Designing Group Projects

This week, an article by Meg Bernhard on designing group projects offers these very insightful tips. She writes,

Instructors widely accept the benefits of assigning group work. Teamwork gives students a chance to hear multiple perspectives, and it can mirror real-world jobs, which employers like.


But recent research shows that if groups and assignments are structured hastily, they can be counterproductive.

Some of our takeaways from the article:

  • Intentionally constructing the group and understanding the learning tasks is necessary to reap the benefits.
  • Whenever possible, group composition should make sure there are no lone, marginalized students. Women in engineering groups or racial minority students who serve in groups as the “only” one often operate on the fringes of group projects due to stereotypes that shape the thinking of group members.
  • Set clear expectations for the kinds and quality of interactions that should ensue and assess them.
  • Particular disciplines lend themselves to group process more than others. Engineering, for example, requires more group-think than history, which usually entails individual research and analysis.

23 Techniques of Active Learning

This week’s posting offers 23 techniques of active learning. The techniques range from think/pair/share where students are prompted to think about a question, then share it in groups of two, and finally share it with the rest of the students, to peer surveys where students work together to fill out a summary of an idea or concept, with relevant information and remaining questions on the topic. Smaller activities are also listed such as the two column method which encourages students to classify things that would or would not apply to a concept, building their understanding as they proceed.

A Concise Guide to the Science of Learning

This week, we are treated to a concise guide to the science of learning. Annie Murphy Paul covers a lot of ground, providing resources for each principle, in particular those related to cognitive science. Here are two very interesting comments with related resources

Students have limited working memory capacities that can be overwhelmed by tasks that are cognitively too demanding . . . and so: we should help students break tasks down into manageable steps. (Read more about when to make learning easier and when to make it harder here.)


Each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long-term memory, aids problem-solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied . . . and so: we should expect students to learn, understand, and remember this set of facts—not just be able to “Google it.” (Read more about the importance of committing facts to memory here.)

Find out more here.

Of the Importance of Early Assessments

As the semester is starting, David Gooblar offers us insight this week into the importance of early feedback on students’ work. Early feedback means assessments early in the semester. This feedback can be a key for students to adjust their practices of learning in the class. Gooblar explains that

Those students who felt that they received useful feedback early enough to do something about it were more likely to feel that their interactions with professors in general had a positive effect on their progress. They were also more likely to think that faculty members treated them like individuals. And here’s the best part: The more strongly students agreed with the early feedback statement, the more likely they were to say that they worked harder to meet their instructors’ expectations.


It’s a small sample size, but the implication is clear: If students are given a chance to monitor their progress in a class, they may actually put more effort into that class.

Early in the semester, we can keep in mind that evaluations and accompanying feedback can be crucial for student learning.