34 Learning science in small groups
and understand other’s perspectives” (p. 73). Thus cooperative group learning might benefit students diversely.
Research studies support that collaborative approach helps to enhance student’s intrinsic motivation, persistence with adversity, and ability to transfer the knowledge and skills (Kapp, 2009; Pfaff & Huddleston, 2003). Also, learning through collaborative approach helps learners to improve their communication skills, problem-solving abilities and capability to work as effective team members (Dickinson, 2000; Millis & Cottell, 1998; Thomas & Busby, 2003). Crook (1994) classified three cognitive benefits of collaborative group work – articulation, conflict and co-construction. Hackling (2003) explained this as participants need to articulate their ideas and understandings to clarify and make it explicit for working with a task collaboratively, which often leads to conflict between peers. This conflict requires participants to reflect, justify, modify or even abandon their understanding and positions in favor of a more practical clarification or solution. This notion of co-construction is also supported by the idea of constructivist learning (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996).
Factors Influencing Group Work
Different factors have been reported to influence students’ activities in a group. Blumenfeld et al. (1996) pointed that educators must consider group composition, group norms, tasks and nature of participation as factors influencing the quality of learning within a group. The following sections discuss with these factors.
Group Composition. Group composition, which often relates to students’ characteristics, is an important factor to the quality of learning within a group (Blumenfeld, et al., 1996; Hendry, et al., 2005; Houldsworth & Mathews, 2000; Kempa & Ayob, 1995). Students’ characteristics may include their academic competence, achievement and personality. Research shows that a group formed with different abilities and personalities is more effective at decision making than a homogenous group (Brown & Atkins, 1991; Duek, 2000). However, a group may not be successful if it includes high and low-ability students, because in this composition, high-ability students may dominate the group discussion, while low-ability students may lack necessary skills and misinterpret the task as well (Blumenfeld, et al., 1996). Blumenfeld, et al. therefore suggest that for optimal effectiveness, three types of composition for effective group learning would work: a group with high and mid-abilility students, a group with mid and low-abilility students, and a group with all mid-abilility students.
Group Norms. Effective group work requires students to share ideas, take risks, differ with and listen to others, and generate and organize points of view (Blumenfeld, et al., 1996). These norms play roles to work effectively in a group. It is noteworthy that just placing students in a group does not ensure a productive output; many problems may arise when students are involved in group activities (Blumenfeld, et al., 1996). “Free riding”, engaging in “social loafing” and “hijacking” are common problems in this respect (Kapp, 2009, p. 139). This results some members in the group try to control or aggressively direct the group activities (Pfaff & Huddleston, 2003). In these cases, as Blumenfeld, et al. (1996) suggest, group norms which include listening and resolving conflicts, appreciating the skills and abilities of others, and using rewards that promote interdependency among the members may play a significant role.