Before implementing cooperative learning groups in a course, both instructors and students need to prepare.
(See here for suggestions on how to address all these issues.)
The next thing to do is to prepare your students. You have to be ready for the fact that college students often have negative perception because of their past poor experiences with cooperative learning due to poor implementation by teachers who neglected to prepare properly for it. You have to overcome that skepticism.
Students also tend to have unrealistic expectations about how well they can work with others, and hence get discouraged when problems arise, so I share with them the following information (also avaliable as a [.pdf] document):
In a survey of 1 million high school seniors about their ability to get along with others: • all thought they were above average, • 60% though they were in the top 10%, and • 25% thought they were in the top 1%.
(College Board (1976-1977) Student descriptive questionnaire. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, quoted in How We Know What Isn’t So, by Thomas Gilovich, Free Press, NY, 1991, p77)
Lest we teachers get too smug, it should also be noted that 94% of college instructors rate themselves as above average teachers, and 68% rank themselves in the top quarter of teaching performances. (Patricia Cross (1977). Not can but will college teaching be improved? New Directions for Higher Education, 17, 1–15.)
The importance of learning the skills developed in cooperative learning has to emphasized.I do this by sharing this information (also available as a [.pdf] document):
82% of companies employing over 100 people require their employees to work in TEAMS. (Gordon, J. (1992) Work Teams: How Far Have They Come, Training, 29(10), 59-65.)
In their annual survey of business schools, the Wall Street Journal (September 9, 2002) ranked the skills that recruiters deem important when hiring, along with the number of recruiters who ranked those skills as “very important”: 1. Communication and interpersonal skills (90%) 2. Ability to work well within a team (87%) 3. Analytical and problem-solving skills (86%) 4. The ability to drive results (81%)
WSJ reports that these ‘soft skills’ are hard to develop because people think they are already good at them.
Note: By working in a group one can learn how to motivate other group members and manage the group so that it produces results. Thus, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th ranked skills can all be honed through work in student work groups.
Once the groups have been formed, this can be done by providing questions to be discussed by student group members that alert them to the kinds of things that can happen and how to deal with them. These questions can be discussed in class or outside class by each group, andtheir writen responses should be handed in t the insturctor and discussed with them. Their responses can be shared with the whole class, so that a greater awareness of the issues involved in group work become manifest.
Here are some other suggestions that would help groups run better:
Also, if possible, it is advisable for the instructor to meet with each group for about 15 minutes during the first two weeks after the groups have begun working to gauge how well the group is doing and to discuss their responses to the questions. It also helps to get periodic assessments from each group about how well they are functioning.