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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Form Study Groups

Myth #4

"I can do it myself. "
"Self-reliance. That's essential."
"I'll go it alone."
"If you want anything done right, do it yourself."
"If I get any help, it's like cheating."
"Me, I can trust. Others, I'm not so sure."
"If I do it, I know I can depend on it."
"Independence is a virtue."
"I'll pull myself up by my own bootstraps."

Reality #4

Form study groups to survive.

To illustrate to my classes how groups almost always outperform individuals, I ask one student to randomly choose a letter of the alphabet. Let's say the letter chosen is "S." Then I ask three people to leave the room and work together to come up with names of singers whose last names begin with "S." The rest of the class works independently. I predict that the group of three outside the room will outperform anyone left in the class. Guess what? I always win because, in fact, the small group outperforms any individual in the class by almost 3 to 1.

There has been a significant amount of communications research done on small group performance. Small groups consist of 3-5 people convened to focus on an issue. Groups of two, dyads, lack the power of groups of three or more. On the other hand, groups of 5 or more become unwieldy.

Small groups out-perform individuals because:

  • Small Groups generate more options while brainstorming. This process fosters many ideas to be generated as quickly as possible.
  • Small Groups can better evaluate ideas. Groups correct misinformation, bias, erroneous assumptions, and the like.
  • Group decisions enhance harmony. They are essential where there is buy-in required after the session, such as choosing a correct solution that all must live with after the decision is made.
  • Small groups will almost always win. However, in an emergency where you need a quick decision, you're probably better off making a decision yourself. In that case, groups might slow the process down to the point that the decision is too late. Also, in cases where expertise counts and you have an expert, then often the expert will out-perform the group.

But if you're studying a subject and need encouragement, support, feedback, clarification, and help, you can't beat the power of a small, dedicated group focused on mastering the task.

Survival Tips:

Form study groups after the first few classes. Wait and see who the reliable students are before you join a group. Jumping in too soon might mean ending up with a less productive group. Be particularly observant about who does the homework, knows the answers, and seems to have a genuine interest in the class before you decide to form a study group.

Keep the group number to a handful and make it diverse. A group of 3-5 people is ideal. Two people are better than one, but 3-5 are much better than two. Groups of more than five make it too difficult to get together or make decisions. Also, vary the group by both gender and race because the diversity will make for a richer decision-making process.

Vary personality types and include the professor's type. What you want to avoid is having everyone in the group with the same personality type. If possible, try to have a person or two in the group with a personality similar to that of the professor. By having different personality styles in it, the small group becomes a more diverse critical test audience to use before launching new ideas.

Meet at a regular time and place. Setting both a time and place will ensure, above all else, that people will have something ready for the meeting. It's much like telling someone you'll go for a walk or meet them for lunch. You'll tend to do it if you've agreed on a time and place. Putting a study group in your schedule is the best way to make certain that you'll study. Block out your schedule and set your priorities.

Be persistent. Don't give up on the group. If at first you don't succeed-try, try again. Groups need to get comfortable with themselves. They need to establish trust and confidence. That comes only with time. Don't give up at the first sign of problems. Work through them with candor and caring for every member in the group. And always keep the objective in mind: To understand, to learn, and to help each other through the course.

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