In preparation for the First Year Experience conference this weekend I have been taking a closer look at the findings from the 2012 administration of the Your First College Year (YFCY) survey. We’ve just put out one of our brief reports on this year’s findings. Here are a few things that jump out at me.
Working in groups is one of the items that prospective employers tell us is important, according to several studies, including this one from AAC&U. It is also an activity that CIRP research tells us is related to higher levels of cognitive gains in college.
By the end of the first-year, of the 16,803 students responding to the YFCY, most had done a good amount of working in groups, both in class (88%) and out of class (89%). What is troubling, however, is that only 58% thought that their ability to work as part of a group had become stronger over the past year.
I recently heard a fascinating presentation about group work by Kristine LaLonde, associate professor of Honors at Belmont University. Given all the importance of group work, her message was a bit of a shocker: “Team Projects as Democracy Killers.” LaLonde’s message was this: the experiences that we want our students to have in engaging and democratic collaborative efforts do not happen if all we do as instructors is tell them to work in a group.
We must do more, and show our students how to work more positively and collaboratively. Like most things in life, working effectively in a group is a skill that can be and should be taught. When we do not, and just throw a group of first-year students together hoping that they will figure it out, the experience more often than not becomes frustrating rather than enlightening.
We need to turn this around. Most of us work with others for most of our lives: in school, in the office, on the field, in our families, and in many of the community activities in which we engage. We’ve all been frustrated by the person who shows up only half the time, plays on their phone, and then is only tangentially involved in the final product. And sometimes, perhaps, we’ve been that person.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a more productive process?
I’ll be watching that figure in the future. I don’t want to see it stay at 58%. Maybe we should get a group together to figure out how to move it up?