For the first time in the upcoming semester, I will be assigning a group research project in a course. The course is an upper-level course that satisfies a general education requirement, and while I do have a number of majors in the course (hallelujah!) I also will have a range of students of varying ability levels and disciplines. Since the course is numbered at the junior level, I'm committed to including a research component, but from the beginning I decided that I wanted to experiment with a different kind of research assignment from the traditional research paper, particularly since this is not a course aimed solely at majors.
So, how to organize a research assignment from which all students will learn something and at which all students have the potential to succeed when the range of students in the course is so wide? Well, that was the task I set for myself, and what I came up with is this group project idea.
I know. Students hate group projects. But I think the beauty of what I've designed is that the bulk of the work is actually individual, and even the group portions won't require a great deal of meeting with one another - they could probably manage the project entirely electronically if they so chose to do so. The first portion, a group portion, requires each group member to read a brief theoretical text that I assign. (This is also a way to get them to grapple with theory, albeit in a small way.) As a group, they need to write a 250 word summary and a 250 word analysis that connects the theory to the unit to which their project corresponds. (I've offered to meet with the groups to discuss the theory stuff outside of class should they feel at sea with this portion of the assignment.) Then, each individual member is responsible for finding 3 secondary sources and providing an annotation for each, and then for finding 3 primary sources (literary texts of some stripe) that are not on the syllabus that could supplement the assigned texts for the unit with an explanation for how they fit into the unit's themes. Each individual member then needs to write an analysis of how the group worked together, what they learned from their individual part in the project, and what they learn from looking at the project as a whole. Finally, the last "group" part of the grade has to do with formatting and submission, so I'm going to receive just one document with all of the above included. Once I've graded each project (there will be four total), I will post them on the course blackboard site so that all students in the course can see what other groups have done, thus providing 4 supplementary packets of material for students who'd be interested in further reading on the topic of the course.
I suppose the reason I'm excited about this assignment is that 1) it forces them into the library and to read and think about sources (both secondary and primary) in a critical way; 2) it's not actually that much work for each individual, and the project assignment clearly assigns duties to individuals so that one person won't get stuck doing all of the work 3) it gives students the opportunity to hone research skills separately from the monumental task of writing a paper, which I really don't think we give students enough opportunity to do. (I will have them write an essay in which they will need to integrate two secondary critical sources, so they will do some research writing, but they will not do a full-blown research paper in the course, as I expect students to do in senior-level courses.)
Of course, the whole thing could go horribly awry, but my hope is that I've thought of the pitfalls and that students will ultimately find the experience of the project rewarding and that they'll learn something from it. So that's what I've spent my morning doing - trying to compose an assignment for the project that is incredibly clear and that closes all possible loopholes that will make the whole thing disastrous. Have any of you ever assigned a similar sort of project? If so, do you have any advice from your experiences? Also, from my above description, do you see any potential difficulties that I'm not anticipating?
4 years ago