What makes a ‘good group’? Exploring the characteristics and performance of undergraduate student groups

Abstract

Group work forms the foundation for much of student learning within higher education, and has many educational, social and professional benefits. This study aimed to explore the determinants of success or failure for undergraduate student teams and to define a ‘good group’ through considering three aspects of group success: the task, the individuals, and the team. We employed a mixed methodology, combining demographic data with qualitative observations and task and peer evaluation scores. We determined associations between group dynamic and behaviour, demographic composition, member personalities and attitudes towards one another, and task success. We also employed a cluster analysis to create a model outlining the attributes of a good small group learning team in veterinary education. This model highlights that student groups differ in measures of their effectiveness as teams, independent of their task performance. On the basis of this, we suggest that groups who achieve high marks in tasks cannot be assumed to have acquired team working skills, and therefore if these are important as a learning outcome, they must be assessed directly alongside the task output.

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Acknowledgments

Cartoon drawings in Fig. 4 were kindly provided by Julia Sands. We would like to thank Ruth Serlin, Maria O’Conor and Jo Fisher for their help with data collection.

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Correspondence to S. B. Channon.

Appendix: Sample group work task (term 2)

Appendix: Sample group work task (term 2)

Cat metabolism

George, a 6 month old Persian kitten, is presented at surgery with a complicated history of periods of listlessness, and sometimes he walks in circles. On closer questioning, the owner says that these episodes occur after meals, and have occurred for several months, but are getting worse. On examination, George appears dazed, but has normal functional cranial nerve tests. He is small for his age and in poor condition.

  1. a.

    Which organ system do you think is dysfunctional, producing the clinical signs of listlessness and circling? Give reasons for your answer.

  2. b.

    Blood biochemistry tests reveal blood ammonia levels of 270 μmol/l (normal <40 μmol/l). Does this information suggest another organ that is deficient in function, causing the disease?

  3. c.

    How are ammonia levels kept low in the normal animal? Blood ammonia concentrations also rise to toxic levels when cats are fed an arginine deficient diet: why is arginine an essential amino acid? Is it essential to other animals?

  4. d.

    Another abnormal result from George’s blood tests is a fasting bile acid level of 76 μM (normal <2 μM). Does this help in deciding on the primary defect?

  5. e.

    Given the age of the kitten, is there a likely inherited anatomical cause in this case?

  6. f.

    What is the treatment?

  7. g.

    What is the prognosis in this case? Why is the prognosis poorer in the cat than in a dog with the same condition?

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Channon, S.B., Davis, R.C., Goode, N.T. et al. What makes a ‘good group’? Exploring the characteristics and performance of undergraduate student groups. Adv in Health Sci Educ 22, 17–41 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-016-9680-y

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Keywords

  • Assessment
  • Group work
  • Small group learning
  • Small group teaching
  • Teamwork