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Registered: 12/6/04
Summary-CL and student evaluations
Posted: Nov 8, 1995 5:22 PM
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The following is a summary of the responses I picked up on several lists
regarding what sometimes happens when teachers start using cooperative learning in their classes. There seems to be quite a bit of agreement. A suggestion
which is implicit in most responses is to get training in this area, observe
experienced CL practitioners if possible and start with a process which you feelcomfortable with and which the students can succeed with immediately.

This post runs about 24 pages. The last 9 are repeated from an earlier post.

Good Grouping

Ted Panitz

Date: Fri, 03 Nov 1995 18:35:06 -0500
From: Louis Schmier <lschmier@GRITS.VALDOSTA.PEACHNET.EDU>
Subject: Re: Collab. learning and evaluations
In-reply-to: <v01530505acc004420aad@[]>
Sender: "Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <>

I don't know of any particular studies that answer your question. But,
from my personal experience, my student evaluations soared, drop-out rates
plummeted almost immediately. But, you have to realize that students
cling to the conventional pedagogy because it, too, gives them security.
When a prof tries to share the power, to give students more responsibility
for their own learning, they get cynical and scared. They complain that
the prof is not earning his pay. When they are invited into a more
creative active role, they prefer to run. They prefer the line of least
resistance and have their learning boxed and tied and presented.
So, students are, and permit themselves to be, lined up, counted,
organized and owned. And, professors gladly do it. Students are
threatened by an open invitation to learn for themselves and to help each
other learn; they would much rather have their learning packaged and sold
by the prof. They are threatend by newness and strangeness, of having to
expose their ignorance, by having to relate to their peers in ways they
would not outside the classroom, by the possibility of failure that would
mar their image, self-esteem, career. These fears are not deeply hidden;
they are at the surface.

Louis Schmier (912-333-5947)
Date: Fri, 03 Nov 1995 21:24:22 -0400
From: Karen McComas <mccomas@MARSHALL.EDU>
Subject: Re: Collab. learning and evaluations
Sender: "Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <>

My personal experience with student evaluations has been interesting.
First of all, our department has always had every class complete the same
evaluation form and then provide the students with the opportunity to
write comments. In the past, getting any written comments was rare.
The quantitative portion of my evaluations has always been strong. This
didn't change. What did change was that almost 100% of the students
provided written feedback which has been invaluable in aiding me in
making modifications where and when necessary. The majority of the
students made comments relating to the fact that they didn't always
understand how the course activities were going to assist them with
learning the course material, it was only near the end of the semester
that they realized how *much* they had learned. In addition, the
majority express their delight in having the opportunity to discover that
they can think. Finally, when students provide constructive criticism in
these written comments, they almost always suggest a solution...and some
of these have been very successful in subsequent offerings of the course.

If you are feeling uncomfortable, and uncertain, hang in there. You
might even share this with your students because they think that they are
the only ones that feel uncomfortable and uncertain. I can assure you
that you will not regret your new teaching style...the only thing that
you might regret is having waited so long to change.

Karen L. McComas
Communication Disorders, Marshall University
Huntington, WV 25755-2634
More info? finger
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 1995 12:55:00 -0400
From: Iain Barksdale <Gleschu@AOL.COM>
Subject: Class discussion & motivation
Sender: Teaching in the Community Colleges <TCC-L@UHCCVM.UHCC.Hawaii.Edu>
To: Multiple recipients of list TCC-L <TCC-L@UHCCVM.UHCC.Hawaii.Edu>

I'm sure someone on this list will have some helpful commentary on this
topic so here goes:

Althought I realise that a certain amount of old-fashioned lecturing is
required in a course, I like to keep it to a minimum, as I beleive that
students get more out of discussing the topic. It also tends to lead the
learning to aspects of the course that the students find interesting.L

However, it seems that I tend to be forced back into full lecture mode by
my students. This is because they never seem to to the required readings,
so they have no idea what is going on, or what to discuss. So, I have to
lecture them about all the information. I assumed that having a test
every other week would help motivate them to read the text.

Any suggestions on how to get discussion going better would be greatly

Iain Barksdale, Adjunct Instructor Email:
Anthropology, Archaeology, Snail mail: Madisonville CC
Comparative Religion 2000 College Drive
Madisonville CC, KY Madisonville, KY 42431
Henderson CC, KY

MAIL> reply
Subj: RE: Class discussion & motivation
Lain Barksdale wrote"
<<However, it seems that I tend to be forced back into full lecture mode by
my students. This is because they never seem to to the required readings,
so they have no idea what is going on, or what to discuss. So, I have to
lecture them about all the information. I assumed that having a test
every other week would help motivate them to read the text.

Any suggestions on how to get discussion going better would be greatly

In order to get students really involved in classes it is necessary to
establish a climate or even a class philosophy of cooperation and active
through group learning. This is not an easy task and requires patience and
practice. Interactive lectures can be entertaining and informative but the
main problem with them is that the teacher is still the focus of the class.
How to get the focus onto the students is the main problem with group processes.
It is very helpful to be able to observe practitioners of group/cooperative
learning in action. After all most people learn by doing not just by listening.
teachers who use cooperative learning are anxious to share their methods with
Group instruction includes efforts to get people to know each other through
warmup and ice-breaker activities especially at the beginning of classes and
throughout the semester. Your course needs to be structured to facilitate
group interaction by starting off using groups a little bit at a time. I usually
start people in pairs after doing a pairs interview and introduction on the
first day. The next few days I prepare work sheets for the pairs to complete and
discuss as a whole class. I teach math so this works especially well. We then
move between the text and work sheets.
You cannot simply tell people to group up and work together. They do not
know how and have had very little experience in other classes so you need to
help coach them along. It is important to discuss your philosophy and strategy
behind using groups. I distribute the Wingspread Journal article on the Seven
Principles of Good Teaching and ask students to write a paper on their views of
the article. I do this about one week into the semester after they have started
working in groups. Most students agree with the 7 princples and observe that we
are using them in class through the group process. They also get to write in a
math class which they consider unusual.
Not everyone does an equal amount of work initially but they find that in
order to keep up they must do some work and eventually as they see the success
of others they join in. I give individual tests to encourage people to work on
the material. This is
imperative or the people who are working will get fed up with those who are not.
What the group process does initially is give those students who are not working
a second chance by working with other students who are willing to help them.
If they continue to slack off then they are identified at the exam time when
they must perform individually. I am aware of their progress at every point in
the class because I observe them working or not working every day.
After working with pairs for 2-3 weeks I move to threes and foursomes.
Again I will use warmups first to help people get to know each other better. It
is very helpful to have worksheets or materials for the groups to complete or
to have some activity for them to do as a team. I then move back and forth
between 4's and pairs in order to vary the class process.
My results are astonishing. I say that with some degree of humility.
actually look forward to coming to algebra classes, the one course everyone
to hate. They retain a lot of the material and many signup for additional
courses with me. I attribute that reaction to the fact that they are totally
involved in each class and the time flies because tey are so busy. During the
class I circulate around and talk to people and get to know them and they get to
know me so the course becomes personalized. Eventually even the students who
were not doing the work start participating.
Does this reach everyone? Certainly not. There will always be some
students who will not work. Do I know exactly who they are within 2 weeks?
You bet. There is no place to hide when working in groups because I observe
their interactions. Despite the success with group work my completion rate that
is between 70-80%. It is above the national average but still frustrating. I
have come to realize that students have many troubling circumstances that are
beyond their control and ours.
One final note. When you first start doing group work your student
evaluations may go down. You will be going through a learning process as well
as the students. As you get more comfortable and confident your ratings will
skyrocket. I do not exaggerate. I receive 4.8-4.9 out of 5 regularly.
A statistics professor mentioned at a recent Lilly conference on teaching
excellence that she received a perfect 5 on a recent evaluation because of
her switch to group learning. It will take time however and you must be
patient. Start slowly with pairs and try different things over a period of
A joke among group learning practitioners is that you may not want to
initiate group learning in your tenure year.

Good grouping
Date: Sun, 05 Nov 1995 07:03:03 -0500
From: eweber@EDU.YorkU.CA (Ellen Weber)
Subject: Re: CL and teacher evaluations

Ted, I was interested in how you framed the problem. Implication was that
"students had no experience or a negative one" and that might impact directly
on teacher evaluations. Unfair - me thinks!
The fact is that students get fired up about learning, when teachers
facilitate good cooperative learning initiatives. But many teachers require
more training and experience and therefore the groups are not meaningful to
students or productive in their endeavors.
So I feel that the same problem should be framed, "If teachers create bad
cooperative learning situations, will their ratings go down?" And the answer is
But there is hope for those who want to move from top-down learning to
meaningful stuent-centered, caring learning. In my book, "Creative Teaching
From Inside Out" (EduServ 1995) I address the very exciting idea of even
evaluation be negotiated with students. It works - but that's another topic.
MAIL> reply
To: IN%"eweber@EDU.YorkU.CA"
Subj: RE: CL and teacher evaluations
Hi Ellen,
Your point is well taken. If teachers were well trained and were given
oppoprtunities to practice CL before implementing it in their classes they
would have much less difficulty and would probably see their evaluations
rise immediately. I think what I am seeing in responses comes from people who
have tried CL pretty much on their own. They have read up on the subject,
attended workshops and then started using it. They then modify their approach
depending upon the results and student reactions. Thus trial and error method
will work if people have the confidence to stay with it despite students
attemps to get back to lecturing.
A much better approach would be having institutions support the concept
of CL, provide training and professional development opportunities for faculty
and develop support groups among faculty and staff members. I have yet to see
this at many institutions. Perhaps it is a matter of administrators being to
far away from the classroom and unfamiliar with the benefits of cooperative
Thanks for putting the question in perspective.

Ted Panitz
Date: Sun, 05 Nov 1995 11:12:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: Andrew Petto <AJPETTO@MACC.WISC.EDU>
Subject: CL Outcomes
To: Multiple recipients of list TCC-L <TCC-L@UHCCVM.ITS.Hawaii.Edu>

People interested in this topis should contact Susan Millar for her report on
the Wisconsin Emerging Scholars Program <>. IN this they
took a subset of "at risk" students (those you usually dropped out of calculus
and therefore effectively cut off a wide variety of courses of study and majors)
and put them through an intensive, collaborative learning program in which they
had experiences much like what Ted Panitz described in his post.

WES was wildly successful in that students who would have been very likely to
drop out or fail the course, were in the top 10th percentile at the end of the
semester. Why/How? because the colalborative process of peer teaching and
problem solving for understanding really helped them do more than memorize
solutions to specific problems. It helped them to generalize their learning, it
helped them to learn how to learn the material, and it gave them confidence that
they could learn it.

Andrew Petto Dept Anthropology, UWisc 1180 Observatory Dr. Madison 53706-1393
Madison Area Technical College 3550 Anderson Street MADISON 53704 Voice:608/262-2866 Fax:608/265-4216
Date: Sun, 05 Nov 1995 13:01:25 -0600 (CST)
Subject: RE: CL and teacher evaluations

The best advice I have about CL, based on my own use and working with a lot of
teachers who use it, is *perseverance*. Unless you have students who are used
to it, it seems to take time to get through the initial culture shock. But the
rewards are worth it. Also, it helps to be using a curriculum that explicitly
supports CL. It also seems that CL goes along with a changing view of what is
important in a math class--hard to use CL when doing 50 solve, factor, and
simplify problems!
Date: Sun, 05 Nov 1995 15:40:59 -0500 (EST)
From: Carlton Severance <>
Subject: RE: CL and teacher evaluations

In my experience, collaborative learning is like any other
technique--more applicable to some situations and groups of students than
to others. If the class contains one or more (preferably more) natural
leaders, cohesive groups quickly form and get on task. Vibrant
discussions take place in which all or nearly all students participate,
challenging or defending their points of view, changing them if
necessary, and all ultimately arriving at consensus and understanding.
My role in these (wonderful) situations has been to prod a little here
and there, but mostly just to watch the fireworks and marvel. Students
in such a group will perceive and report it as a positive learning
experience. If we had a breathtaking learning experience in class, I
bestow the reward of a lightened homework assignment--that gets you high
marks for "fairness".

Students primarily motivated by getting "A's" will not be intrigued with
helping their classmates to understand (they're in competition,
remember?), and will perceive and report CL classroom experiences as a
waste of time, a "disorganized" class, etc. They try to dominate rather
than collaborate, and will blame the teacher for any new situation which
threatens their dominance.

Students not motivated at all (as in chronic potheads, know-nothings,
etc) don't want to collaborate in learning any more than they want to
collaborate in anything else, and will generally be happier being told
what to do and just not doing it. Since my bias is toward a CL
environment (I'm blessed with very small classes in a private secondary
school), I've had some really frustrating experiences trying to apply the
CL technique to a group in which it is clearly not appropriate. And yes,
they will complain about it.

The idea of "selling" any new technique is a good one, so long as you
realize that (a) not everyone will be "sold"; and (b) the technique will
not apply equally well to all students.

In classes I've taught where I've received student evaluations, mostly at
the college level, I've generally gotten good ratings, with the bad ones
approximately equivalent to the bad grades I gave out. Learning to
ignore the bottom 10% of ratings is a lesson that took a while. I had
one prof who steadfastly refused to read student evaluations from anyone
who made less than a "C" in his class (he had us sign them). His
attitude was "Who cares what an F student has to say about my teaching?"
A valid, if harshly stated point.

My experience tells me--use the CL technique whenever you can, if the
group can gel with it. Tell the students what you're doing and why
you're doing it, and how they're going to be evaluated on it. Be humane
and compassionate and the student evals will (except for 10%) take care
of themselves.

Carl Severance, NYU
Date: Sun, 05 Nov 1995 19:17:28 +0300
From: (Murphy Waggoner)
Subject: RE: CL and teacher evaluations

Another faculty member (in physics) made an observation the other day that
I thought was interesting. He had tried a CL activity in his classes one
day (he doesn't use CL yet and he is trying to break himself in slowly).
In one of the classes (the calculus based physics) the students had trouble
getting started. Even though the instructor felt he clearly stated what
the activity was, the students stalled and balked. In his other class (the
algebra based physics) the students immediately broke into groups and began
talking about the activity. The instructor then realized the majority of
his algebra based physics class had taken one of my classes in the past and
so they were used to this sort of activity. On the other hand, few, if
any, of the calculus based physics students had taken a class from me in
the past.

The moral of the story is that those of us who are integrating CL into the
classroom are making it easier for others in other disciplines to do the
same thing.
+ + + + + + +
+ + + +

Date: Sun, 05 Nov 1995 19:17:30 +0300
From: (Murphy Waggoner)

Carlton Severance writes:
>Students primarily motivated by getting "A's" will not be intrigued with
>helping their classmates to understand (they're in competition,
>remember?), and will perceive and report CL classroom experiences as a
>waste of time, a "disorganized" class, etc. They try to dominate rather
>than collaborate, and will blame the teacher for any new situation which
>threatens their dominance.

These students are only in competition if the instructor leads them to
believe they are. If the students do not think they are in competition,
then most students are willing to assist most other students. I often
specifically pair up students so there are varying abilities in the group
and it works fine. When the students are grouped by like ability, the more
capable students like the ability to zoom through the material at their own
speed without wasting time.

>In classes I've taught where I've received student evaluations, mostly at
>the college level, I've generally gotten good ratings, with the bad ones
>approximately equivalent to the bad grades I gave out. ....His
>attitude was "Who cares what an F student has to say about my teaching?"
>A valid, if harshly stated point.

Students understand when an instructor in interested in their progress and
it is possible to receive good evaluations from poor students when those
students perceive the instructor as genuinely concerned. By ignoring the
bottom 10% of the evaluations one is be ignoring the needs of those
students who need the most help. The students who are high preformers are
often those who would preform well with any method of presentation. I
believe that _if_ one were to ignore any evaluations, it should be the
evaluations from the best students not the worst.

Murphy Waggoner Department of Mathematics Simpson College
701 North C Street Indianola, IA 50125
Subj: Re:Re: CL and teacher evaluations
From: Ted Panitz
Murphy Waggoner has an interesting anecdote about starting CL by announcing it
to the class and expecting action as follows.

<<<Another faculty member (in physics) made an observation the other day that
I thought was interesting. He had tried a CL activity in his classes one
day (he doesn't use CL yet and he is trying to break himself in slowly).
In one of the classes (the calculus based physics) the students had trouble
getting started. Even though the instructor felt he clearly stated what
the activity was, the students stalled and balked. >>>>> (snipped here-see

This approach would certainly be a prescription for disaster. Unless as
Murphy described the students had some prior experience it is unlikely they
would know what to do and how to begin. In starting CL it is very important to
help students break the ice and get to know each other before starting content
material. There are a variety of exercizes, many previously discussed on this
list, which help students learn each others names and get to know more about
the personal nature of their classmates. Consider if students do not know each
others names how will they communicate. In each of my classes I start off the
first class using the interview process using pairs. I ask one or two questions
such as how do they feel about math and what is their biggest concern. In
developmental algebra classes you can imagine their responses. After hearing
most of their peers have the same feelings of anxiety they relax and are much
more inclined to start learning about CL. I have them work inpairs for the
first week or so and then do some exercizes to get them confortable working in
3's and 4's. After this "training" period I have little trouble getting them to
work together. They virtually demand it if I start lecturing too much. By the
middle to end of the semester all I need to say is lets try this material
together and they put it on automatic pilot. The energy level that occurs is

Ted Panitz
Date: Mon, 06 Nov 1995 10:47:57 +0800 (MYT)
From: "George M. Jacobs" <>
Subject: Re: Is CL "a parade that has past"

One of the reasons I started this thread is that I really feel we need to
emphasize to fellow educators that cooperative learning isn't easy.
David and Roger Johnson in an article in the 1994 volume of Cooperative
Learning magazine list 5 fallacies related to teacher education on
cooperative learning. One of these is giving people the impression that
CL is simple to learn and utilize. Instead, the Johnsons warn, effective
use of CL is a complex skill which takes several years to master.
Oversimplifying it may be popular in the short-term, but in the long-term
it presents a false picture, which may lead teachers to become
discouraged and to give up on CL.
I know for myself, it's an extra step to teach using CL, especially if I
want to include a collaborative skill focus and processing of group
interaction. Sometimes, I don't include these.

George M Jacobs SEAMEO Regional Language Centre 30 Orange Grove Road
Singapore 258352
(3) help learners to build an assessment process -- defining goals and
constraints, criteria, and a measurement process.
(4) provide as much freedom as possible to pursue persalierests-even in "core" curricula (this follows th teoy esentedi th Quality
School by W. Glasser). I do this by stating all the exit competncies
explicitly then dividing the content intriorii the robem, h they t nesthat teyar sinterested in. If there is something that is left out, I might take that
section on myself (and become a co-learner).
They follow a research/problem-solvin format andreaely
self-directed, although they submit things at various stages for feedback
(in the form of strengths/areas for improvement/insights). Thpont nhecorse.
The next stage is something like a journal club. Each of the pape is
discussed critically in class after a week's preparati im.(Teyrll
enjoy criticizing my paper if I get a chance to givon). Thlearersettwo individual examinations. The first is formative, the second -- in
exactly the same format at the first -- is summative.
Date: Mon, 06 Nov 1995 17:26:17 -0500
From: Donald R Woods <woodsdr@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA>
Subject: Re: Collab. learning and evaluations
Sender: "Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <>

I have found that if we make any change, student evaluations will usually
decrease. The change could be in the method of assessesxtremely go advice I'l restathi kysesions(which I have used effectively) and add a few othe uggestos.1. describe, rationalize and illustrate what the change is anwhy. to
quote the seven principles given by ChiceringanGamson uihebtithe Wingspread Journal and in AAHE Bulletin (1987) March. The students
then at least understand that you aoertveeanin reqirthat the students use group skills, problem solving skils,self-assessment skills. Legitimize the use and development of these
skills by making them part of the course objectives, assesment ad
marks. Explain why employers value these skills. Invite alumni to return
and explain the important of the skill development parts of the cooperative
learning course. "This course is 80% abs hpyou to learn thbcety

3. have a workshop on "coping with change". Indeed, they will need to
learn this skill anyway so why not get a 2:1 benefit; the workshop helps
them address positively the anger that they will feel toward youas the
change agent, and they are learning real life coping skills that are
for coping with change.This i exlained n haper , "reyou redy
for Change?" of "Problem-based Larning: hoto gainth mst omPBL", available from McMaster University Bookstore (199. otcoing
book called "Problem-based Learning esorcs o inth mos romB
gives example workshopmaterialyou can use for a 1/2h orkhopon"coping with change."odia toght th ourse about
the strengths and weaknesses of the classroom atmosphere and
activities. Another option is to use the 1 minute paper and ask the
students to write out what they learned from today's session
and what they are confused about.

When I used these components, then when I changed in one course to use
the Osterman Feedback lecture with cooperative/active learning sandwichimproved over what typically happened (I infer that the learning
improved) and my course evaluations increased on scale 0 to 5: 3.5,
2.86, change, 4.5, 3.9, 3.4, 4.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.1. Here, the initial
change gave a very high response; later the 3.4 and 3.5 were dips to
ratings similar to before. However, in general the response is more positive.
Hope this helps.

Don Woods
McMaster University
Subject: Re: Collab. learning and evaluations (fwd)
To: Multiple recipients of list CL_NEWS

The following question was raised by Penelope Doob on another list. I thought it
would be appropriate to share it with this list and perhaps generate some
additional discussion on this topic.
Ted Panitz

Penelope Doob asks about evaluations dropping when one starts using CL.
Penelope Reed Doob, Academic Director, CST TEL: (Office) (416) 736-5754 (Home)
465-8845 pdoob@yorkvm2
FAX: (Office) 416-736-5704 (Home) 416-465-2695

<<<I'm interested in learning whether there are any good studies casting light
the not infrequent anecdotal report that teaching evaluations by students may
drop somewhat when collaborative learning techniques and various kinds of
group work are employed/ required in situations where students have little, or
no, or bad prior experience working in such a way.>>>

<<Does this happen often enough to constitute a problem? Do the effects tend to
wash out by the end of a course? if there's a problem, has anyone devised
appropriate means of controlling for it (e.g., comparing students who've used
collaborative learning before vs. those who haven't in any analysis and
interpretation)? could one reassure a young faculty member who wants to try to
use collaborative learning strategies that student evaluations might appear to
drop for a while but would then likely rise, assuming that the course is
indeed well designed and that the strategies employed are in fact contributing
to effective student learning?
Thanks for any insights you can provide.>>>>

I found this to be the case in the first semester I started using group
learning extensively. I had previously used interactive lectures, discussions
and asking students to work problems on the board in math classes. I started
using groups and insisting more that the groups try to resolve their questions
prior to my explaining a solution methodology. They did not always understand
my good intentions and interest in helping them learn to think critically about
a difficult subject. They wanted me to simply tell them how to do it. I know
that doesn't work. They would tell me after a lecture that everything made sense
until they went home and found they couldn't do the work on their own.I stuck
tomy procedures and they began to learn how to study math and they enjoyed
working with others and talking and even arguing about how to solve math
problems (something they had never done before). However they still felt I was
not teaching
the way I should i.e. giving them information. In the next semester I started
a virtual campaign to inform them abouit CL and its benefits and why I use
certain procedures such as warmup exercizes and group building activities etc.
I also did a lot of cheerleading about the process and heralded every success
and student break through caused by CL techniques. This worked wonders. My
evaluations skyrocketed from good ones (4.3-4.5 out of 5 to 4.8 to 4.9's).
My suggestion to anyone starting to use or expanding their use of CL is to
make a extroadinary effort to explain what and why you are doing what you do
and the outcome you expect and then trumpet the positive effects as they occur.
This is a new approach for most students and changer brings discomfort. You can
their fears by communicating with them virtaully every day. I give them articles
from journals and magazines and from newspapers, I use the seven principles of
good teaching from the Wingspread Journel and ask them to analyse it and
suggest ways we can use the principles in algebra classes. That helps them to
focus on the concepts of CL and begin to appreciate the reasoning behind it.
They appreciate my attempts to communicate with them. Finally I listen to their
suggestions about how to run the class which is a very important advantage of
CL over the lecture method. It also helps to be confident in your use of CL and
not be disuaded from using it as some students will try to do.
The result of this effort is that I get excellent student results. They
actually start enjoying algebra and tell me that my classes are their favorite
ones because they are so active in class. This has created a very strong
reputation on campus for my courses and now students expect that they will have
a great course, so I need to explain myself a little less defensively than I
used to. I still make a major effort to share my interests in CL with them all
the time. Something else that occurs to me is that when I return from a
conference with a new idea or technique I explain where I got it and how I
wouldlike to use it and that I am just as much a student when it comes to CL as
they are. They do appreciate the fact that I am making an extra effort on their
behalf by attending conferences on my own time. There is very little doubt left
in their minds that I am working hard to help them succeed.

Ted Panitz
I received the following post from the POD Professional and
Organizational Development discussion list in response to my last
posting from Richard Felder on tips for beginning group learning.
Ed Nuhfer has some excellent tips on initiating group learning
and the pitfalls and possible solutions. I hope you will enjoy
reading this as much as I did.

Ted Panitz

"Edward B. Nuhfer" <>
Subject: Re: Understanding group learning
Sender: Tue, 25 Jul 1995 14:14:

Richard Felder and Huan Ngo are describing a very common experience of
professors who initiate cooperative learning for the first time. Their
experiences cause me to air a criticism of cooperative learning workshops
I have experienced in a number of presentations and short courses which
hard-sell the benefits of structured group learning
(cooperative/collaborative, etc.) without telling participants
what will actually occur if they return from such a seminar to "spring"
this onto their classes of students who have never experienced much other
than the lecture method. In my experience with engineering students
versus the other disciplines, I had more hard-core resistance to
group learning from my classes of engineering students. I wondered
why this was the case -- whether it resulted from the kind of student
attracted to engineering or the core philosophy of the profession itself
which exerts strong influence on academic units in engineering. However,
Karl Smith, the third author on the Interaction Press book cited by
Felder is an engineer who has dealt successfully with these problems. I
have attended many cooperative learning sessions, and to his credit Karl
is the ONLY presenter I've witnessed who honestly informed instructors
that their evaluations could likely go down as they begin
employing active learning methods for the first time. Knowing this, I did
not get discouraged and give up when that very thing happened to me -- my
evals went down lower than they had ever been, and the comments that
students wrote were exactly like those described by Felder and Ngo.
However, as I got less awkward with the non-lecture approach my
evaluations went back up, and two semesters later they were higher than
they had ever been in my classes of engineering students.

Here are some suggestions that might help minimize the problem the first
(1) Don't come back from a POD, Lilly, etc. conference in the middle of your
term and "spring" these "new" techniques onto your ongoing class.
Instead, wait until a new class begins, explain clearly in your syllabus
the nature of what you are going to do that may differ greatly from their
conditioned expectations of being lectured to.

(2) Be prepared to explain briefly, but often, why you are adopting active
learning techiques and how you expect these to benefit your students.

(3) Be prepared to keep your finger continuously on the pulse of your
class with frequent assessment techniques such as 1-minute or
muddiest-point papers or through an ongoing continuous dialogue with a
student management team. Never wait to find out what's happening in your
class through just an end-of-course student evaluation (good practice in
any class actually, but critical when you're shifting through new gears).

(4) Be prepared to teach the social skills to students that are required
for successful team work in groups.

(5) Start slowly and with simple techniques; don't switch from a 100%
lecture class to 100% active learning just because an "expert" says the
latter is always superior. Start by making active learning just a
part of your delivery, and master those simple techniques well before
trying more complex approaches. Remember that (a) cooperative learning isn't
ALWAYS superior and (b) even the most accomplished users of cooperative
learning still utilize a certain amount of lecture; they don't use active
learning just for the sake of doing it. Rather they know when it's more
appropriate to lecture and when to use a structured group experience.

(6) Keep notes on rough spots that occur as they occur. Restructure your
lessons and your syllabus for next class so that you don't have to re-live
the uncomfortable experiences.

(7) If your evaluations do go down after your first experience, don't
give up and say "Group learning doesn't work." It DOES work, but it takes
time and practice to do it well. Those of us who are very accomplished at
lecturing are also prone to forgetting how bad our first attempts at
lecturing actually were, and how much time and practice it took for us to do
lecturing well.

(8) If your evaluations are going to be critical to your tenure or rank,
it is advisable to let your chair and possibly dean know of your plans to
make a switch in your teaching style PRIOR to doing it. Inform them
that there is an anticipated risk to such change that may include a
temporary lowering of student evaluations and that you are taking that risk.

(9) Purchase a good reference book such as Active Learing - Cooperation
in the College CLassroom by Johnson, Johnson & Smith to use when you
design your lessons and review students' comments about their experiences
with these lessons.

(10) If you use a mid-term formative evaluation, be certain that it
includes questions that apply to active learning formats. Although most
offices of teaching effectiveness are encouraging employment of active
learning techniques, some of these same offices are still trotting out the
same old lecture based questions for formative evaluations. Formative
evaluations now need to test for other things, particularly the presence of
the "Five Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning" (see above book by the
Johsons and Smith) in group learning experiences.
Sorry to be so long-winded, but Felder & Ngo have raised a particularly
resonant chord and have made worthwhile contributions in the process.
Ed Nuhfer
From: Marty Rosenzweig <>
Subject: Re: Why do so few teachers use group learning?
Sender: "Higher Education Processes Discussion (HEPROC)"

I am a statistician by training, but teach in a math dept.
I am the only teacher among 10 fulltime and 4 parttime
faculty to use cooperative learning. Most instruction at
our school, a business college, is via lecture, although
some of the "capstone" courses use the case method.

My inspiration for change came at the "Problem Solving
Across the Curriculum" conference I attended 4 years ago
(and still attend each year). This is a small group of
academics interested in teaching methods who meet each
summer under the auspices of the SUNY system and others to
discuss issues of cooperative learning, and like matters.
(If anyone wants additional info on this year's conference,
please contact me directly).

I have evolved the following principles in my classes, with
help from the work of Johnson & Johnson, Karl Smith, Jim
Eison and others, including a colleague in the Mgt Dept.

* Students do not necessarily know how to work together, so
must be shown.

* Students pay attention to what is rewarded. If group
activities are important then the reward structure (grading)
must reflect this.

* Groups larger than 4 are hard to use, if you want them to
meet outside of class - I require at least bi-weekly get
togethers outside of class.

* Each member of the group must have a formal task - leader,
secretary, etc.

* Training - the team leaders had a 1 - hour training each
week throughout the semester outside of class on leadership,
learning styles, problem solving, etc. The reward for the
extra work was a grade bonus.

* Assessment - (1) content - daily quizzes, chapter exams,
final. (2) Process - team leaders also acted as a "quality
circle" and gave feedback on the class, what was ok, what
needed improvement, what else needed to be done.

* Grades - students resent depending on others for their
grade. So this should be minimized. Where possible team
rewards are bonsuses. For example, I gave point increases
to each team member if the average exam grade was above 80.
Also if the team average improved from exam to exam.

* Teams - I organize teams heterogeneously on the basis of a
first day quiz and on the basis of gender. Single gender
groups do not work as well in my classes. There also must
be a mechanism for removing non-performers from the team.

* Structure - I give a 10 to 20 minute lecturette, have
teams work on the day's material, mostly problems from the
text, and close with a 5-minute quiz.

Marty Rosenzweig <>
Dept of Math, Bryant College
Smithfield, RI 02917
From: "Richard M. Felder" <felder@EOS.NCSU.EDU>
Subject: student resistance to group work
"Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <>

I've been enjoying the exchanges on this subject and thought I might
throw in my two cents worth by passging.

Consider the students. Woods[1] observes that students forced to take major
responsibility for their own learning go through some or all of the steps
psychologists associate with trauma and grief:

(1) SHOCK: "I don't believe it--we have to do homework in groups and she isn't
going to lecture on the chapter before the problems are due?"

(2) DENIAL: "She can't be serl

(3) STRONG EMOTION: "I can't do it--I'd better drop the course and take it next
semester" or "She can't do this to me--I'm going to
complain to the department head!"

(4) RESISTANCE AND WITHDRAWAL: "I'm not going to play her dumb games--I don't
care if she fails me."

(5) SURRENDER AND ACCEPTANCE: "OK, I think it's stupid but I'm stuck with it and
I might as well give it a shot."

(6) STRUGGLE AND EXPLORATION: "These other guys seem to be getting this
stuff--maybe I need to try harder or do things differently to get it to work for

(7) RETURN OF CONFIDENCE: "Hey, this is starting to work. I think I can do it."

(8) INTEGRATION AND SUCCESS: YES! This stuff really works--I don't understand
why I had so much trouble with it before.

Just as some people have an easier time than others in getting through the
grieving process, some students may enthusiastically dive right into active
learning and short-circuit many of the eight steps, while others may have
difficulty getting past the negativity of Step 3. The point is to remember that
the resistance you encounter from some students is a natural part of their
journey from dependence to intellectual autonomy, and if you provide some help
along the way, sooner or later most of them will make it.

So what can you do to help them and yourself get through the process? Out
of painful necessity (and believe me, my observations about student resistance
are neither theoretical nor speculative) I've developed an arsenal of
strategies. For whatever they may be worth, here they are.

SET THE STAGE. When I plan to use active or cooperative learning in a course, I
explain on Day 1 exactly what I'm going to do and why. I assure the class, for
example, that I'll be making them work in class not to make my life easier
(quite the contrary), but because research shows that students learn by doing,
not by just watching and listening. I reinforce the point by citing some of the
research; as always, McKeachie [2] and Wankat and Oreovicz [3] provide good
general summaries and Johnson, et al. [4] cite results specifically for
cooperative learning.

complain (or make evident in other ways) that they don't know how to set up
problem solutions or prepare for tests or work effectively in teams, I try to
offer some guidance during my office hours and occasionally hold a miniclinic in
class. Woods, Wankat and Oreovicz, and Johnson, et al., are rich sources of
methods for facilitating development of learning and teamwork

GET FEEDBACK AND TRY TO BE RESPONSIVE TO IT. Especially when many students in a
class seem to be spending a great deal of their time hovering around Stages 3
and 4 of the trauma scale (loss of confidence, anger, and withdrawal), I grit my
teeth and conduct a midsemester evaluation, asking them to list things they like
about the class, things they dislike, and things that would improve the class
for them. The first list often surprises me: the complaints I've been hearing
tend to monopolize my attention, clouding my awareness that what I'm doing is
working well for many or most of the students. The things they dislike are not
exactly fun to read, but I learn from them and the students seem to appreciate
the opportunity to vent. The suggested improvements may include some that are
unacceptable to me ("Stop assigning problems that you haven't lectured on." "Cut
out this group garbage.") but I may be able to act on others without seriously
disrupting my plans or compromising my principles. When I respond positively to
some of their suggestions (like easing off on the length of the homework
assignments, or giving them the option of doing a few assignments individually),
it usually goes a long way toward getting them to meet me halfway.

BE PATIENT. I expect many of my students (especially those I haven't previously
taught) to be frustrated and upset in the first few weeks of my courses. I deal
with it now better than I used to, knowing from experience that most of them
will turn around by the final exam.

GO BACK TO THE REFERENCES PERIODICALLY. When some of my cooperative learning
groups seem to be disintegrating halfway through the semester, I look back at
one of Karl Smith's monographs (or, for that matter, at my own workshop notes).
I'm usually reminded that I've been neglecting one or another of the
recommended CL practices, like having the groups regularly assess their
functioning and work out what they need to do differently in the future.

DON'T EXPECT TO WIN THEM ALL. In the end, despite my best efforts, some students
fail and some who pass continue to resent my putting so much of the burden of
their learning on their shoulders. A student once wrote in a course-end
evaluation, "Felder really makes us think!" It was on the list of things he
disliked. On the other hand, for all their complaints about how hard I am on
them, my students on the average earn higher grades than they ever did when I
just lectured, and many more of them now tell me that after getting through one
of my courses they feel confident that they can do
anything. So I lose some, but I win a lot more. I can cheerfully live with the


1. D.R. Woods, Problem-based Learning: How to Gain the Most from PBL. Donald R.
Woods, McMaster University, 1994.

2. W. McKeachie, Teaching Tips, 8th Edn. Lexington, MA, Heath & Co,

3. P. Wankat and F.S. Oreovicz, Teaching Engineering. New York,
McGraw-Hill, 1993.

4. D.W. Johnson, R.T. Johnson, and K.A. Smith, Cooperative Learning:
Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity, ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report No. 4, George Washington University, 1991.

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