Thursday, May 10, 2012
SMALL GROUPS, LARGE CLASS SERIES (PART V)
Since I last updated this series (see Part IV), a lot has happened. The teams have completed and presented their posters, they have given one another feedback, and grading has been completed for another year. So how did things turn out?
In general, the posters were pretty good, and students seemed to be fair in both the peer reviews of fellow group members, as well as in their assessments of the posters created by other groups. Students for the most part provided both positive and critical feedback (thanks, in part, to the prompts on peer evaluation rubrics asking them to do so). There were some students who didn't pull their weight, and the scores and comments they received reflected this.
So what were the surprises? The two highest scoring posters (based both on my grading and the reviews from their peers) were from the two groups I had been most worried about. The first was the group who were placed together because none of them had submitted their topic preferences (see Part I in the series). I had been concerned that this was a red flag indicating that these may be students who were less committed to the class, and unlikely to show up or contribute. This turned out to be true for some members of this group, but the others pulled together and were determined to create a high quality project, despite their other group members (or the fact that I had, from their perspective, doomed them to failure). Several of these students demonstrated strong leadership skills, and their poster turned out wonderfully.
The other group that surprised me was a group that had been placed together based on a common interest in moral development, broadly speaking. Their first task was to decide what in particular they would focus on. I have to say I was quite shocked when they told me that they had chosen to investigate the development of serial killers. I had my doubts (as did another group member, who I allowed to switch groups), but ultimately decided to allow them to pursue this topic. And I am so glad that I did! Their poster was thoughtfully researched, had more connections to course material than some on topics I had actually taught and tested on, and was very professional. It just goes to show what can happen when you allow students to pursue their own interest, no matter how odd they may seem to be on the surface!
One other issue I encountered that I hadn't expected, and wasn't sure what to do with, was that one of the posters contained sections that were clearly plagiarized. It seemed obvious to me that this was a group who had worked individually and then slapped it all together, rather than truly collaborating. So this was likely the handiwork of only one student. Yet, this was a group project, and thus in some senses this was the responsibility of the team as a whole. Ultimately, rather than asking the team to identify the student who had contributed the plagiarized sections, I chose to severely dock the team (but chose not to fail them) and explain to them my reasoning. None of them has yet responded, so although they may not be happy with my decision, they don't seem to feel that it is one that deserves to be challenged.
In all, this was a great semester, and having the poster session on the last day of class allowed all of the students to show off their hard work and learn from the projects presented by their classmates. Certainly I would do some things differently next time around, but I can assure you that this will not be the last time I incorporate group work into my large classes.