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How do work in a group?

Working in a group is an effective way to improve your study time. In addition, more and more faculty are beginning to assign problems and projects to groups. These questions are normally too large for any one person to answer on their own in the time available.

But many people are not accustomed to working in groups and need an introduction to the communal atmosphere of a group. And even those who have experience in groups are frequently not as productive as they could be because they have not been trained in group dynamics.

The group training you receive in lab is a good introduction to the dynamics and responsibilities of member of the group. Patricia Heller and Kenneth Heller at the University of Minnesota have studied cooperative group solving in physics. Their analysis of roles in a group (Manager, Skeptic and Recorder) is a useful way to study how people work in a group. More information can be obtained at their Web site, Cooperative Group Problem Solving in Physics, http://www.physics.umn.edu/groups/physed/Research/CGPS/GreenBook.html

Your responsibilities to the group include always being prepared for the study session, helping keep the group focused on the job of understanding physics, and being honest with what you understand and don't understand.

There is some benefit from being in a group where you are the one who always gets it and have to explain things to everyone else. And there is some benefit to being in a group where you are always the last one to get it and they all have to explain things to you. But the best group dynamics seem to come when you are in a group where sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow.

Remember that the members of your group may have different learning styles. Tolerate and welcome others for how they learn about things and look at things, particularly if it is different from the way you do things. Physics is large and many times different perspectives can enhance and expand your understanding.

In small 2-4 person groups you find will it useful to read the material in the above Web site in order to gain greater understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses in group. And the reading will also allow you to have a greater appreciation for the contributions of others in the group.

Large Study Groups

Larger groups (5-8 members) need more structure. Though you should study the roles of group members in the literature mentioned above you will most likely want to impose more rules and guidelines in groups of more than 4 people.

  1. You should choose a Manager to keep the group moving, share the duties fairly, and start and end on time. Some groups work best with a permanent manager and others with the role rotating among the group.
  2. Before the group meets (at the previous meeting) you should decide on the problems and material you will examine.
  3. All members should prepare the material and be ready to contribute to the group discussion.
  4. Each member of the group may be assigned a certain section which they are expected to prepare and be able to teach the others in the group. The manager should be sure that each person has time to present their material and for the group to discuss the presentation.
  5. Care should be taken to accommodate the different learning styles of the members of the group. See How Do You Learn?
  6. Set the agenda for the next meeting.


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