Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Does group work "work"?

Yes, says Barbara Millis, in "Promoting Deep Learning," a recently published IDEA Center Paper.
Using cooperative groups or even pairs can significantly increase student learning and foster the deep approaches recommended in the literature... A meta-analysis by Springer, Stanne, and Donovan (1999) provides strong evidence that the use of small groups can result in greater academic achievement, more favorable attitudes, and increased persistence. Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) determined that cooperative learning and small-group learning improved overall student learning by a .51 standard deviation, evidence that should convince even the staunchest "lecture-holics."
What I especially like about Millis' short article is that it describes three different approaches to cooperative learning that can apply in both face-to-face and online courses and across disciplines. I'm always looking for ways to structure group activity that will 1) keep students on task, 2) lead to real learning outcomes, and 3) are not overly-designed and are easy to set up. Her descriptions of "jigsaw using a graphic organizer," "cooperative debates," and "pro-con-caveat grid" all fit those criteria.