be very popular with their classmates based on the fact that many of their fellow students named them as someone they wanted to work with. I attributed this to students being able to observe those who are serious about their work AND seem pleasant to be around. In the end…. • No student was assigned to work with everyone they wanted to, but all got at least one “preferred” person in their group • No student had to work with someone they said they would prefer not to I formed 5 groups (and decided to observe how each group fared since their composition was so different): 1 – all men (4) 1 – all women (5) 1 – 2 men, 3 women 1 – 1 man, 3 women 1 – 1 woman, 3 men
  11. 11. Making it Real: Announcing the Groups The following Monday, I planned fun, fast-paced group activity related to that week’s topic (which happened to be Time Management!). This activity required talking and movement. I put the students into their newly formed group project groups – but I didn’t tell them that’s what I was doing. They did the activity, and when it was done and debriefed, THEN I told them: These are the groups you will be working in for your PSA Group Project; at end of class you’ll have 20 minutes to do initial planning for the project. I also said, remember what you learned in this time management activity as you started! I also made it clear that they would need to work outside of class time from then on…
  12. 12. The Glitch Of course, this method did not eliminate all problems, nor did I expect it to. People are people, and some issues/conflict are almost inevitable. Over the next few weeks, I heard from some of the groups regarding their chosen topic. One group complained that some members were not contributing in a timely manner to their Google Docs project file. I tried not to intervene, only to offer some suggestions on how to address the issues. Then, about 3 weeks after I formed the groups, the biggest problem happened. I was conducting an activity called “Table Topics” in class. Based on an activity done in Toastmasters International meetings, it involves posing a question or topic and having students respond with a brief (at least one full sentence) answer. I tell my students this is good practice for a lot of reasons; at this point in the semester we had done this activity several times already. At first most students are quite hesitant, but after some practice most participate willingly. On this day, there was a lot of enthusiasm and energy in the room during table topics. About half the class volunteered to answer one of the two questions; then I started calling on people and they participated reasonably well also. Finally, one student – I’ll call him “G” – was left. I called on him and he clearly had not been paying attention – to the instructions and what had been happening in class. I repeated the instructions and he responded with several comments that completely changed to tone in the room. One of the students even said out loud, “Well, that took a turn.” I dealt with his comments as best I could in the moment, and then it was time to dismiss the class. Later that day, I got an e-mail from one of the students in G’s group saying she felt uncomfortable working with him given what he said in class. I saw G later that week and he said no one in the group seemed willing to take his help. I thought a lot about what to do and in the end took G out of the group and let him do the project on his own. TABLE TOPICS QUESTIONS that day: A: What is your dream house like? (Chapter 8!) B: If you could choose one superpower, what would it be and why?
  13. 13. The Project Presentations Two weeks before the presentations were due to be made during the week of December 10, I gave the student groups the opportunity to choose their time slot on one of the two days I planned for the presentations to happen. That week, Mother Nature intervened – we had some snow on the 9th, so our class on the 10th was cancelled due to a late campus opening. So all the presentations had to be made on Wednesday, December 12. All five groups – and the one solo -- were ready; all five groups submitted the required documentation and showed their videos. I was pleasantly surprised – and in some cases blown away – by the creativity and effort demonstrated. Topics covered: Air Pollution Car Emissions and Global Warming Child Labor Pollution and the Local Environment Vaping is Bad! Wrongful Convictions
  14. 14. Peer and Self Assessments Another requirement of the project was to complete self-assessment and peer evaluation forms; both used the same criteria. (See templates at the end of this presentation.) Most of the students took this part of the assignment seriously, although a few students failed to submit them. Each student evaluated his/her group members based on a set of evaluation criteria related to participation, timeliness, quality of work, attitude toward project (on a scale of 1 to 5) Final question (yes or no): would you want to work with this person again? They also evaluated themselves on same set of criteria Finally, I asked three short-answer questions related to team dynamics and what they learned about working in a group
  15. 15. Quantitative Evaluation based on Peer and Self Assessments The great majority of the students would work with their group members again, and said so with some enthusiasm. When they said they did not want to, they backed it up with examples of where the other student fell short – largely their lack of participation in group meetings or chats and lack of timeliness in submitting their part(s). The most interesting quantitative finding is that most students were more generous in rating their peers than rating themselves; although in both cases their “grades” were all essentially As and Bs. 97% would work with group members again For the all-women group, it was 100%! 3% would not want to work with some group members again 44% gave their fellow group members an average rating of 5 (excellent) 19% gave a rating of 4.6 – 4.9 37% gave a rating of 4.0 – 4.5 17% gave themselves an average rating of 5 17% gave themselves 4.6 – 4.9 67% gave themselves 4.0 – 4.5 No average ratings lower than 4.0 (very strong work) in either case
  16. 16. What students said they learned about group project work The biggest challenge for most of these students, who are still relatively new to college, is managing their time. Many of them have full- or part-time jobs, which made meeting with their groups a challenge. I like to think many of them learned something about time management – and communication, and acceptance – from this project! What they said they learned: • Important to do work that requires meeting together ahead of time; start work early • Hard to accommodate busy schedules; must make time to meet • Have to stay organized and make sure everyone knows their part • Difficult to work in a large group • If everyone hears each other out and communicates, stuff gets done better/faster • There are people in my class like me: who work hard, stay organized, get things done ahead of time • It’s better when you share your work with your friends, instead of doing it all by yourself 
  17. 17. What students said they would have done differently Again, their biggest challenges/changes had to do with scheduling and time management: • Made a solid schedule of when to turn in stuff • Start earlier • Had more meetings outside of class (but schedules very different and had to work with what we had) • Spent more time on project/focus on it • Spent more time working out the visual aids (student artist) • Been more outspoken about what we should do • Hired more actors (if we had money and time) • Would have chosen a different topic • Overlooked everything more • Nothing – we worked well/efficiently; pleased with project
  18. 18. Behaviors students cited as valuable/detrimental to group Students’ comments about their peers were overwhelmingly positive: • Everyone worked in a responsible manner and finished the project with only minor Internet issues • Had a group chat and encouraged each other to finish our parts • Everyone got tasks done with good timing • Each member showed interest and made adequate time despite busy schedules • Everyone was a joy to work with • All participated and helped when asked • Organizing the work • Neither valuable nor detrimental • We barely met because we are all busy
  19. 19. Specific student behaviors lauded by group members Three students took very clear leadership roles in their groups – and two of those students were not ones I would have expected to lead, based on first impressions! • A’s (female) leadership and filming skills were valuable to our success • D (female) was very driven; lead the group with precision and gave each member chores based on the part we wanted to be responsible for • E (male) taking charge and making sure we all did our part [was valuable]
  20. 20. Qualitative Evaluation/ Observations Without my having to tell them to do so, ALL groups had all members come to the front of the room for their presentation Not all spoke, but all were engaged! Students were generous with their evaluations of their peers – and themselves All 6 projects were surprisingly good and detailed – although in different ways/different aspects All groups had some minor things missing (from the project requirements) Several students failed to turn in evaluations
  21. 21. Conclusion: Would I use this method again? Absolutely, yes! I am teaching a brand-new business course this Spring and plan to use it to form groups for a project It will be interesting to see if/how it works differently – this new course is an elective for business students – not a required course like FYS.
  22. 22. Questions? Suggestions? Thank you!
  23. 23. For yourself, indicate the extent to which you agree with the statement in the left-hand column, using the following criteria and scale: 5 = Excellent work; was crucial component to group’s success; 4 = Very strong work; contributed significantly to the group; 3 = Sufficient effort; contributed adequately to the group; 2 = Insufficient effort; met minimal standards of group; 1 = Little or weak effort; was detrimental to the group.* Total the numbers. A higher score means you did better/more effective work within the group. Be as honest and fair as you can! This is your feedback to yourself, to be combined with the feedback from your peers to give you a picture of how well you work in a group. Evaluation Criteria Score: Attended group meetings regularly/arrived on time Participated in developing ideas and planning the project Contributed meaningfully to group discussions Was willing to discuss the ideas of others Completed group assignments on time Prepared work in a quality manner Demonstrated a cooperative and supportive attitude Demonstrated interest/enthusiasm in the project Contributed significantly to the success of the project TOTAL *For an assessment of 1, please give a brief written explanation: Self-Assessment Form – PSA Group Project
  24. 24. Peer Evaluation Form – PSA Group Project Page 1 Your Name:__________________________________________________ Write the name of each member of your group at the top of a column. For each person, indicate the extent to which you agree with the statement in the left-hand column, using the following criteria and scale: 5 = Excellent work; was crucial component to group’s success; 4 = Very strong work; contributed significantly to the group; 3 = Sufficient effort; contributed adequately to the group; 2 = Insufficient effort; met minimal standards of group; 1 = Little or weak effort; was detrimental to the group.* Total the numbers in each column. A higher score means better/more effective work within the group. Be as honest and fair as you can! I will provide general feedback (not attributed to the classmate who said it) to each person, based on his/her overall score from all group members. My hope is the feedback will help them in future group project work. Evaluation Criteria Group Member: Group Member: Group Member: Group Member: Attended group meetings regularly/arrived on time Participated in developing ideas and planning the project Contributed meaningfully to group discussions Was willing to discuss the ideas of others Completed group assignments on time Prepared work in a quality manner Demonstrated a cooperative and supportive attitude Demonstrated interest/enthusiasm in the project Contributed significantly to the success of the project Would you want to work with this person again? (Yes or no**) TOTAL *For an assessment of 1, please give a brief written explanation: **For a response of “no,” please give a brief written explanation:
  25. 25. Peer Evaluation Form – PSA Group Project Page 2Peer Evaluation Form for PSA Group Project Feedback on Team Dynamics and Self-Reflection Please respond to the following questions with 2 to 3 sentences each. 1. What did you learn about working in a group from this project that you will carry into your next group experience? 2. What would you have done differently, given the opportunity? 3. Were the behaviors of any of your group members particularly valuable or detrimental to the group? Explain.

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