Well, perhaps John, Tom, Brendan and I are hardly the three musketeers and D’Artagnan, but we have been grouped together with a task to complete over the next couple of weeks – and as I mentioned in an earlier post, this collaborative element is something that I struggle deeply with. I am finding like with the start of the first semester that I am learning more about myself as a person/teacher than about the topics we are studying. I am not comfortable with situations where everyone starts off equal and agreements have to be made “how about if we…” “shall we…” “what about if one of us…” I much prefer either to be the Minion (where I am simply told what to do and I do it) or the Boss (where I simply tell others what to do and they do it) I suspect this is where, for group work, the early attribution of roles is important. Our group is all very polite, listening to each other’s suggestions but perhaps we should have been more pro-active in actually deciding stuff sooner. I am twice as keen not to let the side down since (a) I know that I am not a ‘group person’ and (b) I know I am not a familiar with our chosen theme, Digital literacy, as the others. It is perhaps fortunate however that we decided in the end not to go with my preferred theme of Principles of facilitating online learning and collaboration because I would probably have just gone and made a whole course on my own and then asked the others to pull it apart and improve it. Perhaps not the best way of working as a group but it would have given us something to adapt.
I am assuming we’ve been asked to work in a group because some research has shown that this improves productivity or helps us formulate our own ideas better. Indeed, the two books I have been reading Paloff and Pratt (2013) and Vai and Sosulski (2016) mention group work as a positive experience. Yet (Didau, 2015) questions the usefulness of group work. Admitedly he is talking about adolescents in a school, who may be less mature in their approach than adult post-graduates but the points he makes I think are valid for other ages. I like his story about the 1913 French agricultural engineer, Maximilien Ringelmann who discovered that the productivity of a group decreases as its size increases. If we pull a rope all by ourselves we tend to pull our hardest but as soon as others pop up to help us out we slacken off […]The Ringelmann Effect suggests that when we’re part of a group we believe every other member is doing the hard work. We can take it easy because our lack of effort won’t be exposed. Unconsciously, we rely on those around us to pull out the stops to get the job done. This phenomenon is well known to teachers. It ought to be reasonable to expect a group of four pupils to produce four times as much work collectively as they would produce alone. In fact they tend to produce less together than they might alone.
The Ringelmann effect probably relates to larger groups but I confess I feel both guilty AND relieved about being in a group. (And I learned from last semester that this might well be an example of cognitive dissonance!) I feel guilty because I feel I should be doing the bulk of the Moodle work myself and spending far more time generating materials – but I also feel relieved because I went to Russia and thought the others could do some planning in my absence and we would have some items to present to the others next week. And then I feel guilty for feeling relieved…
Didau, D. (2015). Why (the hell) should students work in groups?. [Blog] Learning spy. Available at: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/students-work-groups/ [Accessed 10 Feb. 2017].
Vai, M. and Sosulski, K. (n.d.). Essentials of online course design. 1st ed.
Palloff, R. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom : the realities of online teaching. 2nd ed.