I don’t think that anybody can deny the main benefit of group work: discussion allows students to think at a deeper level.Students are very actively engaged which is essential for achieving good learning.
It is also very important to learn how to work in group, in other words, be open minded enough to accept other people’s ideas, make some compromise, etc. In terms of personality, group work can be beneficial to those who are too shy to speak in front of the all class, it can make them realize that their ideas are as good as anybody else’s ideas (empowerment). At the opposite, people who think they are always right or that their ideas are the best ones may realize that other people can have a different point of view and still have great ideas.
This video illustrates very well the benefits of work group with different kinds of activities:
However, group work is not always easy and some students don’t like it because some people dominate groups and others go along even if they don’t agree (because it is easier, because they don’t know better), some students will achieve more than others in the group (maybe it is part of learning the reality of life!)
Part 2 gives some talks about how to create the groups, what works for group work and the assessment of group work: Effective Group Work in College Science Classroom Part 2
It is essential to set clear guidelines and maybe define roles.
Jacki and Danielle listed some skills that are very important in group work. As a matter of fact, I believe that these skills are essential in life in general so if working in group allows students to develop them so much the better. They are:
- Listening skills
- Time management
- Common drive to succeed
It may be a good idea to teach the skills that allow succesful work in group.
One of the things that is difficult to deal with in group work is the assessment.
In this article Assessing group work , the author asserts that “where group work is marked solely on the basis of product, and not process, there can be inequities in individual grading that are unfair and unacceptable.”
As a student, I liked when we had to self-assess our contribution to the group; it certainly makes people think of their participation and it may help them be more active.
As a teacher, I have never assessed group work. However, I like when my students work in small groups. I can see that the ones who are usually shy in class, are less shy in small groups. It gives a chance to everybody to express themselves. Some people need their ideas to be triggered by what other people say. It is a nice dynamic to observe. I walk around the group and listen to what is said. It gives me a good idea of what is understood and it allows me to interact with individual more directly.