Last week I came across this fun video, which caused me to reflect once again on the potential problems of groups and group work, both on and offline.
For me it’s interesting that the intention of this video is to promote group work and group behaviours in a fun and humorous way, but it also, for me, suggests at least three problems with group work.
First I noted that all members of the group look very much alike, almost like clones of each other. Diversity is in short supply.
Then group members have a tendency to all act in unison and to be defensive. There is the assumption, by group members, that if you are not in the group, then you are either in danger of getting lost (a somewhat patronizing assumption) or subject to the malevolence of a predator. In the light of this assumption, a common action of groups is to close ranks. All this of course, leads very easily to group think, which in turn constrains autonomy.
It’s not that there isn’t a place for groups and group work – simply that groups need to be very self-aware of these common behaviours, pros and cons.
I often return to Stephen Downes’ post on Groups vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues and this diagram that he drew.
In the last year or so, I have seen more and more open online courses introduce group work or collaborative projects, or promote learning in spaces that encourage group formation, which is a departure from the initial intention of massive open online courses to promote networking.
Is it time to remind ourselves of the potential hazards of groups and group work and consider carefully what is to be gained and what is to be lost by becoming a member of a group or embarking on group work, or by asking our students to engage in group work?