Group Projects: The Good, the Bad, and the Ineffective

group work
Obtained from Pixabay

I’ve had group projects on my mind a lot lately. Group projects have become the driving force of both of my Master’s program classes, and have been a recent topic of conversation in school’s professional development as we work toward an instructional model that heavily features collaboration.

 

So what makes Group Projects work? And what makes them fall apart?

Group Projects fall apart when:

1. There isn’t a defined and obvious goal

Group projects cannot be effective if the entire group doesn’t agree with and understand the goal for the project. Simply asking a group of people to work on the same task results in everyone completing work without a sense of purpose. This is also true when the goal provided does not seem to match the task at hand. For example, if the goal is to practice having collaborative discussions but the project is to create a slideshow about an animal, the mismatch of the project and the goal can create a disconnect for the group members.

 2. Everyone thinks they have the best ideas

The give and take of true collaboration is a key component of a successful group project. If every group member comes to the project with the belief that they know best and an unwillingness to listen to others, the project will not be successful.

3. The group members are not invested in the task

Similar to a lack of a goal, if the group members do not all believe in the importance of the task or are not engaged in the task, the project will not be successful because the group members that are not invested will not feel compelled to do their part.

4. The task itself is not clear

If the task itself is not clear, group projects will not be successful. Group members will spend a majority of their time attempting to make sense of the task and what it is that they’re supposed to be doing and whether or not they are meeting the expectations of the teacher instead of focusing their efforts on a cohesive project.

 

Group Projects are successful when:

1. All group members have a clear role to fulfill

In successful group projects, every group member has a specific role. Whether these roles are self-chosen, or whether they are assigned by the teacher does not matter. Older group members may naturally fall into roles without needing to specifically define them, however, roles give each group member clear tasks and expectations. The roles below are examples of how to divide tasks up for a project to give each group member a specific job to do.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 2.27.28 PM
Obtained from Teacher’s Notebook

2. There are mini-deadlines in place to keep the project on track

Projects are often packaged in a big-picture, final-product format. However, by creating deadlines along the way groups are much more likely to be successful because the task is broken down into smaller, manageable parts.

3. The project is relevant to all group members

Buy-in from all group member is essential for a successful project. Allowing for some element of choice can make this more likely, as well as clear goals and expectations.

4. There is a purpose for doing the project as a group

It is also essential that a group project clearly necessitates being done as a group. If the project could just as easily or more-easily be done independently, the group project will not reach it’s potential. Group projects are necessary when the project clearly requires varying perspectives, or when the learning is new or difficult and is made more accessible to learners when done with the assistance of other students. If the reason for the work being done in a group format is not clear, members will be resistant to working together.

Group projects have the potential to enhance learning and make the experience better for everyone involved if done with careful attention to detail. As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students the benefits of getting to work with other learners, so it is our responsibility to attend to the details and create a positive experience for them.

“Working with other people just makes you smart, that’s proven.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda

What is the purpose of Global Collaboration?

Global Collaboration is becoming a bit of a buzz word in Education, or at least in the EdTech corner of the world. As with any buzz word, it runs the risk of becoming a box educators want to check off as something they have done to keep up with the trends. But what does it really mean? What purpose should it serve in our classrooms?

In her video entitled “Global Narratives Part I”, Julie Lindsey, author of The Global Educator, includes this quote from Al Gore: “We are witnessing the birth of the world’s truly global civilization. Rather than being places where students learn about the world, schools are becoming places where students learn with the world.”

This quote stood out to me because of Gore’s notion that students are learning with the world. Although Global Collaboration, as noted in the Global Connection Taxonomy below, can begin with connections inside the classroom, and can reach as a far as a global student to student connection that is managed by the students themselves.

Global Connection Taxonomy
Lindsay, J., Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds:  Move to global collaboration one step at a time. Chicago: Pearson Publishing.

So if the connection itself does not need to be far reaching, the purpose of the project or task itself somehow needs to represent a global connection. Students need to utilize the project in some way to become more aware of the world around them and the experiences, beliefs, thoughts, and lives of people who are different from them. For example, the Global Read Aloud project allows students to discuss a book with people from across the world that are different from them. They are able to see how someone else might read the same book as them and have different thoughts about it based on their life experiences.

Although working with someone in another class, or another state, or another country on a task that requires students to work on a project together may technically be global collaboration, this type of project does not require students to learn about the experiences and lives of those that are different from them. To me, Global Collaboration would be more useful in a project that requires students to answer a question, such as “What is family?” or “What is adversity?” because this project would allow them to learn about the differences between their lives and the lives of the students that they are working with.

Although any type of collaboration is a good experience for students, it seems worth a second consideration when creating a global collaboration project to make sure that students are truly having a global experience that raises their awareness of the world.