Monday, October 29, 2012

Real-world group work

One of the justifications given by today's educators for making students spend so much of their days working in groups is that it will prepare them for today's cooperative workplace environments. As in so many other ways, today's educators assume that the relevant classroom dynamics mimic those of the real world.

Real-world workplace cooperation bears little ressemblance to what happens in classrooms. Today's prefered teacher-assigned, mixed-ability classroom groupings look nothing like groupings of professionals collaborating with related professionals. In most workplace collaborations, most of the work is divvied up and done separately by individuals. And often the groups are at least somewhat hierarchical, with professionally-trained leaders with significant influence over how cooperative and productive the group is.

Here are some findings reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Bosses matter a lot, according to a study of a large technology firm whose operations, closely monitored by computer, provided ready measures of productivity.
Going from a boss in the bottom 10% of quality to one in the top 10% improved productivity among the supervised employees by as much as adding another worker to a nine-member team.
Going from a boss in the bottom 10% of quality to one in the top 10% improved productivity among the supervised employees by as much as adding another worker to a nine-member team. More surprising, the boss made his or her biggest contribution not by motivating workers but by teaching more productive skills. [Boldface mine.]
So much for motivational cheer leading--at least in the workplace. And, given that the closest thing classrooms have to bosses are teachers, there may be something suggestive here about how teachers can help students become more productive.

2 comments:

Barry Garelick said...

Work "teams" in the real world meet when necessary but as Katharine points out, the work is divvied up. Furthermore, the members of the work team bring various levels of expertise with them. Classroom groups are not based on expertise; we are dealing with novices, not experts, though the reform mode of thinking is to expect novices to think like experts. Sweller and others have thoroughly cricitized this mode of operation.

Anonymous said...

When I was in grad school, in a practice discipline, the master's program admitted a student with an outstanding undergrad record but no work experience as a graduate. Afterwards, one of the senior faculty told me that they would not do it again, because he not only didn't have enough expertise/experience to do well on individual assignments or to contribute to seminar discussions, but he made seminars less productive. Because of him, the class had to spend time filling in background and making explanations, leaving less time for appropriate-level discussions.

Groupwork in ES, MS and most of HS amounts to students pooling their ignorance, while wasting large amounts of time. Even worse, since teachers are likely to make sure some weak/spec ed kids are included in each group, the most capable kids do all the work, since all group members usually get the same grade.