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By Howard Iver Thorsheim, Ph.D., St. Olaf College
Howard Iver Thorsheim is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA. In these blogs he offers his first-person insights into effective teaching techniques gleaned from a combination of scholarly research and over 40 years in the classroom.
Extensive research* has repeatedly validated the value of cooperative learning, and many educators desire to incorporate cooperative learning into their classrooms. Yet, my attempts to form cooperative learning groups too often failed to meet the expectations of both me and my students.
It took me many tries before I developed a simple process, which was stimulated by a question from a student. The process is an effective way to form cooperative learning groups for students to work together in doing psychophysiology (that’s a favorite name I use to describe teaching and learning psychophysiology in class and lab). The process is one that I have refined and used successfully ever since.
Psychophysiology content, research methods, and learning to use technology for measurement are my goals, as well as helping students learn take-away “soft” skills that will be useful to them in any setting, like how to work cooperatively with others.
But before they could cooperate, I needed to have students get into groups. My first tries to form groups disappointed me: I tried using the class list, taking the first three people in the list to make a group, and then the next three people and made them a group, and so on.
Another time I randomly picked groups of three and assigned them to groups.
Yet another time I thought that providing choice in choosing teammates would be a good reason for success, and asked students to form their own groups of three.
None of these methods generated the kind of “special spark” I was looking for.
I was about to decide that it did not make any difference how groups were formed, and that besides, forming groups just made for more work for them and for me. Then, I decided to ask my next semester students if they had any ideas about forming cooperative groups.
In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll share what I learned and how it worked.
* Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3-4), 85-118. (Find an abstract of their article here). A quick way to get to that information is to download a copy of a 2013 draft version of the 2014 Johnson, Johnson & Smith article, available here.
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Professor Thorsheim is a licensed Psychologist, educator, and author. He has published or presented over 125 papers, journal articles, books, book chapters or monographs, and received a patent in 1985 as a co-inventor for an educational book design with interactive elements. His work has been funded by marquee foundations across the globe. His most recent work is Doing Psychophysiology: Getting Started, available from Knowledge Growers, Inc., available as an iBook download in 51 countries.