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Group work in physics and in work-life?

  1. Jul 29, 2015 #1
    I would like to start a discussion about group work both in education and in work-life.

    Group work, especially in smaller groups, tends to be 'active learning'. Active learning tends to be more efficient than passive learning. I would like to know if you as a teacher like to assign group work and whether you have noticed any significant differences in students' learning. Alternatively, I would welcome any particularly interesting research on the subject.

    According to your experience, how much does your university/workplace promote group work?

    I'm sorry for scattering the post into two topics. I can make a separate topic for both education and work if people deem it necessary.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2015 #2

    e.bar.goum

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    I'm an experimentalist, and group work is actually essential to my research. There's no way to do the work that we do without close, active collaborations. And, frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. I think this is a general statement in experimental physics. It's almost never a solo pursuit. The university doesn't have to promote group work.
     
  4. Jul 29, 2015 #3
    Thank you for your reply e.bar.goum. May I ask how closely you are working together? When you say group-work is a part of your work, do you mean that you share your results in weekly meetings, daily, in coffee tables, or do you mean actually sitting next to someone working on the exact same thing?
     
  5. Jul 29, 2015 #4

    e.bar.goum

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    No, we don't sit next to each other working on the exact same thing. But in my case, there is a core group of 4 people (3 postdocs and a PhD student) working on understanding the same physics phenomenon with the same tool (but in different directions and experiments/theory), and a larger research group of ~18 people (phd students, postdocs, professors) who work in my sub-field.

    The core group meets pretty much on the fly - popping into offices, exchanging scripts, pointing out discoveries, interesting papers, asking questions ("hey, when you looked at X, did you see Y?"), reading drafts, etc. The core group meets with the heads of the research group somewhat regularly (from weekly to monthly) to share results/concerns. Results are shared with the entire group on occasion, but it's a pretty big group.

    When we perform an experiment, or prepare one, things get a little different. The core group + professors will work very closely together to get it going ("here, hold this", "can you go get a 'scope?"), and the entire group contributes to running the experiment (we run 24 hour shifts, so everyone gets a shift).
     
  6. Jul 29, 2015 #5

    Nidum

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    Work organisation in a large technology based engineering company is usually based on an inverted tree structure .

    Large numbers of people work solo and are also part of a small group .

    Small groups are parts of larger groups which are in turn parts of departments etc right up to board of directors and CEO .

    Technical investigations are made or requested at all levels and decisions are made at all levels .

    Flow of information is mainly structured and bi directional but is often part chaotic as well as individuals and groups interact at all levels as need arises .

    Interactions also take place regularly at all levels with other companies , customers , government organisations , services et al .
     
  7. Jul 29, 2015 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    I don't know about 'promote' (other than empty sloganeering), but we have group work in all teaching labs (intro physics, intro chem, bio, etc), and a few of us (Physics) assign group work in class and homework as well. Of course, some students then assume that 'group work' also applies to tests, and so they have to be (politely, at first) disabused of that notion.

    I also work with the Math department to develop/evaluate "problem-based learning" modules in the pre-calc and calc sequence. These are group exercises.

    In terms of student outcomes, it's hard to say. Unfortunately, what often happens in group projects is that a single 'strong' student will dominate the activities, defeating the purpose.
     
  8. Jul 29, 2015 #7

    symbolipoint

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    Not always. The strong student may not always stay strong on all laboratory exercises. Sometimes the strong person is tired, overworked, confused, and then the weaker person needs to work both students through the exercise processes. (for the lab partner situation but potentially for lab group, too).
     
  9. Jul 30, 2015 #8
    Hey, thanks a lot for the helpful post. I really appreciate it! I particularly liked the fact that you pointed out that a strong student may dominate the activity. I remember that when I was studying in a group doing experiments we also encountered a a similar problem; one student was significantly weaker than the rest.

    It's nice to see you have group work being actively conducted at your university. From your experience, how large are the groups usually?

    e: Do you have any comments on group work after the initial results, e.g. everyone works separately and then compare and discuss their results.
     
  10. Jul 30, 2015 #9

    Andy Resnick

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    The sizes vary- lab groups have 4 people, in-class groups range from 2 to 4 people, and our PBL groups are 2 people.
     
  11. Jul 30, 2015 #10

    Andy Resnick

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    I'll allow for this possibility, but I have *never* seen it happen. Once a student decides to let another take a lead role (for whatever reason- disinterest, lack of confidence...), that student remains in the background for the remainder of the semester.
     
  12. Jul 30, 2015 #11
    I have seen this happen to me a few times. Students that me and my partner have never talked to (mostly girls), try to enter our group because we tend to study the material. Therefore, we would receive the best marks. These girls would not contribute nothing at all, and if they did the work is rushed or not even done. Which leaves me and my friend to do it all. I give everyone a chance. If you contribute, then you joined the group. If not, then go somewhere else.
     
  13. Jul 30, 2015 #12
    Now that the conversation is starting to go into an interesting direction, does anyone know of tested methods to contribute the work evenly to a group? E.g. keeping meetings based on the effort done or something similar?
     
  14. Jul 30, 2015 #13

    symbolipoint

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    My personal experience as a student; mostly just in a couple of courses of one series of courses. The lab work exercises were done as student pairs. I started weak for a few class meetings and the other student partner was better, sharper, and carried most of the decisions. Later he became uncertain and frustrated, did not know how to proceed. I had become, fortunately by then, stronger at dealing with the written lab manual instruction and arranged what to do to carry out the lab exercises. The partner was not trying to test me; he never seemed deceptive. He was just weaker during some of the lab class meetings and just was confused about the instructions.
     
  15. Jul 30, 2015 #14
    Can be true. I am currently in a community college, which is located in the "hood" so to speak. Maybe the level of motivation of individual students is higher so to speak at a university. There was one course I took, were all the students in my group were motivated and we contributed equally. However, for the most part I stand behind my previous remarks.
     
  16. Jul 30, 2015 #15

    symbolipoint

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    Depends on how each student can respond to the subject and the activities. Laboratory sections of some courses, I was always far less effective; others, I was strong. One of the worst laboratory class sections for me - beginning computer programming. The lab partner always figured what and how to do. I was usually too confused. The only way I improved, was extra review, long after the course was finished. Back at the time, I had never previously done anything with a computer. Everything was difficult and too new for me.
     
  17. Jul 30, 2015 #16

    symbolipoint

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    MidgitDwarf, I was just telling my personal experience as a student, as was happened at that time. "Can be true", and WAS TRUE, and can still happen.
     
  18. Jul 30, 2015 #17
    Yes, correct. I am aware that peoples experiences will differ based on time and place.
     
  19. Jul 31, 2015 #18

    Andy Resnick

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    One usual method is for the TA or instructor to circulate around the room, making sure everyone is equally engaged.
     
  20. Jul 31, 2015 #19
    I am not sure if your interests extend to high school, but I use extensive group work in teaching science. I tend to introduce skills and reasonably concrete concepts through individual homework, then use group work in class on much more challenging, open-ended questions problems and questions. When class size permits, I give group oral exams in which student collaborate to come up with answers (or, in the harder cases, speculation) and then I choose who presents the answer.

    There is also group work on projects. I recently gave students images of sunspots over time, for example, and let them discover that sun does not rotate as a solid body.

    My colleagues and I encourage students to do original lab work and plan this coming year to establish research groups to support that. Some the the comments above are being very helpful as I start to model that.
     
  21. Aug 2, 2015 #20
    Group work was central to our student research program at the Air Force Academy. You can find a fuller description in the paper, "Impossible? Publication Quality Research with the Weakest 10% of Incoming Freshmen." http://arxiv.org/abs/1211.7194

    There were occasions where some members tried to ride the coat tails of other members who were more motivated and harder working. We gave the cadets ample opportunity to work it out before stepping in and moderating amicable divorces if they did not. On the whole, it was a very positive experience.
     
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