Groups, Groups, and More Groups: Using Groups Throughout the Semester (Part two of a two-part series)

Meg Morgan, Department of English

UNC Charlotte

Last March Meg reported on a semester-long group project experiment in her beginning technical writing classes. In Part 2, she finishes her tale with a reflection on the experience after the term.

It is now the end of summer, and I have almost fully recovered from my experiment with the “less work” collaborative model last spring.  Overall, I was pleased with some aspects of the course design.  Here is a brief summary of what happened and what I learned.

Absences were almost non-existent in both classes.  Out of 48 students I seldom had more than one student absent from each of the two classes.  There were days when all students were present, or if someone was absent, the group members knew why the student was missing.  Out of the two classes, one student missed six classes, one student missed four classes, and one missed three classes. Sixteen students missed no classes and 13 students missed one class throughout the semester.  I cannot definitely say that the group work created a loyalty and commitment that might not have been there otherwise, but I believe that is what happened.

The quality of the group interaction was mixed.  This was surprising to me.  While some of the group members’ performance stayed high, other group members’ interest seemed to wane.  I come to this conclusion not through absences, but through physical interaction in the classes.  I noticed that some members distanced themselves from their groups and seemed otherwise disengaged, even if they were there physically. Out of a possible 30 group process points in the Instructions assignment (due later in the semester), 13 students received average scores of 25 or lower from their group members.  I changed the group member evaluation form because I noticed that their group member assessments were becoming perfunctory. Because they had to write an evaluation rather than just assign a number, the scores might have become more thoughtful (and lower).

The quality of the work stayed constant.  I would like to say that the quality of the products improved throughout the semester. Grades didn’t justify that conclusion, but right from the beginning of the semester, the groups created very good documents, and that quality did not diminish as the semester progressed.  Perhaps they kept each other motivated.

The work on the final portfolio was very good. Even at the end of the semester, when many students can’t wait to “get out,” my students worked very hard revising their previous work to submit it in a portfolio.  The portfolio also included a reflective statement and individual resumes that showed the work they had done. The portfolio without the resume grade was worth 120 points and out of the total 48 students, 29 received portfolio grades of 108 or better. The groups also spent several days in class revising the portfolio, and I noticed that the groups split up the already written work and then checked their revisions with other students in the group.

Students rated the courses relatively high on the University’s end-of-course evaluations.  In the category called ”Overall, I learned a lot in this course,” one class ranked the class 4.27/5.00 and the other class 4.12/5.00. In the category “The course provides an opportunity to learn from other students,” the first class gave the class a 4.27/5.00 and the second class a 4.24/5.00.  In a final relevant category, “This course contributed to my educational growth,” the first class scored 4.32/5.00 and the second, 4.00/5.00.

I am not sure I would teach this course using groups if I have the opportunity in the future.  I learned that the students (some) liked working in groups because they see the value in it for career training.  I am not sure they see the value of it for personal growth and openness.