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Group Task. It also has an influence on effective group work. When students work with a problem in a group, extensive discussion and elaborative responses are required for helping peers understand their perspectives. Students often enjoy real life-oriented problems, which have more than one right answer and include students’ creativity (Blumenfeld, et al., 1996; Carlsmith & Cooper, 2002). “Social loafing” can be reduced by permitting students in selecting their own project for the group ensuring that the task requires a unique and original solution (Carroll, 1986; Harkins & Petty, 1982). At the same time, students often need considerable guidance in the process of argumentation and offer justification for their reasoning (Palincsar, Anderson, & David, 1993; Webb & Mastergeorge, 2003).
Student Participation. Students’ participation in group work often relates to individual accountability. Individual accountability ensures that one student does not do the group’s entire work (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). In order to ensure every student’s accountability, individual performance may be counted regardless of the group performance (Blumenfeld, et al., 1996).
Students’ participation may also refer to the nature of interaction within a group. For example, students’ interaction within collaborative learning varies widely between groups and between occasions for the same group. More specifically, it depends on the discourse of the group. Damon and Phelps (1989) developed two indices in this regard: equality and mutuality of the engagement. Equality of engagement indicates the extent to which group members participate equally or unequally to the task, while mutuality of engagement indicates the extent to which discourse is extensive and connected (Hackling, 2003).
Further, Hackling (2003) divided students’ interaction within a group into three categories: symmetric, asymmetric and shifting asymmetric. Symmetric interactions involve all members of the group through a collaborative or adversarial mode. In the collaborative mode, one participant adds or elaborates the understanding shared by another participant, while the adversarial mode involves confrontation and argumentation between students who do not share the same understanding. On the other hand, in asymmetric interactions, group members do not participate equally. This usually happens when the teacher joins with the group and talks with only one group member. However, in shifting asymmetric interaction, each student plays a dominant role for a given time, but for a longer period, one’s participation is equal with that of the others.
Moreover, to ensure every member’s participation, individual’s role may be specified, which often influences the collaborative approach (Hackling, 2003). According to Hackling, these group roles could be “manager”, “speaker” and “director” as a tool to organize and manage group work. In some cases, for large groups, a fourth role of “reporter” can be introduced. Besides, some social roles for group members may also emerge, such as “leader”, “helper”, “active non-contributor” and “passive non-contributor” (Richmond & Striley, 1996). Leadership style also influences the construction of understandings and problem solving by the group (Hackling, 2003). Success of a group effort also requires interpersonal and social skills of the group members (Hackling, 2003; Johnson & Johnson, 1999). According to Hackling (2003), these social skills help teachers to manage the group work, to function as cohesive social units, and to enhance cognitive learning outcomes.
The abovementioned review of contemporary literature highlights some of the major concerns regarding learning science in small group. An overview of this discussion mainly reveals two approaches in group learning – cooperative and collaborative, which are somehow considered as an influencing factor in group composition, norms and discourse, and nature of interaction within a group. Besides, prescribed group roles and practicing