Guest Contributor: Maggi Miller.

Looking to increase student engagement in your course? Here, Maggi Miller, retired Professor and now Manager of Cengage Learning’s TeamUP Faculty Programs, discusses why—and how—group work leads to greater student success and satisfaction.

ANNOUNCEMENT! Lecturing is not the most effective way to teach! “Student engagement” is the way to go, right? It’s supported by student satisfaction surveys and most conferences have sessions on active learning. But it’s not just a “hot” topic. The evidence is in: when the classroom is student-centered, the learning is more immediate, goes deeper and lasts longer. It’s a pedagogical trifecta! Students who work on learning, rather than just listening to someone telling them what to know, are getting their money’s worth.

One way to involve the whole class in learning is to place students into groups. Thoughtful preparation will ensure this is more than an opportunity for peers to gab about this week’s top YouTube video. Here are some questions to consider.

  • Will the groups be temporary or permanent? The answer will affect how structured or loosely formed they will be.
  • What size should the groups be? Pairings of students are groups just as much as a table of ten is.
  • How will you ensure that one person doesn’t end up doing all the work? If you assign different roles for each member, design activities with reflection time, and build a grading system that holds the group and the individuals accountable, fewer inequities will occur.
  • What ground rules will guide the process? Plan ahead for an icebreaker, a Plan B when someone is not a good fit for a group, and what you will do when attendance is uneven. Make your objectives clear but also challenging enough to be interesting.
  • How will group members be selected? Your objectives will guide you in answering this question. If the groups are temporary and the objective is easily achieved, students can self-select. Or, you can make assignments based on things such as height, birthdays, etc. However, if the outcome will require some concerted effort over a longer period, you may want to capitalize on relevant demographics, points of view, learning or personality styles, grades, and more.

For more ideas about grouping, read the work of Elizabeth Barkley, Francine Armenth-Brothers, and Robert Mathieu.

 Maggi Miller works with Cengage Learning’s TeamUP Faculty Programs to promote peer-to-peer faculty development and active learning. Before joining Cengage Learning, she was a Professor of Developmental Reading at Austin Community College.

TeamUP, a part of Cengage Learning, is a group of college educators who provide peer-to-peer support, consulting services and innovative faculty development. Visit the TeamUP Professional Development Portal Web site for professional development opportunities and earn continuing education units.