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I am very interested in the role that group dynamics play in the formation of any group. The metaphor I applied was what happens when I, as an eight-year-old puts two male gerbils into a tea-chest. (Despite anecdotal evidence that they would fight to the death) - with hilarious consequences! (Yes, they atempted to fight to the death and my friend Michael Bartholemew got scratched up big-time extricating one of them - what can I say? - it was Northern England in the sixties)
On a less simplistic level, people are a bit like that. You never know how they may act. am facinated by insights of Bruce Tuckman and his 'Form Storm' and Norm' Model of group dymanics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forming,_storming,_norming_and_performing and, more recently Cog's Ladder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cog%27s_Ladder.
As such - any new group experience for me is a fascinating one, as these general theories seem to apply to any and every group - including ours - but perhaps only to some gerbils. . . .
I had an experience recently of a group that self destructed, the week before the task was due. They had sort of self selected at the start of the course in as much as they were unhappy to join with any other students in the class, and one of their members pulled out of the course 2 weeks before the due date, this student had been driving the group somewhat but in a negative fashion. I told them to get through to the end and work past their difficulties, they did this but argued till the end, which they did actually reach I might add. Mind you they weren't the only group that had issues...
The analysis of this event has me thinking it will be better to assign students to groups next time (the groups were self selected on this occasion), in fact most of the feedback post event indicated that the students favoured appointed groups in the after event debrief, based on their experience. Next time I will also embed progress checks in the assignment as well as getting them to use either a closed Moodle forum or Google docs so I have evidence of their planning and can monitor group dynamics more closely.
I think most of the students in that cohort were negatively disposed to group work and I am still seeking ways to improve their experience.
Steve.
I think one issue is the perception of the group task by the individuals in the group. Especially if they are allowed to 'buddy-up'. In the (distant) past I have been in learning environments in which I've seen the 'group task' as a bit of a free-ride - because it suited my learning style and well, it beat lectures! This has implications about the sense of 'value' some (young) students may place on the group-task. If they perceive that the task itself is not assessed or assessable, or they are not aware of the nature of the assessment criteria attached to the task, or even not instructed as to why the task is supposedly useful for them in terms of its outcome, they will treat it as a free-ride and the lack of value they attach to the task may manifest itself as an 'implosion' . I'm not saying this is the case here, but there may be light-years between the value the Lecturer places on the Group task and the value a Learner places on it . . .

Dr. Steve Chambers said:
I had an experience recently of a group that self destructed, the week before the task was due. They had sort of self selected at the start of the course in as much as they were unhappy to join with any other students in the class, and one of their members pulled out of the course 2 weeks before the due date, this student had been driving the group somewhat but in a negative fashion. I told them to get through to the end and work past their difficulties, they did this but argued till the end, which they did actually reach I might add. Mind you they weren't the only group that had issues...
The analysis of this event has me thinking it will be better to assign students to groups next time (the groups were self selected on this occasion), in fact most of the feedback post event indicated that the students favoured appointed groups in the after event debrief, based on their experience. Next time I will also embed progress checks in the assignment as well as getting them to use either a closed Moodle forum or Google docs so I have evidence of their planning and can monitor group dynamics more closely.
I think most of the students in that cohort were negatively disposed to group work and I am still seeking ways to improve their experience.
Steve.
Thanks Lee, the assignment I am most focused on is a task in an Animal Business paper, we want the students to emulate a professional team in a business-like manner. I have already concluded that giving them a good brief and some prep time in lectures will help. They also will need to clearly understand the learning involved in the task, to see how it relates to their course learning outcomes, and have some careful weighting of the assessment that allows them to model good process and clearly demonstrate their learning in the task. I am doing the Tuesday sessions of Simon's business course so will also be posting ideas in context of that exercise, to get feedback. I am keen for any thoughts that help me improve the way this group task works for the learners, and appreciate your feedback.
Steve.

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