The American Physiological Society Press Release

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The Reason Behind Your Group Project Fail

Teaching teamwork at the outset lays the groundwork for better results

Madison, Wis. (June 22, 2016)—For undergraduate students, the ability to work well in groups is a necessary skill. Whether students enjoy working in groups or not, the cohesiveness of a team can be instrumental in the success or failure of group activities and each student’s individual grade. But can effective teamwork be taught? Perhaps, say researchers at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, who explored whether providing resources on “good” vs. “bad” teamwork positively affected learning outcomes and final grades. They present their findings today at the American Physiological Society’s Institute of Teaching and Learning in Madison, Wis.

Patrick Sonner, PhD, and Michelle Newsome, PhD, instruct a core natural sciences course for undergraduates in which students work in groups of four for the duration of the semester. “Anecdotally, students report poor experiences working in teams even though, individually, all students in the team are intelligent and capable of completing the task. This suggests that there are certain skills that must be learned in order to work effectively in a team,” the researchers wrote in their abstract.

The researchers showed two sections of the course (the experimental classes) YouTube videos of successful and not-so-successful groups. This led to a discussion of what constitutes a “good” or “bad” group. Each team of four within the experimental group also developed group rules and met regularly to discuss whether the rules were being upheld. The control section did not receive additional resources about effective group behavior.

“What we found was that students who were exposed to various tools to aid in enhancing group effectiveness had a positive correlation between average group grade and their self-identified score for equality of the distribution of group work, while students in the control class had a negative correlation,” Sonner said. They also found that the experimental classes had a positive association between the group’s influence and the grade the group received. Students in the experimental classes were also more willing to answer open-ended questions about the group’s effectiveness than the control class was.

“While more work remains to be done to validate and expand upon these findings, it appears that students that were exposed to a variety of tools throughout the semester to aid in enhancing their group effectiveness had grades that were more closely aligned with how effective they thought their group was. This alignment may be due to enhanced awareness of the role of their group and how effective it is, due to reminders throughout the course,” Sonner said.

Sonner will present the poster “Learning to work together: In-class training to enhance student collaboration and increase learning outcomes” on Wednesday, June 22, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Madison Concourse Hotel.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The second Institute on Teaching and Learning Workshop will be held June 20–24 in Madison, Wis. To schedule an interview with the conference organizers or presenters, contact the APS Communications Office or 301-634-7209. Find more research highlights in the APS Press Room.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.



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