Course Delivery > Group Work
Intentionally design and manage group work to promote inclusion and equity.
Create heterogeneous groups
Create heterogeneous, rather than random or self-selected, groups or teams. If possible, avoid isolating single students from underrepresented identities within a team.
- Survey students prior to group work, then form groups to ensure heterogeneity in nationality, gender, background, and/or any other factor that is relevant to the learning objectives of the assigned group task. (Modern Languages)
- Formulate breakout room groups ahead of time and planfully rotate group membership across class sessions, so that the same people aren’t always talking to each other. (Engineering and Public Policy)
- When projects require multiple skill sets, create groups that purposefully draw on different students’ disciplines and previous course work (e.g., engineer, programmer, artist, communicator). (Entertainment Technology Center)
- Use established survey instruments to assess students’ preferred work habits or collaboration styles to minimize potential conflicts within teams. (Business)
- Research suggests that diverse groups can outperform homogeneous groups. If forming groups randomly, without additional instructional interventions, you might expect random results regarding both group dynamics and performance.
- Instructor-formed teams tend to outperform random or self-selected teams. When students self-select teams, inequities may be perpetuated, as students with similar background preparation may aggregate.
- When the rationale for group composition is aligned with learning objectives, group outcomes tend to be better, especially when diverse perspectives add value to the group task.
- Teams of 3-5 students tend to be more inclusive and equitable than larger teams.
Assign and rotate roles within teams
- Select roles based on equally important aspects of the group task that need to be completed to ensure more equal participation and opportunities. Rotating assigned roles prevents teams from consistently falling into traditional or stereotyped roles based on gender or other aspects of identity. (Information Systems)
- Assign and rotate roles for short, group exercises during class based on conspicuous aspects of group process, such as facilitator, time keeper, record keeper, presenter, group process observer, Devil’s advocate, or question-asker. (Computer Science)
- Assign and rotate roles based on perspectives relevant to the course content and/or case study being discussed, such as the environmental, economic, policy, or social justice perspective. (Business)
- If you are concerned about students who typically dominate during class discussions, then putting dominant students together in the same group may create more opportunities in the remaining groups for the students who tend to participate less.
- Assigning particular roles (e.g., note taker) within groups to dominant students may create a more equitable space for other students to assume leadership or speaking roles.
Teach equitable group process
Intentionally teach equitable group process and teamwork skills.
- Leverage existing asynchronous, online resources and associated classroom exercises to help students develop and reflect on teamwork and conflict resolution skills before engaging in group work. Options include CMU’s Online Learning Initiative courses, CollabU and ConflictU. Ask an Eberly colleague for assistance in exploring how these or other tools match your needs (firstname.lastname@example.org). (Information Systems)
- Describe equity principles and establish associated guidelines for group dynamics as a precursor to group work. If a project is about anti-racism work, don’t just let the burden fall on the people of color in the group. (Design)
- Prior to team projects, describe conflict and disagreement as valuable processes in group work and teach various approaches for how to reach consensus and move forward. (Arts Management)
- Before studio critiques of maker-projects, invite students to collaboratively build a document on what constitutes “constructive criticism”. Return to and amend this document before and/or after each studio critique. (IDeATe)
- Use Jessica Hammer’s EOTA (Experiences, Observations, Theories, Advice) framework to scaffold how students provide feedback to peers on their work. (Human Computer Interactions/Entertainment Technology Center)
- As an initial step of group formation, have students complete a team contract to guide expectations and interactions and to ensure accountability. Use the team contract to assist with conflict resolution within teams. (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
- Students from different backgrounds may have different preconceptions and experiences with group work. Transparently articulating expectations and norms for group work can preempt numerous challenges for both instructors and students.
- Intentionally teaching teamwork skills before group work may be an investment that pays dividends exceeding any perceived loss of class time or content coverage.
- Is the task appropriate for collaboration? Does working in a team have added value for student learning? Creating group assignments or exercises that require interdependence between group members tends to lead to the best outcomes.
Monitor group dynamics
Leverage team building activities, peer review, or other milestones to monitor group dynamics.
- At mid-semester, ask students from different teams to meet to talk about how they are doing and then regroup with their teams to share what they learned. (Design)
- Have regular updates with individual student teams, during class or on Zoom, throughout the semester. Discuss both group processes and products. Ask different students to share their perspectives to maximize learning and accountability and to prevent one or two students from speaking for or over team members. (Mechanical Engineering)
- Teach students how to do peer review effectively and kindly. Use anonymous peer reviews for students to give honest, constructive feedback about their peers. (Music)
- Organize short stand up meetings during class in which pairs of teams take turns reporting on progress and asking for peer feedback. Repeat the process like a speed dating session, rotating pairings of teams and rotating the role of reporting among students within teams. (Information Systems)
- Implementing self-, peer-, or group evaluations at key milestones during the project can help gather a more complete understanding of group dynamics.
- Gathering information early can help identify and address issues before they become serious problems from which a team can’t recover.
- Carefully considering the pros and cons of various approaches to assessing group work can help design equitable collaborative learning experiences.
Eberly colleagues are here to help!
Eberly colleagues are available to help you translate strategies and examples to your particular teaching context (email@example.com).