What students have to say about group homework

The past two semesters of teaching our lower-level introductory statistics course here at WSU, I’ve incorporated in-class group homework. I could go on at length about why *I* think group homework is beneficial, but that’s not the point of this post. Rather, this is about what the students think. I think it’s quite striking!

First, though, I do need to provide a couple quick details about how I manage group homework. They occur approximately once a week, and I alternate between randomly assigning the students into groups of three and letting them choose their own groups. When students choose their own, I encourage groups of three but allow four (no higher).

On end-of-semester course evaluations the past two semesters, I asked the following questions:

  1. What do you like BEST about in-class group homework?
  2. What did you like LEAST about in-class group homework?

Here is a word cloud of the responses to the first question (what did you like BEST?):

There are a lot of words in here that I’m glad to see! (And that echo my motivation for implementing group homework.) Students can ask questions; work with people; talk with others; etc. Professor shows up in the cloud too; I’m always present and able to help problem-solve, or ask redirecting questions if students are off-topic.

Well and good. But even more striking is the word cloud for student reponses to what they liked LEAST about group homework:

## Warning in tm_map.SimpleCorpus(corpus, tm::removePunctuation): transformation
## drops documents
## Warning in tm_map.SimpleCorpus(corpus, function(x) tm::removeWords(x,
## tm::stopwords())): transformation drops documents

People didn’t work sometimes…it’s even grammatically correct! It’s pretty obvious what I need to work on this semester regarding group homework. One possibility to encourage universal participation: I assign the “scribe” of the group (the person writing down and submitting the group’s answers to be graded), and make sure it’s someone different each week. Maybe simply paying better attention to students who are “staring off” and gently encouraging them to participate.

Also not surprising, given the groans when I announce it’s “random assignment week”, are the words assigned, random, and randomly. Students aren’t fond of being randomly assigned to groups, although it’s not something I see myself dropping. It’s important to mix up the voices; give international and domestic students a chance to work together; and give students experience working in a team with people they don’t necessarily choose (that’s real life after all!)

Silas Bergen
Silas Bergen
Associate professor of statistics and data science