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There is strength
in numbers
American proverb

Cooperative learning series

Group projects

Learning and working in groups involves shared and/or learned values, resources, and ways of doing things. Effective groups learn to succeed by combining these factors. Your group, and each individual within it, will only be as effective as they are willing to respect differences within the group.

Summary of the entire process:

At the first meeting, all participants

  1. introduce themselves with what they bring to the project, their interests, qualifications, and even preferences in projects.
  2. determine a convener and/or clerk who will keep participants on task
    This is determined by your first group process, and should consider who would like to volunteer, experience and expertise with the task, and even a desire to learn about group tasks
  3. Determine the strategy of how often to meet in person or through technology,
    where the group will meet, communicating including email and (cell) phone information, and how to distribute minutes and updates
  4. Summarize objectives:
    Strategy: each member independently writes down one or two main objectives of the project, then the group compares these, extracts key words and phrases, then prioritizes results. If agreement cannot be reached, refer the matter to the teacher.
    Group members should realize that this a procedural situation, and not a matter for controversy or heated argument.
  5. Determine process to achieve the objectives
    What is the timeline? What are the deliverables and when are they needed?
    Do you need sub-groups? project planning tools (Gantt, Critical Path, PERT)?
    What applications do you need (word processing, spread sheets, cameras, imaging software (Photoshop), presentation software (PowerPoint), Website, etc.

Process stages:

  1. Research discovery: library, Internet, professional associations, experts, etc.
  2. Research analysis: often in the process, difficulties appear:
    consolidation and identifying key concepts and issues
    mid-stream check-in, planning for gaps, requests for assistance, etc.
  3. Product development:
    Development of a thesis statement, individual sections
  4. Write/compile document or presentation
    Opening | body | closing statement/argument
  5. Bibliography
  6. Review and evaluation
    Product | process | participation
  7. Project summary
  8. Rehearsal for presentation
  9. Presentation
  10. Celebration

More(!) on group projects

    • Interaction within the group
      is based upon mutual respect and encouragement.
    • Often creativity is vague.
      Ideas are important to the success of the project, not personalities.
      A group's strength lies in its ability to develop ideas individuals bring.
    • Conflict can be an extension of creativity.
      The group should be aware of this eventuality. Resolution of conflict balances the end goals with mutual respect. In other words, a group project is a cooperative, rather than a competitive, learning experience.

The two major objectives of a group project are:

  • What is learned: factual material as well as the process
  • What is produced: written paper, presentation, and/or media project

Role of instructors/teachers/professors:

  • Outcomes depend on the clarity of the objective(s) given by teachers.
    The group's challenge is to interpret these objectives,
    and then determine how to meet them.
  • Group work is only as effective as teachers or instructors
    manage and guide the process.
    Group projects are not informal collaborative groups.
    Students must be aware of, and should be prepared for, this group process.
    Cooperative group projects should be structured so that no individual can coast on the efforts of his/her teammates

Scoring:

  • Rewards ideally should be intrinsic to the process,
    with group members deriving their reward from their contributions
    to the group and project
  • External reinforcement (grades, etc) for individuals can be based upon improvement, as opposed to comparative, scoring. Traditional, comparative scoring works to the detriment of teams with low-achieving members. Evaluation based upon improvement rewards the group for an individual's progress. Peer, comparative evaluations can have a negative effect on teams: low scoring members are considered "undesirable" and drags upon performance

High achievers versus low achievers?

  • We assume high achievers mentor or teach low achievers.
    In the process of teaching others, we can learn more about the topic.
    As we tutor, even simple questions from the tutee make us look at our subject matter freshly. As we explain, we gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Low achievers then tutor or teach high achievers!
  • High achievers profit in cooperative learning in other ways:
    leadership skills, self-esteem gains, conflict resolution skills, and role-taking abilities which become part of the leaning process, and betterment of the student.

Cooperative learning series

Collaborative learning | Group projects | Active Listening |
Conflict resolution | Case study: conflict resolution | Peer mediation |
Tutoring guidelines | Using feedback with tutors


Flash exercise by Jessica Fuller, Anna Shub, and Jenny Lui; Professor Brad Hokanson, College of Design, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN; edits/revisions by Joe Landsberger.