Within the framework of the topic connected with collaborative learning, our group decided to investigate how students perceive this topic and how we, as teachers, perceive it through research. More than 90% of students spoke positively about working in groups. This high number surprised me, but I compared it with other studies that reported similar numbers. So group work is popular, which is good news for teachers. But does working in a group have the effect we hope for?
We can use group work as a goal or as a tool. Suppose our goal is for students to learn to work in a group. In that case, it is mainly because we are trying to achieve fine skills, to teach them cooperation, listening, flexibility, tolerance and the achievement of success alone. Within the framework of higher education, group work is used as a tool, i.e. one of the work methods that requires, among other things, to demonstrate fine skills, which we hope the students already have. We create groups mainly so that students come into contact with different opinions, students from other backgrounds and other skills, but of course, we also build their ability to work in a group at the same time.
It surprised me that teachers and students answered similarly in our survey. Both groups considered the most significant positive of group work to be the opportunity to meet people from other backgrounds and with different experiences. The teachers also emphasised the possibility of learning new techniques or procedures from others. Our research, and especially previous research, confirm the positive side of group work. But what are the negatives, and how can we strengthen students’ cooperation as teachers?
The survey showed that teachers focus on what and from whom they can learn in the group, and the most crucial criterion for the division of work is the expertise of individual members. The students consider the most important that the work in the group is distributed fairly and equally. It leads to the conclusion that teachers want to work “as a group” and learn from each other. The students tend to work “in a group”. That is: everyone does their work independently and then puts it together. The student’s feelings are understandable. They often target the so-called free riders who do not participate and only benefit from the group’s work.
I mainly devoted myself to the literature study, which deals with the question of what is necessary for students to fully utilise the potential of working in a group. For the quality of this work, the teacher must provide them with three aspects: facilitating learning, study-social function, and organisation. Group work must be more beneficial for understanding academic knowledge than individual study. The study-social element is essential to create a safe environment in the group where they can openly discuss their opinions with their classmates. Last but not least, there is the group’s organisation, work structure and the results to be presented. It is precisely this aspect that should prevent the existence of a free-rider as much as possible. Deeper thinking about what I should do to make my students use group work made me realise that paying more attention to group work is necessary. Often students cannot appreciate this method precisely because we have neglected to prepare one of the aspects. It motivates me to set aside more time for assigning these assignments to students.
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