Education | News releases | Research | Science
September 25, 2017
Group project? Taking turns, working with friends may improve grades
A University of Washington study has found that social dynamics affect student performance on group projects.
It has become an almost essential element of academic life, from college lecture halls to elementary classrooms: the group assignment.
Dreaded by some, loved by others, group projects typically aim to build teamwork and accountability while students learn about a topic. But depending on the assignment and the structure of the groups, a project can turn out to be a source of great frustration — for instructor and students alike — or the highlight of the school year.
Now a University of Washington-led study of college students has found that the social dynamics of a group, such as whether one person dominates the conversation or whether students work with a friend, affect academic performance. Put simply, the more comfortable students are, the better they do, which yields benefits beyond the classroom.
“They learn more,” explained Elli Theobald, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology and the lead author on the study, published July 20 in PLOS ONE. “Employers are rating group work as the most important attribute in new recruits and new hires. If students are able to demonstrate that they have worked successfully in groups, it would seem that they should be more likely to land the job.”
Theobald is part of the UW’s Biology Education Research Group lab, formed by several faculty members in the Department of Biology about a decade ago to research how to most effectively teach biology to undergraduates.
A separate study by the BERG lab on group work, published in the July issue of Active Learning in Higher Education, finds that college students, when given a choice of whom to sit and work with in a large classroom setting, gravitate toward those who appear most like them — whether by gender, race and ethnicity, or academic skills.
Over the years, research spanning K-12 through post-secondary education has pointed to the value of group work in fostering collaborative skills and in cementing learning through interaction. In the sciences, labs are a common, though not the only, form of group work, Theobald said. As with many disciplines, STEM fields lend themselves to readings, worksheets and other activities that can be completed by multiple people working together.
For this study, researchers compared survey responses and test scores stemming from two different project styles — single-group and “jigsaw” — with three assignments each during two sections of an introductory biology class at the UW. Each of the 770 students enrolled in one of the two sections of the course experienced each project style at least once. In a single-group activity, student groups completed a worksheet together, relying on their notes and textbooks. In a jigsaw, student groups were assigned specific sections of the worksheet; students then were shuffled to new groups in which each person in the group had completed a different section of the worksheet and could teach their new groupmates what they had learned. Students took an eight-question test after each assignment.
The study found that students who reported a “dominator” in the group fared worse on the tests than those who didn’t express that concern. It also found that students who said they were comfortable in their group performed better than those who said they were less comfortable.
The jigsaw activity appeared to result in more collaboration: Students were 67 percent less likely to report a dominator in jigsaws than in single-group activities. “This suggests that jigsaw activities with intentional structure more effectively promote equity than group activities with less intentional structure,” researchers wrote.
The nearly 770 students who completed all the assignments, tests and surveys had formed two- and three-person groups with those who sat near them in class. (Jigsaw assignments later shuffled initial groups.) Two-thirds of participants were female; people of color, including students who identify as Asian, Under-Represented Minority, and International, made up more than half of respondents.
While the gender and racial and ethnic makeup of the participants informed the study, Theobald said, researchers don’t have details on who worked with whom so as to extrapolate from the composition of groups. For instance, were the experiences of women who worked with men different from those of women who worked in all-female groups? If a group contained only one person of color, what was that person’s experience compared to the rest of the group? That kind of information is ripe for further research, Theobald said.
However, one noticeable data point emerged: International and Asian American students were six times as likely to report a dominator than white American students. “Not all students experience group work the same way,” researchers wrote in the study. “If one student dominates a conversation, it can be particularly jarring to students from cultural backgrounds that place more emphasis on introspection and thinking on one’s own as opposed to a direct relationship between talking as a way to work through ideas.”
Though the data was collected from college students, the findings translate to other settings, Theobald said. She pointed to a study Google conducted to determine what made groups successful — establishing group routines and expectations (“norms”) and adding a brief window at the beginning of work time for casual talk. Such findings, along with those of the UW study, can inform employers as well as K-12 teachers about productive group work, she said.
The younger the students, the more structure a teacher is likely to have to establish, Theobald added. But when teachers make an assignment sufficiently interesting and complex, and manage student behavior, there is a potential for students to work together happily and productively.
“If we can get our groups to be more comfortable, students should learn better and work better,” Theobald said.
The National Science Foundation funded the study.
Co-authors on the paper were Alison Crowe, principal lecturer in biology, and Benjamin Wiggins, faculty coordinator for biology instruction, both at the UW; Sarah Eddy of Florida International University; and Daniel Grunspan of Arizona State University.
For more information, contact Theobald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grant number: NSF DUE 1244847
Tag(s): Alison Crowe • Benjamin Wiggins • Biology Education Research Group • Department of Biology • Elli Theobald
Setup profiles associate workers with a set of configurable time card layouts and rules for time entry and time processing. Assign profiles either to an individual worker or a group of workers
Use the Define Time and Labor Setup Profiles task list to configure and assign time entry profiles and time processing profiles.
This topic discusses the following aspects of setup profiles:
Types of setup profiles
Types of Setup Profile
Time entry profiles and time processing profiles help you assign the correct layouts and validations to diverse sets of workers, such as:
Workers who report only exceptions to the normal work schedule
Workers who report time against projects and tasks
The following table shows how two profile type assignments help you vary the time reporting experience for diverse groups:
Worker time entry profile
Worker time processing profile
Use start and end dates to manage the assignment of a profile to groups.
You can assign a single profile to more than one group of workers at a time. Example: Assign the USA_Workers time entry profile to:
However, you can't associate a single group with more than one profile of the same type at any given time. Example: The Full_Time_USAWorkers group can't have both the USA_Workers time entry profile and UK_Workers time entry profile assigned to it.
Assign each setup profile a unique priority number with reference to other profiles of the same profile type. The priority number determines the profile used to create the time card if a worker is eligible for more than one profile.
Number one is the highest priority. Example: A single worker is a member of two groups:
Group A: Time entry profile priority = 5
Group B: Time entry profile priority = 3
The time entry profile with priority 3 is used for that worker.
By default, all workers in an organization are members of a delivered group that has a profile assigned to it. A worker who isn't eligible for any setup profile through either individual or group assignment is assigned the default profile.
Configuring Time Card Access Settings: Procedure
Use the Manage Worker Time Entry Profile task to specify the layout set and configure when workers can create, view, edit, and delete time cards.
To configure time card access, on the Profile Values page:
Select the date on which the access settings become effective.
For each time entry action, enable the time card statuses in which users can access the time card to perform that action.
You can enter the number of days into the past or future that a worker can take the action in each enabled status.
Workers can edit the entire time card that includes that day in the past or future and all time cards between that date and the current date.
If you don't enter the number of days, then the time card user has unlimited access to perform the action on the time card in the enabled status.
Example: Enable workers to change any entered, saved, or submitted time cards up to five days before the current date. If that day falls in a prior time card period, then workers can edit both the current and previous time cards.
Worker Profile: How It Is Derived
Through group membership, a worker can be eligible for multiple time entry and time processing profiles. However, the application derives only one profile of each type for each worker.
These setup profiles determine the following:
Time Card period
Time Card access privilege
Settings that Affect Profile Assignment
Profile assignment settings resolve to a final profile assignment through the priority sequence shown in the following table.
Individual assignment of a worker to a setup profile takes highest priority and overrides any group profile assignment.
When multiple group memberships make the worker eligible for more than one profile of the same type, the profile with the lowest priority number is used.
Default Group Assignment
Catches workers who don't have any individual or group profile assignments. Ensures that all workers have a profile and can report time.
How the Worker Profile is Derived
The following figure shows resolving a worker's profile assignment through the priority sequence.
Troubleshooting Time Card Profile Assignment: Explained
When the time card layout or processing rules aren't as expected for a worker or group, use the Manage Setup Profiles task to investigate and correct the profile assignment.
Compare a worker's setup profile values from both individual and group assignments. Use the comparison to decide if the worker must be assigned a new profile that overrides any profile associations based on group memberships.
To compare profiles, click the Troubleshoot button:
Select a worker.
Specify the profile evaluation date.
Click Evaluate to list the setup profiles that are assigned to the worker effective on that date.
Select up to three of the worker's setup profiles and view the various time entry values for those profiles.
Overriding Group Profile
If a worker's group membership results in incorrect time card or processing, you can use the Assign Profile to Person option to individually assign a profile to the worker.
This individual profile assignment overrides all profile associations based on group memberships.
Disassociating a Profile Assigned to an Individual
Disassociate a profile that is assigned to a person using the Delete Override option.
In such a case,
If there are multiple setup profiles that have been individually assigned to a person, then the individual profile with the lowest priority number takes priority.
Example: You assign the worker to profiles A and B and profile A has a higher priority than B. Based on a worker's change in job responsibility, profile A is no longer accurate for the worker. To disassociate profile A, click the Delete Override option. The application automatically assigns profile B to the worker.
If there are no other individual setup profile assignments, then the group profile with lowest priority number takes priority.