Group Work Can Be Gratifying: Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Cooperative Learning

Shimazoe, J & Aldrich, H. (2010) Group Work Can Be Gratifying: Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Cooperative Learning.  College Teaching, 58, pp. 52-57.

“Despite decades of successful implementation at the K-12 level, cooperative learning (CL) has been slow to catch on at the college level.  Resistance by instructors and students alike has slowed its diffusion.  Some resistance stems from poor experiences with CL, but potential adopters often fail to realize that effective CL rests on a set of principles that are not intuitively obvious.  Drawing on research on group process and CL we discuss what instructors need to do to implement CL successfully. We focus on a three-stage model of group formation and development, the components of successful group processes, how these components respond to typical students’ complaints, instructor’s roles in group operations and processes, and how these roles can best be carried out.  Keywords: group work, cooperative learning group formation, student teams.”  (p. 52).

This was a short but exceptional article.  Perhaps I think it’s exceptional because it says mostly what I am also trying to say AND it provided five articles to locate that will also likely be important in the literature review.


  • Cooperative learning (CL) aspires to shift the focus of teaching from lecturing to groups of mostly passive students to instruction through orchestrating students’ interactions with each other” (p. 52).
  • “The life cycle of groups comprises three stages: a design and development stage, an operations stage, and an output and disbanding stage (Oakley et al. 2004; Rousseau, Aube & Savoie 2006)” (p. 53).
  • Table 3: Keys to Successful Group Process in CL – top right on page 53
  • “Students need to understand why they have to work in groups, rather than just being ordered to do so” (p. 53).
  • “At the design and development stage, instructors should take responsibility for group formation rather than leaving it to chance, especially for member selection, group composition, and group size.  Concerning member selection, CL proponents suggest it is better that instructors assign students to groups (Felder 1995; Lighfner, Bober & Willi 2007), because random grouping or self-selection by students is likely to exclude or negatively affect minority students (Rosser 1998; Hinds et al. 2000).  To aid in assigning students to groups, instructors should collect data about students on the first day of class, using a standard format (Oakley et al. 2004)” (p. 54).
  • On page 54 there is an entire section that I will likely want to refer back to if I should need to further bolster the homogeneous vs heterogeneous grouping argument.  There is lots of research in that paragraph also about the benefits of high vs low ability students and the benefits to each.
  • “In our experience, students are aware when instructors are using CL simply to fill up class time, and they respond in kind with desultory cooperation and even shirking” (p. 57).

To Look Up

  • Felder, R.M. 1995.  Cooperative learning in the sequence of engineering courses: A success story. Cooperative Learning and College Teaching Newsletter 5(2): 10-13.
  • Hinds, P.J., K.M. Carley, D. Krackhardt, & D.R. Wholey. 2000.  Choosing work group members: Balancing similarity, competence, and familiarity. Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes 81(2): 226-251.
  • Lighfner, S., M.J. Bober, & C. Willi. 2007. Team-based activities to promote engaged learning.  College Teaching 55(1): 5-18.
  • Oakley, B., R. M. Felder, R. Brent, & I. Elhajj. 2004.  Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning 2(1): 9-34.
  • Rosser, S. V. 1998 Group work in science, engineering, and mathematics: Consequence of ignoring gender and race. College Teaching 46(3): 82-88.
  • Rousseau, V., C. Aube, & A. Savoie. 2006. Teamwork behaviors: A review and integration of frameworks. Small Group Research 37(5): 540-570.  Review this specific journal further.

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