8 Is it worth the effort?

Despite the abundant literature on the topic of effective group functioning and how to evaluate it (references in “student versus expert ground rules” and see for instance Loughry, Ohland & Moore, 2007), its use in educational settings seems very limited (personal experience in several schools, universities and reporting from colleagues). Business and management schools may be the exception? From a natural-selection point of view (as proposed by Darwin) one may conclude that evaluation of group functioning in education, in particular scientific education, is not worth the effort: “there is no survival gain”. Indeed, group evaluation is time-consuming, even if the procedure is made as simple as possible. In fact, any form of quality control is time consuming, and as long as the product is socially acceptable, it is best to avoid that extra expense. It is easier to let the groups solve the problems themselves. As for teaching, the underlying thought might be that the good students, cognitively speaking, know what to do anyway, just like they know what to know, and a few bad group work experiences won’t get them off track. In our own discipline, biologie, don’t laboratories select candidates primarily on scientific knowledge and benchwork (technical) skills? What follows is that besides the aspect of time, the little attention paid to group processes can also be explained by an ambivalence in the workplace. Are leaders really interested in group processes or is group work just about image building of the company?  What really counts is the end product as envisioned by the management (do as you are told). Another argument that can come into play is the multitude of theories about effective group work. If you add to that the different personal experiences of instructors and leaders, leading to different biases, it is clear that it is not easy to come up with generally acceptable evaluation methods. This multiplicity of models and theories is a general problem of the education research field, which largely consists of isolated “islands” that are drifting further and further apart due to ongoing specialization of the research (Daenekindt & Huisman, 2020).

To return to the question of whether it is worth the effort: that depends on the personal agenda of the instructor or leader. Below, however, we present two strong arguments why group evaluation should be included in education, government organisations or companies that employ group work (despite the lack of evidence of immediate survival benefits). 

If you find it important, make it important

By training group work and/or by evaluating the functioning of groups, the instructor (or leader) makes group processes important. Research indicates that students, at any age, pick up on this and give more thought to the interpersonal aspects of a collaborative task (Chapman & van Auken, 2001; Chen, Donahue & Klimoski, 2004; Kennedy & Dull, 2007; Pfaff & Huddleston, 2003, Prichard, Bizo & Stratford, 2006; Prichard, Stratford & Bizo, 2006; Gillies & Ashman, 1996; Yager et al., 1986; Johnson et al., 1989). Of course, the training does not have to be done every time people engage in a collaborative project, although a short repetition, a little reminder, every now and then would not hurt.

Make it part of good practice

Whether one thinks it is very important or not, based on the principle of “good practice in education” one should respect conditions that enable learning (as much as possible) (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). In other words, if educational institutes place collaborative projects in the curriculum, for whatever reason, then one should create conditions that favor collaboration in order to facilitate the transactive dialogue. A similar principle should apply for companies or public organisations.

Generally accepted good practices in education (as suggested by Chickering and Gamson, 1987)
-Encourage contacts between students and staff
-Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
-Use active learning techniques
-Give prompt feedback
-Emphasize time on task
-Communicate high expectations
-Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

Creating conditions for a transactive dialogue corresponds with point two: “develop reciprocity and cooperation among students”. The good thing about authentic and complex collaborative projects is that they are also open to “diverse talents and ways of learning” and provide many opportunities for “active learning.”

It must come from the heart

When dealing with developmental relationships, in schools, companies or public organizations, it only works if there is a genuine interest in the well-being of peers (group members) or protégés. Developmental growth requires care, challenges, support, a share of power (voice and choice) and expanding possibilities (Janssen, van Vuuren & de Jong, 2012). Collaborative tasks that get stripped of this context, whether it is by misaligned group members, teachers or leaders, do more harm than good.


Chapman, K. J., & Van Auken, S. (2001). Creating positive group project experiences: An examination of the role of the instructor on students’ perceptions of group projects. Journal of Marketing Education, 23, 117-127. https://doi.org/10.1177/0273475301232005

Chapman, K.J., Meuter, M.L., Toy, D., & Wright, L.K. (2010). Are student groups dysfunctional? Journal of Marketing Education 32(1), 39-49. https://doi.org/10.1177/0273475309335575

Chen, g., Donahue, L. M., & Klimoski, R. J. (2004). Training under-graduates to work in organizational teams. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 3, 27-40. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2004.12436817

Chickering, A. W., Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3, 7. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ed282491

Daenekindt, S., & Huisman, J. (2020). Mapping the scattered field of research on higher education. A correlated topic model of 17,000 articles, 1991–2018. Higher Education 80, 571–587. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00500-x

Gillies, R., & Ashman, A. (1996). Teaching collaborative skills to primary school children in classroom-based work groups. Learning and Instruction, 6, 187e200. https://doi.org/10.1016/0959-4752(96)00002-3

Janssen, S., van Vuuren, M., & de Jong M. D.T. (2013). Identifying support functions in developmental relationships: A self-determination perspective. Journal of Vocational Behavior 82(1), 20-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2012.09.005 .

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., Stanne, M. B., & Garibaldi, A. (1989). Impact of group processing on achievement in cooperative groups. Journal of Social Psychology, 130, 507e516. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1990.9924613

Kennedy, F. A., & Dull, R. B. (2007). Transferable team skills for accounting students. Accounting Education: An International Journal, 1, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1080/09639280600826166

Pfaff, E., & Huddleston, P. (2003). Does it matter if I hate teamwork? What impacts student attitudes toward teamwork. Journal of MarketingEducation, 25, 37-45. https://doi.org/10.1177/0273475302250571

Prichard, J. S., Bizo, L. A., &Stratford, R. J. (2006). The educational impact of team-skills training: Preparing students to work in groups. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 119-140. https://doi.org/10.1348/000709904X24564

Prichard, J.S., Stratford, R.J. & Bizo, L.A. (2006). Team-skills training enhances collaborative learning. Learning and Instruction 16, 256-265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2006.03.005

Yager, S., Johnson, R. T., Johnson, D. W., & Snider, B. (1986). The impact of group processing on achievement in cooperative learning groups. Journal of Social Psychology, 126, 389e397. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1986.9713601