Learning in the Laboratory: How Group Assignments Affect Motivation and Performance

  •  John Belanger    


Team projects can optimize educational resources in a laboratory, but also create the potential for social loafing. Allowing students to choose their own groups could increase their motivation to learn and improve academic performance. To test this hypothesis, final grades and feedback from students were compared for the same course in two different years, one with and one without fixed group arrangements. Seniors of the United States Military Academy at West Point were divided into groups of three or four to complete chemical engineering lab projects during the fall semesters of 2014 and 2015. In the first year, 21 cadets remained in instructor-assigned teams for the duration of the course. The next year, 23 cadets were initially assigned groups, but then allowed to choose their own teammates for the second half of the semester. There was no significant difference in graded performance between the two years, although cadet feedback was interesting. When cadets had the option of choosing groups, 65% of survey respondents strongly agreed that their peers had contributed to their learning, versus 40% when groups were not allowed to change. When asked if their motivation to learn or their critical thinking ability had increased, fewer respondents in the second year strongly agreed with either statement. While these results are not conclusive, a wider implementation of team-focused learning currently underway at West Point will offer a robust dataset and insights on how to get group work to work well in science and engineering education.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1927-5250
  • ISSN(Online): 1927-5269
  • Started: 2012
  • Frequency: bimonthly

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