More on group work

While working on Topic 3, I’ve continued reflecting on what supports successful group work by examining my own group, PBL13.

One key factor is definitely size, and as it turns out our group, with 10 participants, was probably too large when we started. Even with two facilitators among us, establishing the type of rapport and solidarity necessary to true collaboration initially proved difficult, although a strong core-group appeared almost immediately. I don’t know the reasons why three of the participants dropped out eventually, but I can only imagine a stronger feeling of belonging towards the group would have swayed ther decision.

In a large group, it is probably reassuring to a person with a high sense of responsibility to know that leaving the group won’t affect the others’ workload too greatly, since there are already enough members anyway. In return, the remaining members won’t feel bitter or abandoned and will probably voice their understanding. I wonder if in a small group, some factors like the cultural necessity not to “lose face” might push a person to remain engaged against their best interest.

According to litterature, the ideal group size is under five members. However, how can teachers and facilitators deal with low retention rates when they cannot affect them directly? It seems to me that the best course of action is to factor in the average drop-out rate into the group-making process.

The other important factor on which I would like to comment is trust. For a group to be able to collaborate efficiently, each member must find their place under the common understanding that they are “different but equal”. By that, I mean that they need to be able to voice their opinions, express their needs and difficulties and even admit their own shortcomings without it affecting their standing within the group. Such a relationship cannot happen instantly upon the first meet up, it is a process that needs to be taken into account when designing the course.

I’m sure different groups develop different strategies to achieve such bonding but I’ve noticed that in general, in my own experience of successful collaboration, the main factor was humour. For instance, I’ve noticed that I tend to use self-deprecating humour to signal, more or less conciously, that I am receptive to such a form of communication.

Humour is definitely a important factor within PBL13, but something else has proven even more efficient as a bonding mechanism: I’ve noticed that almost since the beginning we don’t hesitate to encourage one another and to give positive feedback on individual contributions. This, in my opinion, both promotes engagement and strengthens the sense of belonging. So I’ll say it once more: well done PBL13 🙂