Group structure can have profound effects on what students achieve in terms of both group learning and task accomplishment. Jaques (2000, chapter 6) provides information on a wide range of alternative structures, with possible variations on each. It ranges from the minimal-size Buzz groups, where students turn to their neighbours for discussion (often used in lectures to provide a break), to other forms of direct communication such as 'Snowball', 'Fishbowl', 'Crossover', 'Delphi' and 'Nominal' groups.
Twenty-one general hints regarding the giving of feedback to enhance learning are contained in Brown et al. (1996, pp. 30-3).
Economics students will need guidance on how to approach their reflective logs. This is important both to ensure that they utilise the deeper learning opportunities of the exercise and to facilitate assessment. Race (2000, pp. 79-81) provides a useful starting point, providing ten general tips on 'helping learners to write reflections on group learning'.
See 'Alternative forms of formative and summative assessment' in this Handbook for top tips on self- and peer assessment and considerations to apply in a self-assessment form.
See Race (2001) for a useful briefing on self-, peer and group assessment. There is a particularly helpful illustration in the appendix of the processes that can be applied for students to develop ownership of the peer assessment criteria.
See also Brown et al. (1996), Brown (2001) and Michaelson (2000).
The Belbin approach is useful in practice, as it relates to measurement and identification of relevant behaviour. There is considerable evidence that group work will benefit by selecting group members with regard to their preferred Belbin roles (see Cameron, 2002). A very practical activity guide to Belbin is given in O'Sullivan et al. (1996, pp. 59-66).
The alternative options of psychometric testing measure personality and may offer a more sophisticated insight or be longer lasting than behaviour. However, they are generally agreed to be more difficult to relate to relevant group behaviour. The very popular Myers Briggs Type Indication is available online.
Variations between the group requirements for complex and simple tasks is a relevant issue in group selection. Useful considerations of group task congruence are provided by Clark et al. (2001).
Collaborative learning can be assisted in many practical ways by Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard and WebCT. VLEs can also have beneficial effects on the dynamics of group communication. Manning and Riordan (2000) provide an interesting outline of some of the literature on and benefits of groupware to support collaborative learning, including a macroeconomic case study. O'Leary and Cai (2003) in a SOLE Case Study Series on Economics provide an assessment of two year 1 economics modules that used Blackboard and WebCT, one of these case studies focusing on collaborative learning in groups.
Samples of quiz questions for group work, when teaching introductory economics, are located in the appendix to Moore (1998). The article provides useful detail on how the task is structured.
Baron, R. S., Kerr, N. L. and Miller, N. (1992) Group Process, Group Decision, Group Action, Open University Press, Buckingham.
Fiechtner, S. B. and Davis, E. A. (1992) 'Why some groups fail: a survey of students' experiences with learning groups', in A. S. Goodsell, M. R. Maher and V. Tinto (eds), Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education, National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Syracuse University.