Group Projects: It’s Better Together – But Only if You Plan

Steve Volk, April 10, 2017

Gold and Silver Fish of China, 1800-1899, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, New York Public Library, Public Domain

Gold and Silver Fish of China, Chinese painting, c.1800-1899, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, New York Public Library, Public Domain

Assigning group projects is a fairly common practice across the disciplines. You can read Penny J. Gilmer’s book on Transforming University Teaching Using Collaborative Learning (Springer 2010), view the collaborative project between Denison University and the American University of Bulgaria described here last week, or explore these software engineering group projects from the Australian National University. And much more in between.

Quite often faculty will wait until the end of the semester before designing a collaborative project as a final assignment. What could go wrong? Um, a lot? And while there’s no single way to fashion group projects that are guaranteed to succeed, the surest way to nudge it off the rails is to assign a group project as a time saver for you: Let’s see. I’ve got 50 students in the class. If I put them in groups of 5, I’ll only have 10 projects to read at the end of the year. Yay! (And I speak from – sad – experience on this score.)

But there are also steps to take to help group projects succeed. Here are a few elements to consider as you plan for collaborative work in your classes. Since the central point is to make sure that group work aligns well with the overall learning goals in your course, it is likely already too late in the semester to integrate it in a meaningful way. But it’s never too soon to start planning for next semester. So, here are five areas to think about: Continue reading