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Group Work or Lectures… Which Teaching Method is Best for Students?

The reality is that in most professions, you work as a team. While the extent to which you collaborate changes from profession to profession, this is an essential skill to being successful after college…and even post high school. If you are headed to college, you’re going to do group projects. If you go straight into the workforce, you will be asked to collaborate with others regularly. Whether 12 or 22, students of all ages benefit greatly from being asked to work on projects as a group. This is even more true with Generation Z, who make up the majority of current students. While learning how to work in teams is an obvious outcome, the benefits don’t end there. The following is a short list of some of the other benefits of group work:

  • Relationship building
  • Skill development
  • Confidence
  • Conflict management
  • Active learning
  • Performance

Relationship Building

Neurobiology proves that humans are, by nature, social creatures. Our bodies actually release different chemicals as a response to different types of interaction. In a positive interaction, our brains release serotonin. In contrast, in a stressful interaction like an argument, we release cortisol. It’s no surprise then that students prefer interacting with others while learning as opposed to traditional lecture. In addition to the flood of “happy chemicals”, students frequently build relationships with people they may not have otherwise met. Research also shows that schools that encourage group work result in a lower level of overall feelings of isolation. Being exposed to people of different personalities and cultures provides students with an education of its own – a microcosm of what it’s like to interact with the world – people of all different likes, dislikes, personalities, cultural backgrounds, and skills.1

Conflict Management

As referenced above, group work enables students to learn how to work through conflict. While some group work may be a light discussion about a book they read or walking through a step-by-step science experiment, many group projects do spark differing levels of conflict. Conflict most frequently erupts over the division of tasks or one (or more than one) team member not pulling their weight. Other times, it’s because someone determines that they are the leader and become bossy. Regardless of the cause of the conflict, students still have a project to complete in a set time frame. They are forced to learn how to work through conflict because at the end of the day – the group dynamics will not be an excuse for turning in late work. This is a microcosm of the real world. While you may joke in college that you can’t wait to graduate because you’ll be done with group projects, that’s just the beginning. Group projects are extremely common in just about every line of work, so it’s best to learn conflict resolution while you’re young!

Skill development

Group work participants inherently build skills as they’re learning – far beyond just teamwork, relationship building, and conflict management. These skills include a variety of communication skills, including negotiation and values clarification, as well as critical thinking, decision making, and problem-solving. While the goal may be to learn about a specific topic, the skills that result from group work will serve the students for long after they graduate.

Confidence

This benefit of group work is easily overlooked…but the reality is that group work is a wonderful opportunity for students to find their voice. Whether it’s the shy person speaking up for the first time or the conflict-averse student voicing a differing opinion from a group member, group work provides an opportunity for students to build their confidence. The interactions help them to understand that their viewpoint matters and that they bring something to the table.

Active Learning

While we will dig deeper in part two of this blog series, active learning is one of the biggest benefits of group work. Active learning is a method of learning in which students are actively or experientially involved in the learning process. As the fields of education and psychology learn more about which teaching methods result in higher retention, study after study points to the importance of active learning.

Application

A study by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology investigated the difference in examination performance for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) between traditional lecturing and active learning. The results showed a 55% higher failure rate for students taught through lectures as opposed to active learning.2 This is just one of many studies that have proven the advantage students have when they learn actively, as opposed to learning through a traditional lecture.

Clarus recently researched the impact of bringing students to the board – one of the many forms of active learning. Learn more about how this form of active learning increases retention.

Performance

The studies, such as the one noted above, give quantifiable proof that group work improves performance. However, performance on graded tests is not the only area that improves. Examples of the old adage “two heads are better than one” can be shared by schools and corporations alike. While one person may have great ideas, group think results in a better and more innovative final product.

For more ideas on how glassboards can encourage collaboration, see how universities and other educational institutions use Clarus glassboards in their facilities.

Sources

1 The Neurobiology of Human Social Behaviour: an Important but Neglected Topic.” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience , Canadian Medical Association, Sept. 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2527715.

2 Freedman, S, et al. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering and Mathematics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 12 May 2014, https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/05/08/1319030111.short?rss=1&ssource=mfr.

3 “Active Learning.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation Inc., 24 Oct. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_learning.

4 Burnett, Dean. “Does Working as a Group Actually Help Us Learn?” The Guardian, 9 Apr. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/apr/09/does-working-as-a-group-actually-help-us-learn.