Hyperlinked Librarian

Reflection Blog #5: How We Learn: “Yikes! More Group Work?!”

Posted on: November 8, 2019

University of Derby (UK) Kirtley building classroom

Learning has changed. In the last decade alone, the concept of how people learn has evolved from lecture-based and solitary to facilitator-based and collaborative. Joan Lippencott (2015) best describes how the nature of learning has transformed by stating the following:

The trends in higher education reform that emphasize active learning and learning as a social process converge well with an increasing emphasis on the need for students to develop collaborative skills and the ability to communicate effectively and professionally in various media.

(para. 2)

There is a lot to unpack in Lippencott’s statement. Firstly, there is a clear shift in higher education toward “active learning and learning as a social process.” Gone are the days when the ideal format for learning was a professor lecturing while students passively consumed the information. While lecture formats are still valuable for content delivery, there is now more emphasis on applying the content through collaboration and various forms of media. Secondly, educators now see the immense value in learning through creatively utilizing new media in a collaborative way. This has taken the form of 3D printers in academic libraries for science and engineering majors as well as utilizing gamification and video technology. These two shifts have one clear idea in common: collaborative learning. Because collaboration is important in today’s workplaces, students are now being taught how to communicate effectively through collaborative group work.

Ohlone College (CA)

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might cringe at the idea of “group work” based on a bad experience or two in the past. However, I think that there is a right way and a wrong way for teachers and facilitators to go about group work. If you’ve taken INFO 203, you know that people may not intrinsically know how to be productive team members. In fact, the perceived “laziness” of a group member may actually be due to a lack in understanding in the assignment or simply being overwhelmed with the work/life balance. Because working on teams does not come naturally to every student, instructor-librarians who want to incorporate group work into their classes would serve their students well by first teaching students how to work effectively on teams. A good go-to for information on effective teamwork is Burce Tuckman’s (1965) 5 Statges of Team Development (yes, it still holds up despite the publishing date).

Teaching students about teamwork needn’t be as exhaustive as a class like INFO 203, but even a weeklong introduction on collaborating effectively on teams would be a huge benefit to students. After all, if collaborative learning is the new trajectory of “learning how to learn” then we must set students up for success rather than for failure when working together in groups.


Lippencott, J. (2015). The future for teaching and learning: Librarians’ deepening involvement in pedagogy and curriculum. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2015/02/26/the-future-for-teaching-and-learning/

Tuckman, B. (1965). The five stages of team development. Retrieved from https://toggl.com/stages-of-team-development/

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8 Responses to "Reflection Blog #5: How We Learn: “Yikes! More Group Work?!”"

I used to cringe at group work but this program has been really good for helping me to be more open and flexible when it comes to all of the group projects! I have only had one difficult experience so far but it was partly me wanting to control the process too much! I hate being late and my team members loved to cut the deadlines really close…but we always made them, barely! I am going to save the Five Stages link too 🙂

Hi Cristin,

Thanks for your comment! I hear you, people have so many different styles when it comes to tackling an assignment, which can make group work a challenge. While I have not had much experience working on groups in the work place, I wonder if group work is more effective in work environments where the stakes are higher for everyone. My guess is no, which would explain why there are so many books and seminars about working well on teams that are geared towards businesses and companies. I therefore think that teaching people how to work well on teams is valuable for any organization (but it doesn’t hurt to start early with students)!

Hi Melina,
I taught for 15 years and saw the shift from Powerpoint presentations to group work in the classroom. Today’s students feel frustrated when asked to be quiet and take notes. They want to collaborate, share and work together which is quite different from my generation. I struggle with group assignments and have to push myself to enjoy the group interaction.

Hi Toni,
Thanks for your comment! I think you bring up a good point about inter-generational collaboration! I could see how people would be used to different learning formats based on how they were taught from a young age, which is probably why your students were so eager to collaborate together. Even by the time I was in grade school in the early 2000s, group collaboration was becoming more of a thing!

Hi Melina,

I loved the title of this because I have had both good and bad experiences with group work. I don’t see group work as a one size fits all experience because it does differ as you meet new people and learn alit their learning styles and work ethic. I honestly have learned to be a better communicator from my past experiences and I think that students can learn this from early experiences with group work.

Also it’s great to see collaborative technology like 3D printers be used in academic libraries. I only recently had experience with one at my public library but my brother’s high school had one he was able to play with. It’s interesting to see how libraries and schools move forward and try to get more collaboration.

Hi Melina,

you’ve really struck a chord with all of us because of the heavy emphasis that SJSU puts on collaborative work. While I prefer working alone to group work when given the option, I’m really glad that I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone and into group projects so much in this program. First, because it’s online it’s really the only way I get to know my classmates beyond a surface level. Second, because it really is valuable to get to know how to work with other people whose approaches to a task may be so much different from your own. Great post!

Hi Jacqueline,

Thank you for your comment! I was fortunate enough to only have positive experiences at SJSU with group work. However, like most people I’ve talked to, the experience was not without trepidation at first. I think that’s why I wanted to blog about it – group work is totally this necessary skill that is not always learned to the best degree by students, and we don’t really talk about why students fear or dread it at times. That said, when it’s good, it’s great! I learned so much through working with other students. Also, like you said, getting to know people during group projects is really nice since online school can be a bit isolating!

This post resonated. You tap into what I have tried to do in my teaching over the years. In this class, instead of group work, I make every effort I can to get students talking, sharing, working on the issues via discussions like this one. Thanks for speaking this conversation.

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