Study groups can be a fertile ground for students to develop their motivation, academic identity and well-being, but most importantly: to develop their learning. They can help increase students’ social well-being and belonging, which is linked to their academic well-being.
In general, group work develops academic understanding in a different way from individual work. By working in study groups, students develop collaborative skills and team working abilities, which is a high priority in many academic regulations and workplaces. Engaging in academic collaboration requires students to accept other students’ viewpoints, provide detailed explanations, give and receive help, and negotiate. The essential lesson in group work is not only to solve the task at hand together, but also to learn how to solve these types of tasks effectively in the future.
What is the purpose of the study group? Is it to foster social belonging, academic belonging, academic learning or collaborative skills?
What should students learn through study group work that they can't learn individually?
Do students understand the objective of working in a study group?
How is study group work integrated into the degree programme?
Does the degree programme have objectives that relate to collaboration? If so, how can the specific activities of the study groups support the development of these collaborative skills?
The content of the study group work significantly impacts the group dynamics. The main issue here is whether the group is working towards a common goal or simply doing small assignments and readings together. It’s important to consider which forms of collaboration the group assignments encourage. Some assignments may allow the group to divide the tasks among its members, while other assignments require collaboration to develop knowledge and understanding of a subject together. If you want students to learn something about collaborating, it is important to exemplify how the collaboration should take place and evaluate it in some way.
What is most important for students to learn? To study, collaborate, understand academic concepts, use academic methods or something else entirely?
What should the study groups work on? Should they go through the syllabus together, complete assignments as preparation for class, or create a joint product for an exam?
Should the assignment require students to work together or should it be possible for them to divide it into parts that can be done individually?
Should the teacher include the study group’s work as a key element in classroom instruction or is the work only for the students’ own benefit?
How can choices regarding the framework and content of the study group work support the desired learning processes?
To work well, study groups take effort. Students need to learn how to collaborate academically. It is important to help study groups talk about how to work together and evaluate their collaboration along the way. It is also important to consider how to introduce the idea of study groups to new students, as this gives them a first impression of what you expect from group work on the programme.
You also need to consider what the students themselves expect from group work and studying. You can’t change their opinions, but you can take them into consideration. For example, you can clearly address the expectations of what it means to study and how to learn in study groups early on.
Introducing students to study groups
To introduce your students to study groups, you can provide them with explanatory documents and assignments, collaboration agreements or exercises for aligning their expectations. Consider the following questions:
What exactly are your expectations for the study groups?
What do the groups need to do to live up to these expectations?
How will you communicate these expectations to students: In writing? Through an activity?
Who should communicate your expectations?
You can find inspiration from other teachers on:
What do the students bring to the table?
It may also be appropriate to consider which skills, such as language proficiency or coding, the students already have. Consider the following questions:
How equipped are the students to study?
How can you better equip them to study? For example, can you influence their opinions on how they learn best, how to work in groups, etc.?
When evaluating study group work, it is important to consider whether the evaluation should focus on the collaboration, the academic outcome or both. Additionally, you need to consider if grades should be given individually or as a group. Summative evaluations (exams [LINK til fokusområde]) greatly influence what students put all their energy into, whilst ongoing formative evaluations are more conducive to group collaboration, which improves learning outcomes.
In Denmark, individual grades must be given, but in practice it can be difficult to differentiate the performance of the individual students in group exams. There is also a risk that assessing the individual student's academic level works against the very idea of group work as students may not want to help each other.
Allan, E. (2016). I hate group work! In: InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching. 2016, Vol. 11, p81-89. 9p
Christensen, G., Andersen, P. Ø., & Jepsen, K. D. B. (2019). Anvendelse af studiegrupper. Københavns Universitet.
Hagedorn-Rasmussen, Peter (2013): Konflikter som anledning til læring. I: Mac, Anita og HagedornRasmussen, Peter (red.) (2013). Projektarbejdets kompleksitet. Viden, værktøjer og læring. Samfundslitteratur
Mac, Anita (2013): Projektgruppe og roller i projektgruppen. I: Mac, Anita og Hagedorn-Rasmussen, Peter (red.) (2013). Projektarbejdets kompleksitet. Viden, værktøjer og læring. Samfundslitteratur.
Petersen, Eva Bendix og Sørensen, Kasper Anton (2019): Projektgruppen – hvordan gør vi? Samfundslitteratur.