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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Letting students set the team criteria

For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about next semester (yeah, I've got issues...). Since this is my first semester teaching the data class, or using TBL, of course I have a list of stuff that I want to change next time around. What I was thinking about this morning was how to create the groups. This fall, I created the teams by asking students for some basic information and then I just tried to make sure each team had a good mix of students (i.e., mix of good and not-so-good grades, gender, econ versus business interests, etc.). For the most part, it's worked out well but I'm wondering if there's a better way.

In my Econ for Teachers class, they have group projects (but not semester-long teams) and I did an exercise where I asked students to brainstorm what characteristics they would want in their group members. Their responses boiled down to four main factors: subject knowledge (this is a course of mostly social science majors with a handful of econ majors and the social science majors wanted at least one econ major in each of the groups), reliability (attendance, doing the work you say you're going to do, etc.), "niceness" (wasn't sure what else to call this but students mentioned things like being supportive and helpful), and flexibility (students seemed worried about trying to find time for groups to meet outside of class to get work done). Once we had these four traits, I asked students to rate themselves in each category, simply on a three-point scale (high, average, low). Then I made groups by distributing the "high" and "low" responses as equally as I could across the groups. One thing I thought was pretty funny is that while many students rated themselves "low" on knowledge or flexibility, not a single student rated themselves "low" for reliability or niceness (of course, there is some sample selection since some of the least reliable students were not even in class that day).

Now that I know the students better, I believe that they were not being falsely modest about being nice but some do have some issues recognizing their own level of reliability. So I would need to think about that. But I wonder how much simply having the conversation about these characteristics may have affected how students see themselves as members of their team. Do students who rated themselves as 'high' on niceness or reliability feel any obligation to be nicer or more reliable? I'll have to figure out a way to ask them in the end-of-semester evaluation... But regardless, I think this could be a good approach for my TBL courses next semester. At the very least, it would give students some idea of concrete things to think about when evaluating their teammates later on.

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