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Group Work at the College Level: a Case Study


Group Work at the College Level: a Case Study

Faust, Rachel (2021) Group Work at the College Level: a Case Study. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Research problem:
This study explores the use of group work across various academic disciplines at the college level in Quebec, with the intent of making recommendations on ways to improve its design and implementation.

Research Questions:
1. What practices do college teachers use in implementing group work?
2. What do college teachers perceive as the benefits of group work?
3. What challenges do college teachers face in implementing group work?
4. How do college teachers address the challenges they face in implementing group work? What additional mechanisms could college teachers put in place for an effective implementation of group work?

Literature Review:
The literature review describes the small-group learning approaches most represented in the literature on postsecondary education, namely: cooperative learning, collaborative learning and problem-based learning. The benefits of group work for both students and instructors are presented, as well as the common problems that can arise from group work and possible solutions.

This qualitative study uses the collective case study methodology. Six cases involving a total of nine instructors are presented. All participants teach at the same Quebec college and were recruited by snowball sampling at the research site. The participants were selected on the basis of their teaching discipline, as well as the type of group work they implement. The data were obtained through semi-structured interviews and were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.

Results and Conclusions:
The participants implement group work in two distinct ways: in-class, active learning, activities; and graded projects. The following student benefits were identified: students learn effectively; they are engaged; group work sets a positive classroom environment; and simulates real-life situations. Benefits for teachers include: an enhanced monitoring of student’s progress; a reduced grading workload; intrinsic rewards; and a dynamic classroom. Five main challenges were identified: friends tend to work with friends; social loafing; interpersonal difficulties; external pressures; and difficulties assessing individual contribution in group projects. To alleviate difficulties related to in-class activities, the participants can: change the groups frequently; assign specific roles; actively work on setting a positive classroom environment; clearly communicate the learning objectives; and build in an element of competitivity. For group projects, the participants can: discuss the relevance of teams in the workplace; dedicate class time to the group projects; include project milestones; minimize the value of group grades; and use peer-evaluations. The literature further suggests that for in-class activities, the level of difficulty, timing, and variety of the activities are key elements to consider, and that instructors can call on an individual student to present. For group projects, teachers can: favour criterion-based group formation; train students in developing teamwork skills; assign specific roles to students; and ask for progress reports.

The implications of this study are that faculty development initiatives on group work should not be discipline-specific, and can focus on: implementing strategies to reduce social loafing in group projects; training instructors to explicitly teach their students about teamwork skills; and designing activities so that they best reproduce real-life situations.

Because this research is exploratory in nature, there are too few participants to represent the larger population of Quebec college instructors. Another limitation of this study is the absence of representation of group work in technical programs.

Future research could examine group work from the perspective of college students, the barriers to implementing group work in the Quebec collegial system, the implementation of group work online in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as, post-pandemic, how the instructors’ experiences implementing group work online will have influenced their approaches to group work upon their return in the physical classroom.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Education
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Faust, Rachel
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:Educational Technology
Date:5 March 2021
Thesis Supervisor(s):Carliner, Saul
ID Code:988201
Deposited By: Rachel Faust
Deposited On:29 Jun 2021 21:11
Last Modified:29 Jun 2021 21:11
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