Improving Student Learning in Group Assignments

Year: 2021

Author: Thomas, Christy, Brown, Barbara

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Group work is common in pre-service teacher education and the need to improve the student learning experience and consider how instructors can effectively design and assess group work continues to persist. While group work is recognized as a means to prepare teacher candidates with soft skills such as collaboration for the classroom and the realities of teaching, it poses a number of challenges for both instructors and students. This two year design-based research study explored instructional designs for improving student learning in group work in blended and online courses in an undergraduate program for pre-service teachers. The research question was: How might instructional design improve student learning in group assignments? This paper will highlight the findings from the second year of the study.  Mixed methods were used for data collection and included both surveys and semi-structured interviews.  The surveys were administered at three different times during the term with students and instructors to find out what instructional strategies were supporting group work. Interviews were conducted at the end of the term to gain deeper insights around the strategies instructors were using to support group work. Descriptive statistics were used to organize and interpret the quantative data from the surveys.  Interview data was iteratively and thematically analyzed and included two rounds of coding. The triangulation of this data strengthened the trustworthiness and legitimation of these findings. The findings that emerged from the second year of the study were: (1) challenges, (2) instructional strategies, (3) technology use, (4) individual contributions to group work, (5) how other group members support learning, and (6) how leadership is provided in groups. Students found it challenging to work in groups and found it difficult to balance their workload, make shared decisions, and manage missing group members. Formative assessment was used as an  instructional strategy that appeared to support students when working in groups. Technology was used by students to support communication and unit design when working on group assignments. Students individually contributed to group work by communicating with the group members, engaging in group discussions, and brainstorming ideas. Students supported their group members by offering feedback and suggestions, engaging in group discussions, and providing support and encouragement. The role of providing support was distributed throughout the classroom. The findings also showed that leadership in groups was shared and that the role of providing leadership was distributed within groups. This study holds significance for researchers and instructors interested in finding ways to help students and instructors overcome the challenges of group work.