The Group Work Dilemma

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Ask someone what they think of group work and you usually get a frown and a comment about how they wind up doing all the work. This summary of student complaints about collaborative learning certainly echo that concern. Susan Cain (2012) in her TED Talk: The power of introverts makes a call for action to “ . . .stop the madness for constant group work” (16:42 min).

This article from the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University (2008/2015), however, outlines 9 skills that students can learn through group work (para 4):

  • Tackle more complex problems than they could on their own.
  • Delegate roles and responsibilities.
  • Share diverse perspectives.
  • Pool knowledge and skills.
  • Hold one another (and be held) accountable.
  • Receive social support and encouragement to take risks.
  • Develop new approaches to resolving differences.
  • Establish a shared identity with other group members.
  • Find effective peers to emulate.
  • Develop their own voice and perspectives in relation to peers.

Weimer (2013) in her article 5 Things Students can Learn Through Group Work  mentioned the power of peeragogy to deepen the students’ understanding of the material. Weimer (2013) admits there is a paucity of evidence to show that her list of benefits for group work have been validated by research but she does state that studies indicate “(s)tudents can learn from and with each other in groups” (para 9).

Why Is Project-Based Learning Important? (2007) lists teamwork as a 21st century skill that is necessary for Living in a Knowledge-Based, Highly Technological Society” (para 1). There are benefits for the teacher as well. What are the benefits of group work (2008/2015) lists variety in instructional delivery and a reduction in the amount of marking as some of the advantages for teachers.

So, it there appears there is anecdotal evidence about the drawbacks of group work and there are education experts stating there are advantages. One thing is for sure, if you do decide to use group work in your class the important thing is to use effective strategies to ensure it goes well.

Here is a wonderful video from the University of Iowa that gives tips on how to do just that.


Consideration must also be given to determining marking. This resource  highlights advantages and disadvantages for either teacher or student assessment of the group project. This video gives a brief overview of how you can have students take part in determining how the project is weighted. Finally, having a rubric like this one from the University of Regina can  help outline behavioural expectations to students. Self-assessment and assessment of peers in the group are also included in the rubric.


Cain, S., (Feb, 2012). TED Talk: The power of introverts. Retrieved from

What are the benefits of group work? (2008/2015) Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University Retrievd from:

Why Is Project-Based Learning Important? (2007) Edutopia. Retrieved from

Weimer, M. (2013) Five Things Students Can Learn through Group Work Faculty Focus. Retrieved from