Natalie Coers, M.A.L., Jennifer Williams, Ph.D., and Dennis Duncan 10.12806/V9/I2/RF8
Expectations of today’s college graduates continue to emphasize leadership and experience, as top entry-level positions carry high standards for students regarding strong transferable skills to be competitive. Employers desire job candidates to have polished communication skills, leadership skills, teamwork skills, initiative, interpersonal and social networking skills, problem solving skills and analytical skills, among others (NACE, 2010). We, as leadership educators recognize the importance of leadership coursework and programming to prepare students to enter society, but the majority of educators who did not study pedogological methods in their graduate work are unaware of the importance of incorporating effective group work into courses. Mu and Gnyawali (2003) emphasize the crucial step development of effective team work skills with all walks of people is to career success. Blackwell, Cummins, Townsend, and Cummings (2007) note the numerous formal and informal opportunities available at universities to enable students to connect experience and theory in the educational setting. Educators across many disciplines choose to incorporate group projects or other forms of collaborative or team-based learning in an effort to create formal group experiences for transferable skill development. Ricketts, Bruce, and Ewing (2008) express a key benefit of including group projects in core classes is the development of team building skills; however, the authors emphasize that students may be missing an important connection between developing team building skills in the classroom environment and their transferability to the workplace. Cassidy (2006) stresses the presumption that employers deem academic institutions responsible for preparing students in such skills needed for the workplace. By focusing leadership education, as well as other disciplines on the proper development of group work skills, a safe environment is offered for students to practice these social and communication skills while applying course concepts (Haberyan, 2007). Employability skills are interdisciplinary and relevant for any level of position desired; the acquisition of such skills if influenced in academia by many factors, including an instructor’s personal characteristics and teaching methods, as well as student involvement (Cassidy, 2006). Hassanien (2007) noted that students are aware of the frequency group work is being utilized throughout higher education, and view it as a crucial component of their studies because teamwork is an “essential employability requirement” (p. 145). Collaboration is needed in the organizational context, thus it is essential that students today receive the knowledge and transferable skills needed for success in various careers.
Student Perceptions of Group Work
Opportunities for students to gain group work experience in the collegiate classroom with a lack of direction from instructors has lead to frustration and a mix of student perceptions regarding the use of group work in the classroom. Based on prior experiences, many students groan at the thought of another group project experience where one individual carries the weight of the work and the group struggles to find a common time to meet, which leads to frustration and friction among the group (Butts, 2000). Although the benefits of collaborative learning are evident, Bolton (1999) notes that student satisfaction with group work experiences in the classroom is less than that of the faculty designers. Mu and Gnyawali (2003) emphasize the lack of guidance through the group development process or knowledge of how to effectively work together in a group with other students – a skill necessary to fulfill a complex team assignment.
Group Work Skill Development
Hirst, Mann, Bain, Pirola-Merlo, and Richver (2004) emphasize the disconnect between leadership learning and behavior, suggesting that experiential learning may enable students to develop group work skill in a timely manner focused on the process and long-term development of skills, rather than short training courses on the job. The importance of understanding the process of group development – a process that needs to be learned and developed over time – is evident in the shifting focus on group work within the university setting (Baskin, et al., 2005). Students should be aware of the stages of group development, and fully understand the depth of the group project at hand (Davis, 1993). Ultimately, students need training to be effective and successful at group work (Hassenien, 2007; McGraw & Tidwell, 2001). McKendall (2000) also notes that while students gained a wealth of experience in group work, no class or instruction was focused on effective group work for a simple lack of time on behalf of the instructor to even introduce the process of group development or tips for working in a group.
Cooperative learning encourages the development of skills, such as working with a diverse array of students, that individual assignments do not offer (Bobbitt, Inks, Kemp, and Mayo, 2000). A dual purpose is also served when group projects are based in service-learning. Formal and informal experiences provide opportunities to determine the most effective means of achieving student acquisition of career- oriented skills within higher education. Astin and Astin (1999) note the role of university faculty to influence and carry out research and practice of believed effective methodologies or approaches to leadership education. Extensive research has been conducted on the methods of cooperative learning in the classroom, its benefits, and the role of the instructor in facilitating cooperative learning (Colbeck, Campbell, & Bjorklund, 2000; Hassanien, 2007; Cottell & Millis, 1993; Cooper, Prescott, Cook, Smith, Mueck, & Cuseo, 1990; Kreie, Headrick, & Steiner, 2007; Haberyan, 2007; Halpern, 2000). A minimal but increasing amount of research has been conducted on student perceptions of group work in the collegiate classroom (Payne & Monk-Turner, 2006; Rassuli & Manzer, 2005; Pauli, Mohiyeddini, Bray, Michie, & Street, 2008; Coers & Lorensen, 2009). However, there is a void within the research of how group development process knowledge impacts a student’s experience with collaborative learning or group work in the collegiate classroom. While many leadership educators utilize group work effectively, this pedagogy is increasingly being utilized across disciplines where instructors may not understand the importance of process knowledge to the student experience with group work.
The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of Tuckman & Jensen’s (1977) model of group development process through the following research objective and questions.
Describe identified demographic characteristics, including gender, academic status, and previous group work experience.
Does knowledge of the Tuckman & Jensen (1977) theory of group development process impact student importance in group work skills?
Does knowledge of the Tuckman & Jensen (1977) theory of group development process impact student rating of confidence of group work skills?
Does knowledge of the Tuckman & Jensen (1977) theory of group development process impact student perception of group work in the collegiate classroom?
Group projects are utilized in numerous college courses today, many without providing direction on group development to students. Instructors may assume students understand the basic tenants of working collaboratively with their peers on an assignment, and not considering scheduling difficulties among student group members and potentially multiple class projects. By examining the impact of Tuckman & Jensen’s (1977) theory of group development process on student perception of group work in the collegiate classroom, confidence in group work skills, and perceived importance of group work skills, the researcher will determine the role of such knowledge to the practice of using group projects in the college classroom. The implications of such data could transform the manner in which instructors utilize group projects in the collegiate classroom to develop transferable skills.
The Tuckman & Jensen (1977) model of group development provided the conceptual framework of this study. From Tuckman’s (1965) review, four stages of group development were identified: (a) forming, where group members orient with the task and interpersonal boundaries, (b) storming, marked by conflict around interpersonal issues and resistance to task requirements, (c) norming, distinguished by role adoption and cohesiveness, and (d) performing, which is
established by the influence of built interpersonal relationships on the task performance. Tuckman and Jensen (1977) added the adjourning stage to signify the conclusion of the group development process. Fall and Wejnert (2005) noted that “creating a unified, common language for the description and analysis of group dynamics contributed greatly to the understanding of group work” (p. 324- 325). The forming-storming-norming-performing-adjourning model is appealing due to its rhyming stages for easy recall, the comfort of conflict viewed as a natural stage to the process of development and lead to norms in a group, and performance of the task.
This study utilized a true experimental, posttest only control group design to determine the impact an emphasis on group development theory (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977) may or may not have on a student’s perceived importance and confidence in group work skills, and perception of group work in the classroom setting. The control group consisting of 16 undergraduate students received the group service project assignment as well as a one-hour lecture on the process of group development identified by Tuckman and Jensen. The experimental group of this study consisted of 17 undergraduate students. These students received the group service project assignment, a full class period (approximately three hours) lecture and application brief on the process of group development identified by Tuckman and Jensen. In addition to the extended lecture time and application, experimental group students also completed a mid-semester reflection paper on the group development process. A purposive sample was utilized for student participant selection, as data was collected from two sections of an introductory, undergraduate leadership course help during the short, summer semesters.
The population of this study included 33 undergraduate students at (University) who were enrolled in the 2009 summer semester course entitled Introduction to Leadership and Service. The control group included undergraduate students enrolled in the May semester course (three weeks in length, daily meetings), and the experimental group included undergraduate students enrolled in the July semester of the course. A purposive sample was utilized for student participant selection due to the nature of the leadership course which included a groups and teams content area, as well as an established service-learning group work component. The number of students participating in this generative study is statistically low due to the course enrollment numbers and the timeframe for the study.
The instrumentation utilized in this study was the Core Group Work Skills Inventory – Importance and Confidence (CGWSI-IC). The instrument consists of 27 items, each matched to one of the Association of Specialists in Group Work (ASGW) training standards. Wilson & Newmeyer (2007) noted the scaling of the instrument, which includes a four-point summative scale rating for each dimension; the importance scale ranged from “very unimportant to very important” and the confidence scale ranged from “very unconfident to very confident.” A “before” section was added for this study to create a post-then analysis of the importance and confidence factors of the survey, and four constructs developed from the instrument’s 27 statements (Table 1).
Five of the instrument’s original statements were disregarded for data analysis because the statements did not pertain to the context of group work discussed in this study. The disregarded items included statements 3, 12, 16, 23, and 27 which addressed self-disclosure and disclosure of opinions or feelings in a group work setting. As identified by Wilson and Newmeyer (2007), the primary measure of validity for the instrument was determined by analyzing the relationship between the scales of importance and confidence; a strong correlation was reported (r = .62, p<.01). The reliability for each construct developed within the items of the Core Group Work Skills Inventory – Importance and Confidence was tested using Chronbach’s alpha. Davis (1971) identified a scaling of significance to describe the relationship among items which emphasized a Chronbach’s alpha greater than 0.7 as very high, and 0.5-0.69 as substantial. Table 2 displays the results of Chronbach’s alpha test regarding the CGWSI-IC; three areas were identified with substantial reliability and all other areas of the developed constructs indicated very high reliability.
Core Group Work Skills Inventory – Importance and Confidence, Constructs
Construct and Corresponding Items
9. Identifies group process
13. Responds empathically to group process themes
14. Keeps a group on task
19. Assesses group functioning
26. Contributes to evaluation activities during group processing
8. Works cooperatively with a co-leader
10. Works collaboratively with group members
11. Encourages participation of group members
15. Requests information from group members
17. Provides information to group members
5. Seeks good fit between group plans and group member’s life context
6. Gives feedback to group members
7. Requests feedback from group members
20. Identifies personal characteristics of individual members of the group
1. Evidence ethical practice in group membership or leadership
2. Evidences best practices in group membership or leadership
4. Develops a plan for group leadership activities
21. Develops hypotheses about the behavior of group members
22. Develops overarching purpose and sets goals/objectives for the group, as well as methods for determining outcomes
24. Conducts evaluation of one’s leadership style
25. Engages in self-evaluation of personally selected performance goals
Demographic information for the student participants of this study describes the similarities between the control and experimental groups of the purposive sample chosen for this study. The participants’ gender and academic status within each group are displayed in Table 3 below.
Participants reported previous group work experiences (external) according to four categories: athletics, professional organizations, sororities, or fraternities, student organizations, or other specified means (Table 4). Experience gained through external group work scenarios within student organizations, professional organizations, athletics, or other means provides additional avenues for engagement in collaborative work to enable further application of course material and develop skills applicable for employment (Astin & Astin, 2000).
Students also responded with the nature of any previous classroom group experience through courses in three categories: course related to my major, general education course, or elective course (Table 4). The inclusion of group work experiences in courses throughout the university emphasizes the interdisciplinary relevance for group work and leadership skill development, and reiterates the notion that group activities offer one of the richest opportunities for transferable skill development in the college classroom (Astin & Astin, 2000). Participants also indicated the number of group work projects completed in academic courses prior to this course, with options ranging from one to five and over (Table 5). Notably, the majority of students within both the control and experimental groups indicated over five courses with group work. The frequency of group work being utilized in the collegiate classroom as reported by participants suggests alignment with the belief that group work is increasingly being used to meet growing demands of industry for leadership and group work skills in employees (Colbeck, et al., 2000; Siciliano, 2001; Hassanien, 2007).
Participants indicated enjoyment levels of group work in the classroom, which were reported according to four options: never, seldom, sometimes, or always (Table 6). The variation in enjoyment levels of group work may be related to each student’s previous experience with group work in the classroom in dealing with the common issues that plague groups, including social loafing, scheduling challenges, and personality differences among group members (Colbeck, et al., 2000; Pauli, et al., 2008; Levi, 2007). This also may be influenced by instructors who lack the pedogological background in facilitating group activities.
Results of paired t-tests for developed constructs of the Core Group Work Skills Inventory – Importance and Confidence, with focus on the ‘importance’ scale of the instrument were reported. Participants rated themselves on items related to each construct on a summative rating scale from one to four (1=very unimportant, 2=unimportant, 3=important, and 4=very important). For the control group (Table 7), a strong, significant improvement in participants’ perceived importance from before the course to after the course was indicated in all constructs (t >2). For the experimental group (Table 8), significant improvement in participants’ perceived importance from before the course to after the course was indicated in all constructs (t >2).
A comparative analysis of the growth in importance from before the course to after the course in each construct between the control and experimental groups was reported. Summated means for each construct and the corresponding standard deviation are based upon the participants’ self-reported rating on items related to each construct on a summative importance rating scale from one to four (1=very unimportant, 2=unimportant, 3=important, and 4=very important). Reported means and standard deviations resulted from the calculated differences of before and after scores, summated for each construct identified by the researcher (Table 9). Independent t-tests were conducted to determine the significance in change regarding perceived importance of group work skills. With p >.05 in all four constructs, equal variances were assumed. All four constructs indicate t <2, which indicates no significant difference between the control and experimental groups.
The significant improvement in both the control and experimental groups of this study suggests the positive impact that pairing group development knowledge with group work in the classroom on students’ understanding of the importance of group work skills. However, the comparative analysis indicates no significance in change between the control and experimental groups of this study. Colbeck, Campbell, and Bjorklund (2000) provided insight through their qualitative analysis of student experiences with group work, stressing that students may appreciate such skill development if faculty stress its importance and relevance to their future endeavors. This may imply that it is not the amount of emphasis placed on the group development process, but rather the inclusion of such knowledge that impacts a student’s understanding of the importance of developing such skills for their future career.
The results of paired t-tests for developed constructs of the Core Group Work Skills Inventory – Importance and Confidence, with focus on the ‘confidence’ scale of the instrument were reported. Participants rated themselves on items related to each construct on a summative rating scale from one to four (1=very unconfident, 2=unconfident, 3=confident, and 4=very confident). For the control group (Table 10), a strong, significant improvement in participants’ perceived confidence in group work skills from before the course to after the course was indicated in all constructs (t >2). The confidence scale for the Leadership construct represents the strongest improvement (t=5.578) for the control group.
For the experimental group (Table 11) significant improvement in participants’ perceived confidence in group work skills from before the course to after the course was reported in all constructs (t >2). The confidence scale for the Leadership construct represents the strongest improvement (t=4.654) for the control group.
A comparative analysis of the growth in confidence from before the course to after the course in each construct between the control and experimental groups was conducted (Table 12). Summated means for each construct and the corresponding standard deviation are based upon the participants’ self-reported rating on items related to each construct on a summative importance rating scale from one to four (1=very unconfident, 2=unconfident, 3=confident, and 4=very confident). Reported means and standard deviations resulted from the calculated differences of before and after scores, summated for each construct identified by the researcher. Independent t-tests were conducted to determine the significance in change regarding perceived importance of group work skills. With p >.05 in all four constructs, equal variances were assumed. All four constructs indicate t <2, which indicates no significant difference between the control and experimental groups.
Equal variances assumed, (p >.05)The significant improvement in both the control and experimental groups of this study suggests the positive impact that pairing group development knowledge with group work in the classroom on students’ confidence in group work skills. However, the comparative analysis indicates no significance in change between the control and experimental groups of this study. Effective instructor guidance for students participating in group projects can also improve confidence in performing the group work skills necessary to have an enjoyable group work experience (Colbeck, et al., 2000; Siciliano, 2001). Prior group work experiences, such as those gained through student involvement in organizations or athletics, may also increase a student’s confidence in group work skills when instructor facilitation of cooperative learning lacks direction regarding the group development process (Colbeck, et al., 2000). This may imply that it is not the amount of emphasis placed on the group development process, but rather the inclusion of such knowledge that impacts a student’s confidence in applying such skills and knowledge in group work scenarios.
The demographic question regarding participants’ perception (positive or negative) of group work in the classroom setting before and after the course was reported (Table 13). The results of this study indicate a positive improvement in perception of group work in the college classroom, as also indicated by Coers and Lorensen (2009). Student understanding of group development impacts the group experience; thus, ensuring faculty are aware of group development knowledge and including group development knowledge in the college classroom where group work is being utilized are imperative steps toward developing group work skills and creating a positive student group work experience (Baskin, et al., 2005; Gillies, 2003; Butts. 2000; Coers & Lorensen, 2009).
Conclusions and Recommendations
There is an emergent trend towards utilizing teams and cooperative learning in the college classroom. This trend can be attributed to stimuli provided by prospective employers of students, students themselves, cooperative learning educators, and accrediting agencies (Colbeck, Campbell, & Bjorklund, 2000). The results of this study show it is important for students to understand there is a process of team development, and if this process is followed correctly, better perceptions of teamwork and better products are a result. This is an important finding for leadership educators. As many of us use team projects as assimilation of course material and application, we may not be cognizant of team development and the importance of students understanding team development processes.
It can also be concluded, for this sample, that quantity is not always synonymous with quality when in regards to team projects. A large determination of team success and true cooperative learning lies with the instructor. The facilitation of teams by instructors is essential, but in many classes, team projects are assigned and the only guidance given by the instructor is “good luck.” “Regrettably, [instructors] have been less vigorous in [their] efforts to provide students with the concrete support and systematic guidance they need to effectively navigate their team-based assignments” (Bolton, 1999, p.233). Instructors “have been socialized to believe that [their] primary job is to teach content, and someone else should be responsible for the process” (Bolton, p. 235). But, as teams and cooperative learning become more utilized as teaching techniques in the college classroom, the need for instructors across disciplines to understand the intricacies of team learning increases.
Because of this, the following recommendations are designed to offer insight to group work in the leadership education classroom and continue to provide experience for developing group work skills that will transfer to students’ careers:
University educators choosing to utilize group work in the classroom setting should be trained on the group development process andinclude such instruction to their students prior to assigning group work projects.
Given the different contexts of the original survey’s purpose, a survey relating specifically to components of the group development process and skills desired for employees should be developed and tested.
Additional research should be conducted relating to various group work pedagogies.
Research regarding the relationship between the amount of support and structure given to students by instructors for a group work assignment and a student’s perception, believed importance, and confidence in group work skills.
Further research should be conducted to include courses that do not include group process knowledge with group work assignments to determine the full impact of group process knowledge inclusion regarding a student’s perception, believed importance and confidence in group work skills.
Research pertaining to the use of service-learning as a means to group work skill development to both benefit the student in transferable skill development, as well as the community being served through the project.
This study should be replicated to include more participants for generalizability.
An “over-reliance on the lecture method in higher education [has led to students to become] passive spectators in the college classroom” (Cooper, Prescott, Cook, Smith, & Mueck, 1990, p. 1). Guidance, resources, and support are three elements that successful teams receive from their supervisor (Beck & Yeager, 1996). As this study shows, it is becoming increasingly important to educate instructors on cooperative learning facilitation techniques because “often, instructors simply lack the time or knowledge to prepare students properly for group activities” (King & Behnke, 2005, p. 58). The over-reliance on pedagogical teaching methods, such as lectures, leads some instructors to simply put students into groups and then tell them to work together. As leadership educators, with the knowledge of group development as well as educational methods, it is imperative we share this knowledge with others at our universities.
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