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Student perception of group dynamics predicts individual performance: Comfort and equity matter

TitleStudent perception of group dynamics predicts individual performance: Comfort and equity matter
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsTheobald EJ, Eddy SL, Grunspan DZ, Wiggins BL, Crowe AJ
JournalPLoS ONE
Date Published07/2017

Active learning in college classes and participation in the workforce frequently hinge on small group work. However, group dynamics vary, ranging from equitable collaboration to dysfunctional groups dominated by one individual. To explore how group dynamics impact student learning, we asked students in a large-enrollment university biology class to self-report their experience during in-class group work. Specifically, we asked students whether there was a friend in their group, whether they were comfortable in their group, and whether someone dominated their group. Surveys were administered after students participated in two different types of intentionally constructed group activities: 1) a loosely-structured activity wherein students worked together for an entire class period (termed the ‘single-group’ activity), or 2) a highly-structured ‘jigsaw’ activity wherein students first independently mastered different subtopics, then formed new groups to peer-teach their respective subtopics. We measured content mastery by the change in score on identical pre-/post-tests. We then investigated whether activity type or student demographics predicted the likelihood of reporting working with a dominator, being comfortable in their group, or working with a friend. We found that students who more strongly agreed that they worked with a dominator were 17.8% less likely to answer an additional question correct on the 8-question post-test. Similarly, when students were comfortable in their group, content mastery increased by 27.5%. Working with a friend was the single biggest predictor of student comfort, although working with a friend did not impact performance. Finally, we found that students were 67% less likely to agree that someone dominated their group during the jigsaw activities than during the single group activities. We conclude that group activities that rely on positive interdependence, and include turn-taking and have explicit prompts for students to explain their reasoning, such as our jigsaw, can help reduce the negative impact of inequitable groups.

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