Distinguishing Between Healthy and Dysfunctional Student Project Teams: An Elusive Instructor Challenge

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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University
While collaborative projects and student teams are widely praised for their potential contribution to student learning outcomes, they are often frustrating in practice for instructors. Students frequently complain of team dysfunctions and, faced with multiple teams working mostly outside class, instructors often find team observation and assessment to be ambiguous and problematic. As a result, those groups may not receive the support they need to successfully engage with and internalize the content. Complaints and reduced efficacy due to group dysfunction may push instructors to turn away from team projects, forfeiting their students’ opportunity to benefit from the pedagogical value of collaborative learning. As professional life increasingly involves working in groups (Baldwin, Bedell, & Johnson, 1997; Davis & Miller, 1996; Hackman & Woolley, 2004; Stevens & Campion, 1999), this will render them underprepared for their future. This study investigated the extent to which instructors are able to recognize and identify dysfunctional group behaviors and how they approach the task. In the first phase of the study, 75 instructors responded to weekly installments of one of 12 fictional narrative with diagnoses of the group’s behavior. The narratives were designed to represent one of the following: (1) equal participation (2) social loafing or (3) group domination. While some instructors do require reflections from entire groups, many others do not and learn of group activity only when a student raises an issue. Phase two was similar to the first, but its 10 participants performed the task using a think-aloud protocol followed by questions regarding their professional experiences. The 85 participants diagnosed their narrative’s group as equal participation 75% of the time. While they tended to diagnose even dysfunctional groups as equal participation, when they did diagnose dysfunction, it was generally in line with the intended behavior. Instructors employed diagnostic strategies opportunistically and their agreement on their diagnoses at the weekly level was moderate. Future research is recommended to explore the effects of group dysfunction on learning and subsequent performance. Implications for the facilitation of student teams are discussed.
Thesis (Ph.D.) - Indiana University, Education, 2015
Behavioral Assessment, Collaboration, Collaborative Learning, Group Dysfunction, Group Work
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Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd)
Doctoral Dissertation