The students take what they are learning about small group communication theory in the classroom and, working in groups, apply the theories and concepts to their observations of an outside team/group. The final project includes both a paper (the requirements and corresponding rubric are included) and a presentation that the group members work on together, which fulfills the Bachelor’s level Applied and Collaborative learning proficiency.
Background and Context
DQP Proficiency Assessed: Applied and Collaborative Learning This assignment fulfills the general description of the Applied and Collaborative Learning proficiency on page 12 of the 2014 DQP: “This area focuses on what students can do with what they know, demonstrated by innovation and fluency in addressing both conventional and unscripted problems in the classroom, beyond the classroom and at work. . . . includ [ing] specific practical skills crucial to the application of expertise.” The final group project paper requires students to analyze a group and its problems, using course concepts/practical skills to come up with ways that the group under observation could, possibly, address some of its problems. Moreover, the students are applying course concepts to an outside group, which is a form of “interaction [between] academic and non-academic settings and the corresponding integration of theory and practice” while “learning with others in the course of application projects” (DQP, 2014, p. 18). The students take what they are learning in the classroom and, working in groups, apply the theories and concepts to their observations of an outside team/group. The final project includes both a paper (the requirements and corresponding rubric are included) and a presentation that the group members work on together, which fulfills the following Bachelor’s level proficiencies (from DQP, 2014, p. 18): “Prepares and presents a project, paper, exhibit, performance or other appropriate demonstration linking knowledge or skills acquired in work, community or research activities with knowledge acquired in one or more fields of study, explains how those elements are structured, and employs appropriate citations to demonstrate the relationship of the product to literature in the field.” In this assignment, students work in groups to write a paper and then offer a presentation (also in groups) based on their paper. The paper requirements state that students must find credible outside academic research, including at least one outside academic source for each concept used in the paper.
Negotiates a strategy for group research or performance, documents the strategy so that others may understand it, implements the strategy, and communicates the results. The major part of the assignment involves the group coming together and negotiating, among themselves, how to complete the project, from choosing which outside group to observe to how to best present the paper and the oral presentation.
Completes a substantial project that evaluates a significant question in the student’s field of study, including an analytic narrative of the effects of learning outside the classroom on the research or practical skills employed in executing the project. The assignment gets students outside of the classroom, and they have to utilize the group communication concepts learned in class in order to work as a group and successfully complete the assignment.
Information about the Course: Small Group and Team Communication is a required general education course for most Oregon Tech students. The school requires students across programs take the course because in most fields, including engineering, medical imaging, and applied psychology, whose students make up the majority of OIT graduates, the ability to competently work in small groups/teams is important for day-to-day work. The course is upper-division, so many of the students in the course are juniors and seniors. Small Group and Team Communication helps students meet the Small Group and Team Institutional Student Learning Outcome, and the Course Outcomes are closely aligned to the Institutional Outcomes. This is the final project for the course, and, in keeping with the focus on collaborative learning, the final paper, like the research and applied observations that build the paper, is completed in small groups (approximately 4-6 students). To allow students firsthand experience working in teams and applying their classroom learning to an outside situation, the students work in groups to observe a group/team with which none of them are affiliated. The students coordinate at least 15 hours of observation time between them. At the end of the term, the students apply course concepts to the group that they observed, focusing on how the group communicated well and how the group could communicate better, culminating with suggestions for how the group could implement plans for improvement. Some of the groups have shared their findings with the group that they have observed, but this sharing is not required.
Alignment and Scaffolding
Where the Assignment Fits in the Course: This is the final project in the course. OIT is on the quarter system, so, by the time the paper is due, the students have had 10 weeks of group communication theory, and they are asked to apply the theory to their observations. In addition, since the students are working in groups, they are also enacting the very concepts that they have learned over the course of the term, allowing them to both observe how others communicate in groups and how they, themselves, communicate in groups. The previous homework assignments, the mid-term reflection paper (which is focused on how the individual student communicates in his/her own groups), and the take-home short answer exams all ask students to apply the course material. The final project builds on this application by having students work in groups to come to a consensus about what concepts to use and how to use them. What it Prepares Students to Do: There are very few careers where people will not need to work with others to accomplish tasks. I believe that any program that has students who will be entering a collaborative environment could find this course and this assignment useful, so anyone looking for a way to encourage collaborative learning in their classrooms may find this assignment helpful.
My Experience with the Assignment To-Date: I have taught two sections of Small Group and Team Communication every quarter since I started at OIT in Fall 2012. This has given me quite a bit of experience with the assignment, mostly positive. Many students have reported that they enjoy being able to apply what they are learning in the classroom to an outside group—theory is one thing, but seeing the theory at work in the outside world is another. In addition, for those students who chose to observe an on-campus group or team, many students tell me that they felt more connected to their campus community and will continue to attend the group’s events, which may help with retention (I am also on the retention committee here at OIT, so this positive feedback sticks out to me more than it might to those who do not work with retention efforts). The biggest obstacle is probably the most obvious one: Some students just do not work well in groups. In fact, I have received the following comments on more than one evaluation: “We had to do too much group work,” and “Why did the final project have to be done in groups?” At the beginning of the term, as we go over the requirements for the course and for the assignment, I tell students that they will need to work in groups during their careers (I even added an in-class activity where the students, grouped by major, discuss the ways that they will work in groups in their chosen career), but I still have students giving me feedback like the quotes above. I would love the chance to speak with others who have taught collaborative learning-based courses to find out how they framed the assignment to, hopefully, avoid, some of the negative connotations students have for “group work.” At the Charrette in March 2015, I discussed this obstacle with my group. One of the members suggested a more formalized process to keep the students honest about how each person is (or is not) doing his or her individual part to help the group achieve its goal. Based on the recommendations from the Charrette group, I had the students complete three small group assessment papers individually over the course of the term. These papers ask the students to discuss what each group member is doing and what grade each group member deserves based on his or her contributions to date; these are not shared with the group but only with me. I saw the benefit of this process in one of my courses this fall. Every member of the group noted that “Student X” was not doing his part, and the group members made note of this in their first set of group assessment papers. By the second set of group assessment papers, the students noted that “Student X has really come around. He actually did more over the past couple of weeks than many of us.” Student X noted, “I did not do much early in the term, and I realized that the other people in the group were probably upset and probably ratted me out on the first set of group assessment papers. I really tried to turn myself around, and this time around, I think I deserve the same score as the rest of my group members.” The others in the group agreed. By having the assessments, Student X not only realized that he was not doing his part, but that the other students had a way to rat him out for it, and this caused him to shape up and work effectively with his group.
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