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The Impact of Group Formation Method (Student-Selected Vs. Teacher-Assigned) On Group Dynamics and Group Outcome in EFL Creative Writing

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This study investigated how group formation method, namely student-selected vs. teacher-assigned, influences group dynamics as well as group outcome. In line with its experimental comparison group design, two intact classes of junior English Literature students (N=32) participated in this study over one academic semester. Community model was employed to teach creative writing to both classes, but, while in one class students (N=16) were required to self-select their working partners, in the other they were assigned into groups by the teacher, based on their learning styles (N=16). The quantitative and qualitative data, obtained through students' initial writing drafts, revised texts and an end of the course written report, underwent One way Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA) and content analysis. The findings indicated that although teacher-assigned groups had no definite advantage over those of student-selected in terms of group dynamics, they noticeably outperformed student-selected groups in terms of outcome. In particular, teacher-assigned groups were more task oriented and thus more successful at accomplishing group task -here revision. The results suggest that group formation method is a contributing factor to the success of group work.
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The Impact of Group Formation Method
(Student-selected vs. Teacher-assigned) on Group
Dynamics and Group Outcome in EFL Creative
Writing
Jaleh Hassaskhah
English Department, Guilan University, Rasht, Iran
Hamideh Mozaffari
English Department, Guilan University, Rasht, Iran
AbstractThis study investigated how group formation method, namely student-selected vs. teacher-assigned,
influences group dynamics as well as group outcome. In line with its experimental comparison group design,
two intact classes of junior English Literature students (N=32) participated in this study over one academic
semester. Community model was employed to teach creative writing to both classes, but, while in one class
students (N=16) were required to self-select their working partners, in the other they were assigned into
groups by the teacher, based on their learning styles (N=16). The quantitative and qualitative data, obtained
through students' initial writing drafts, revised texts and an end of the course written report, underwent One
way Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA) and content analysis. The findings indicated that although teacher-
assigned groups had no definite advantage over those of student-selected in terms of group dynamics, they
noticeably outperformed student-selected groups in terms of outcome. In particular, teacher-assigned groups
were more task oriented and thus more successful at accomplishing group task -here revision. The results
suggest that group formation method is a contributing factor to the success of group work.
Index Termsstudent-selected group formation method, teacher-assigned group formation method, group
dynamics, group outcome
I. INTRODUCTION
The use of small groups has been increasingly prevalent over the last two decades. Lack of tolerance on the part of
learners to just listen to the teachers' lectures, and the need to hone students' interactive and problem solving skills are
among the main reasons for this rapid growth. In fact, this mode of learning serves two primary purposes: (1) it aims to
increase learner's autonomy, and (2) to influence and enhance the quality of learning (Fink, 2004). However, empirical
studies show that these objectives are not always achieved. In other words, many students have negative experiences in
using small groups which further endangers the product of group work. Fink's study reveals that most of these problems
refer to issues such as unfairness, student's accountability and so forth.
However, group work in classroom has been widely supported through the literature. Research has shown an
advantage for group learning on such factors as developing metacognition (Blakey & Spence, 1990 as cited in Neilson,
2006), promoting critical and creative thinking (Cohen, 1999; Fink, 2004) decreasing anxiety (Oxford, 1997) and most
notably enhancing learning (Cohen, 1994). Moreover, Harmer (2007) pinpoints some of the main advantages of group
work (p. 166):
1. It promotes learner autonomy by allowing students to make their own decisions in the group without being told
what to do by the teacher.
2. It dramatically increases the number of talking opportunities for individual students.
3. It encourages skills of cooperation and negotiation.
4. It recognizes the old maxim that 'two heads are better than one'.
The theoretical advantages typically associated with group learning suffer from what Bossert (1988, as cited in
Cohen, 1994) calls "a black box approach" (p. 23) in which the necessary conditions for the realization of the reported
benefits are ignored . Whatever the countless benefits of group work in educational setting, Light and Littleton (1998, as
cited in Russell, 2010) warn against regarding it as a kind of educational panacea. In other words, simply putting
students in groups of 3 or more does not guarantee the benefits which are usually associated with cooperative learning.
In this regard, Jacobs and Hall (2002) poses some questions to ponder about before setting any kind of group work (p.
53):
1. How big should groups be?
ISSN 1798-4769
Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 147-156, January 2015
http://dx.doi.org/10.17507/jltr.0601.18
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2. How should groups be formed?
3. How long should groups stay together?
There are many other questions to ask, but the one investigated in the present study refers to group formation method,
that is how the groups should be formed. According to Harmer (2007), either the teacher forms the groups or allows the
students themselves to select whom they are going to work with. Literature refers to these two conditions as teacher/
instructor selected/assigned and student/self selected, respectively. Several studies (Basta, 2011; Chapman et al.,
2006; Mitchell, Reilly, Bramwell, Solnosk, & Lilly, 2004) indicate that whenever students are set free to do the group
member selection, they prefer to work with their friends with whom they feel more relaxed. Teachers, however, form
groups either at random or based on certain criteria including personality traits, academic heterogeneity and so forth
(Harmer, 2007). In the following section we reflect on some of the earlier studies which delved into the issue of group
formation method and its impact on group work effectiveness.
II. LITERATURE REVIEW
Literature on the role of group formation method on group effectiveness is bifurcated into two types. Some articles
have mainly focused on the effectiveness of a single method (teacher-assigned or self-selected) while others have taken
a comparative step to asses which method outperforms the other (teacher-assigned vs. self-selected). At the same time,
group effectiveness has been looked at from two different perspectives. A number of studies (Bacon, Stewart, & Silver,
1999; Hilton & Philips, 2008; Mitchell et al., 2004; Russell, 2010) have examined effectiveness in terms of group
dynamics which concerns "group's internal characteristics" that encompass factors such as group members' cooperation,
trust, acceptance, commitment, teacher's role and any further feature which is internally linked to group work (Dornyei
and Murphey, 2003, p. 4). However, some recent studies (Bachman, 2010; Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000; Mushtaq,
Murteza, Rashid, & Khalid, 2012) have begun to emerge which investigate this issue by analyzing performance
outcomes as measured through final grades. This typology is consistent with Cohen's (1994) concept of productivity of
small groups which she argues either refers to academic achievement or issues related to group dynamics (e.g.
cooperativeness, degree of participation, workload sharing, commitment, etc). Regarding both types the literature
includes contradictory results (some strongly advocate teacher-assigned groups while others prefer the other). In
addition, most of the existing published articles (Bacon et al., 1999; Connerley & Mael, 2001) has taken a non-
experimental/quasi-experimental design or has only investigated a single method which in turn restricts the conclusions
that can be drawn. In what follows we look at some of these studies.
A. Studies on the Impact of Group Formation Method on Group Dynamics
Bacon et al. (1999) explored how a set of teacher-controlled contextual variables including team assignment method
affects students' group experience. To this end, they surveyed a number of MBA students about their best and worst
experiences. The results reported self-selected grouping as positively associated with best team experiences. Particularly,
high degrees of cooperativeness, goal commitment and the feeling of group member's indispensability were among the
major benefits that students linked to self-selection. More recently, the result of studies by Hilton and Philips (2008)
and Russell (2010) led to the same conclusion.
A more in-depth study of this issue was conducted by Chapman et al. (2006) who developed a survey to investigate
the effect of two group formation methods (random or self-selected) on a variety of group experiences including group
dynamics, students' attitude toward the group experience and outcomes. The study indicated that self- selected method
led to better results concerning all of the variables under investigation. Specifically, students who were allowed to select
their own group members were better able to communicate together, more enthusiastic about group work, more
interested in their group members, more positive toward group work, better able to deal with intra-group conflicts and
had higher sense of group accomplishment but were less task-oriented than students of teacher-assigned groups.
While several studies confirm the positive effects of self-selected group formation method, not all research studies
favor the use of this method in classroom setting. Having allowed students to choose between self-selected and teacher-
assigned grouping method, Mitchel et al. (2004) investigated how the choice of group membership influences students'
preferences for choosing their working partners. To this end, both groups' attitude toward group member selection was
assessed both before (pre-test) and after group work (post-test). Results revealed that attitude of self-selected groups
negatively changed from pretest to posttest, while no significant difference was reported among those of teacher-
assigned. To further explore this issue, the students were inquired about the reason for this shift in attitude. The most
recurrent theme emerged from students' comments referred to the strong tendency among self-selected groups to talk
rather than work. Johnson et al. (1993, as cited in Mitchell et al. 2004) further admit that groups which are formed
according to the selection of students are less task oriented than those of other methods.
B. Studies on the Impact of Group Formation Method on Group Outcome (Academic Achievement)
The relationship between self-selected group experience and final grades was recently explored by Mushtaq et al.
(2012). The survey results indicated a high degree of "group homogeneity", "goal commitment", "group potency",
"workload sharing", "supportive behaviors", "participation", "group performance" and "group viability" for this group
formation method. More importantly, multiple regression analysis revealed that all these variables positively influenced
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final grades. Earlier studies (Lawrenz & Munch, 1984; Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000) also highlighted that regardless of
group members' academic ability, when students are paired with their friends; it leads to higher project grades than
teacher- assigned groups.
In contrast, Oakley, Felder, Brent, and Elhajj (2004) point out that when students are allowed to select their own team
members they tend to choose those who are at their own academic level. This, they argue, endangers one of the major
benefits of group work that is, peer teaching and accordingly puts the product of group work at risk. Similarly, Slavin
(1990 as cited in Mitchell et al., 2004) and Kagan (1994 as cited in Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000) advocate the use of
academically heterogeneous groups formed by the teacher.
Additionally, Dillon and Cheney's (2009) exploration of self-selected vs. teacher-assigned personality-based
grouping revealed that although the latter method leads to better products, it suffers from high degrees of intra-group
personal conflicts which further decreases overall satisfaction with the course.
The studies cited above demonstrate that findings about group composition are mixed regarding whether students
should be allowed to select their own group members or the teacher should take the responsibility of group formation.
Moreover, all of these researches have been conducted outside the field of L2 studies. The following sections provide a
detailed description of the study that aimed to investigate: (1) whether and to what extent group formation method,
namely student-selected vs. teacher-assigned, influences group dynamics and (2) whether and to what extent group
formation method (student-selected vs. teacher-assigned) influences group outcome.
III. METHOD
A. Participants
Thirty two junior English Literature students from two intact classes (class A=16, class B=16) doing their B.A at
Guilan University took part in this study over one academic semester. Participants included male (N=3), and female
(N=29) students, and their age ranged from 20 to 28. Besides, at the time of conducting this study all of the participants
had prior knowledge on academic writing and had already passed a few related courses, such as advanced writing, essay
writing and letter writing courses.
B. Materials
Teaching Materials
Parts of three books were nominated as the textbook of the course including: (1) "Imaginative writing: The elements
of craft" (Burroway, 2011), (2) "The Routledge creative writing course book" (Mills, 2006), and (3) "Creative writing-
20: A curriculum guide for secondary level" (Saskatchewan Education, 1998).
Assessment Materials
Assessment of Group Outcome (the quality of performance-creative writing)
Since this study was conducted in an EFL creative writing course, the outcome of group work concerned students’
creative work. Validity of creativity tests heavily depends on the validity of the theory upon which it is based. The
suggested methods of creativity assessment in literature are either based on a specific theory of creativity (such as
divergent thinking theory as in divergent thinking tests), judgment of experts of the field (consensual assessment
technique) or attributes theoretically linked to creativity (such as originality, voice, etc. as in rubrics).
However, theories have their own limitations. For instance, most theories of creativity have proved to be invalid for
assessing creativity in domains such as writing (Baer & McKool, 2009). Also, consensual assessment technique suffers
from the problem of subjectivity and resource intensiveness since it requires an average panel of 10 expert judges to
assess creative works based on their expert knowledge of what creativity means in a specific field (Baer & Mckool,
2009). Besides, although rubrics (especially analytical types) are one of the most reliable methods of evaluating writing,
the major problem arises from the criteria on which they are developed (Blomer, 2011). In other words, most of
suggested rubrics for creative writing contain attributes which are irrelevant to creativity (e.g. spelling, grammar,
punctuation and syntax are correct, organization is clear, etc.) (May, 2007; Merrell, 2006; Newman, 2007), are too hard
to measure (e.g. voice is distinctive, work is original, scenes and events are memorable, etc.) (Kroll, 1997) or left some
key features behind. Thus, this study, informed by the existing literature, developed an analytical rubric -- considered as
the most reliable and consistent method of assessing creative writing (Shraplin & Morris, 2013)-- for its own study
purpose.
To develop the rubric, three steps of rubric development including (a) identifying performance criteria, (b) setting
performance level, and (c) creating performance description was followed (Wolf & Stevens, 2007).The first stage aims
to determine the major criteria which define performance in a specific domain. Since creative writing focuses on
creativity of language, features of creativity would function as the performance criteria. To this end, the literature on the
topic was consulted. It was found that there was a consensus over 4 major qualities of creative writing including image,
figures of speech, characterization, and story.
The next step for developing rubrics is to determine the number of performance levels appropriate for the evaluation.
This decision totally depends on the purpose one wants to achieve (Wolf & Stevens, 2007). In this study levels were set
after collecting the data to ensure inclusion of the range of performance levels which might appear in actual writings.
Finally, every rubric requires a description of each performance level to guide and facilitate the assessment process
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(Wolf & Stevens, 2007). To clarify what each performance criterion means and how it can be achieved, the
aforementioned sources were used. All criteria together with their descriptors are presented in Table 1.
TABLE 1.
CREATIVE WRITING RUBRIC
1. poor
2. Fair
4. Excellent
Criteria
No use of concrete
significant details (sole
use of abstractions,
generalizations and
judgments) and/or
figures of speech to
create images
Some uses of concrete
significant details (the
number of details, and
abstractions,
generalizations and
judgments is almost the
same) and/or figures of
speech to create images
Maximum use of concrete
significant details (there is
no or just 1 abstraction,
generalization and
judgment) and/or figures of
speech to create images
Image (visual,
auditory, gustatory, olfactory,
tactile & kinesthetic)
No use of figures of
speech (simile,
metaphor, symbol,
personification, etc.)
Some uses of figures of
speech (simile, metaphor,
symbol, personification,
etc.)
Maximum use of figures of
speech (simile, metaphor,
symbol, personification,
etc.)
Figures of speech
(simile, metaphor,
symbol,
personification, etc.)
No use of characters'
physical appearance,
action, thought,
symbol, etc. to reveal
characters
Some uses of characters'
physical appearance,
action, thought, symbol,
etc. to reveal characters
Maximum use of
characters' physical
appearance, action,
thought, symbol, etc. to
reveal characters (complete
indirect characterization)
Characterization
(Direct vs. indirect
characterization)
No use of narrative to
convey purpose
( purpose is conveyed
through formal
statement)
-
The use of narrative to
convey purpose.
Story
Validating the Rubric
Rubrics provide efficient ways of assessing learning outcomes (Shraplin & Morris, 2013). However, to be effective,
they should meet two major criteria: reliability and validity (Andrade, 2005 as cited in Allen & Knight, 2009).The
following sections provide a brief description of the steps taken to validate the proposed rubric.
Evaluating Reliability of the Rubric
Reliability is one of the key criteria on which the effectiveness of rubrics depends. In general, reliability refers to
consistency of measurement (Mackey & Gass, 2005). Following the prevailing literature on reliability assessment, this
study estimated inter-rater and intra-rater reliability of the rubric. To this end, three individual raters (a university
professor and two M.A. candidates of English literature- closely allied with creative writing) evaluated four samples of
creative writing (which were randomly selected from two distinct classes) using the rubric. Approximately two weeks
later, two of the same raters repeated the evaluation. Correlation coefficient for scores given by three different raters
(inter-rater reliability, see Table 2) and for subsequent ratings (intra-rater reliability, see Table 3) was 0.86 and 0.82,
respectively. Following the guidelines of Brown, Glasswell and Harland (2004) a reliability index of 0.70 proves to be
sufficient for structured rubrics.
TABLE 2
RESULTS OF INTRACLASS CORELAION FOR INTER_RATER RELIABILITY
Intraclass
Correlationa
95% Confidence Interval
F Test with True Value 0
Lower Bound
Upper Bound
Value
df1
df2
Sig
Single Measures
.862b
.368
.996
26.000
2
4
.005
Average Measures
.949
.636
.999
26.000
2
4
.005
TABLE 3
RESULTS OF INTRACLASS CORELAION FOR INTRA_RATER RELIABILITY
Intraclass
Correlationa
95% Confidence Interval
F Test with True Value 0
Lower Bound
Upper Bound
Value
df1
df2
Sig
Single Measures
.821b
.382
.961
10.143
7
7
.005
Average Measures
.901
.553
.980
10.143
7
7
.005
Evaluating Validity of the Rubric
Validity is another contributing factor to the quality of a rubric. Construct validity as its most significant type refers
to the degree to which a rubric measures what it purports to measure (Mackey & Gass, 2005). The review of literature
revealed two main methods on validity assessment: Factor analysis and Delphi method. As a statistical technique, factor
analysis aims “to reduce a large number of variables to smaller more manageable numbers by identifying the number of
unique underlying criteria” (Baryla, Shelley &Trainor, 2012, p. 2). Thus, it is essentially applicable to lengthy rubrics
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(Baryla et al., 2012). Delphi method, on the other hand, is a relatively new method of validity assessment which
requires an average panel of 10 experts to involve in several rounds of discussion on accuracy of rubric’s criteria until
they reach consensus (Allen & Knight, 2009).
Given the excessively intensive nature of Delphi method and impracticality of factor analysis for the purpose of this
study (the rubric was formed based on the major qualities of creativity as discussed by experts of the field and thus was
not a lengthy one), the researcher relied on what McNamara (1996 as cited in Allen & Knight, 2009) refers to as a
priori construct validity of a rubric, according to which the content of a rubric is formed based on the available as well
as reliable literature on the topic. In fact, the proposed rubric completely adheres to this type of validity since it is
developed based on the qualities of creative writing on which the experts of the field (Burroway, 2011; Mills, 2006;
Saskatchewan, 1998) have consensus.
Additionally, following the guidelines of Allen and Knight (2009), to develop statistical evidence of rubric's accuracy,
a weak and strong writing sample were evaluated by three individual raters using the rubric. The results, compared
through ANOVA, appear in Table 4.
TABLE 4
ANOVA RESULT FOR STATISTICAL EVIDENCE OF RUBRICS ACCURACY
Sum of Squares
df
Mean Square
F
Sig.
Between Groups
7.500
1
7.500
45.000
.005
Within Groups
.500
3
.167
Total
8.000
4
Assessment of Group Dynamics
One of the primary purposes of the current study was to examine how group formation method namely, self-selected
and teacher-assigned learning style-based grouping, influences group dynamics. Since the instructor was not able to
observe all groups' behavior simultaneously, the participants were required to write a report to elaborate on any aspect
of their group experience they found significant.
Learning Style Questionnaire
Teacher-assigned grouping aimed to be based on students’ learning style. Thus, there was a need to identify
participants' learning style. For this purpose, Index of Learning Style (ILS) questionnaire, based on Felder and
Silverman's classification of learning styles (University of Bradford, 2008) (category 1 r=0.80, category 2 r=0.78,
category 3 r=0.87, category 4 r=0.72) was employed. ILS which aims to detect students' dominant learning preferences
is composed of 44 statements with 2 possible options (a or b), according to which learning preferences are divided into
four categories of activist/reflector, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global.
C. Procedure
Community model (Blyth & Sweet, 2008) was employed as the instructional method for teaching creative writing in
both classes except that the group formation method was manipulated to achieve the purpose of the present study.
Accordingly, one session before the onset of group works, the two classes were randomly assigned to student-selected
and teacher-assigned grouping conditions. In other words, in the student- selected group, the participants were asked to
self-select their groupmates (3-5, in line with community models' principle). However, in the teacher-assigned group, as
the objective was to use students’ learning style as the point of departure, students were first required to fill in the ILS
questionnaire. Then, the teacher, based on homogeneity of their learning style, put them into groups of 3 members each.
Then, community model was implemented in both classes. In other words, prior to class session each group member
was required to read her/his group members’ writing and put comments. During class, every group should present the
strengths and weaknesses of each work to the instructor whose main job was to facilitate the discussion and if necessary
to teach. This might include elaboration on a specific technique which could be used or bringing examples of works
which have used a specific technique successfully. Altogether, the primary purpose was to work toward some revision
strategies as an attempt to further develop the work. This process which continued over one academic semester resulted
in 8 pieces of writing for each individual student- including both initial drafts and revised texts. Finally, at the end of the
semester students were required to write a report commenting on any aspect of group work they found significant.
D. Data Analysis
The data underwent quantitative as well as qualitative analysis. The study aimed to examine whether and to what
extent group formation method (student-selected vs. teacher-assigned) influences group dynamics as well as outcome
(academic achievement). To this end, content analysis research technique was employed, which entails "making
replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use" (Krippendorff, 2004,
p. 18).Then, one-way ANOVA was conducted to compare group work accomplishment (in this case revision) across the
two group formation methods. Additionally, content analysis was used to detect the major features of group dynamics
as emerged in student written reports and to find out any possible differences of this kind among the two experimental
groups.
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IV. RESULTS
The quantitative and qualitative analysis of written reports as well as writing samples yielded the following findings
regarding group dynamics and group outcome (as manifested in performance quality), respectively.
A. Written Report
The qualitative analyses of reports revealed three major findings which are in line with McGrath's (1964, as cited in
Herre, 2010) model of group behavior which includes three categories of group input, group process and group outcome.
Input-process-output model maintains that input factors (group composition, size, etc.) influence group process in
significant ways and in turn influence group outcome (McGrath, 1964 as cited in Herre, 2010). Participants' experiences
within these categories differed significantly across the two group formation conditions, as described below.
Group Input
Input factors are classified into three levels of individual, group and environment (McGrath, 1964 as cited in Herre,
2010). Individual factors are members' characteristics such as skills, personalities, etc., while group composition and
size are regarded as the main input factors on group level (McGrath, 1964 as cited in Herre, 2010). These factors can
also be found at higher levels such as environment. Reward structure and level of environmental stress are among the
environmental elements which McGrath considers as input factors.
Group member characteristic was the major aspect of group input on which the majority of participants from student-
selected grouping condition commented. Specifically, 58% of respondents reported that their group partners were their
close friends, 8.33% considered the members as homogeneous in terms of writing skills while the remaining did not
refer to the issue (see excerpt 1 as an example).
My group members were my friends.
We had to choose members of the groups on our own, so we already knew about our classmates' English proficiency
and writing skills. If group members were randomly chosen, probably members were more different.
Additionally, both friendship and homogeneity of writing skill were perceived as positive aspects of group input (see
excerpt 2 as an example).
The people in my group were my close friends. Therefore, we could work in a friendly atmosphere.
We knew each other well and knew how to work effectively together.
Instructor-assigned groups, on the other hand, did not comment on any specific characteristics of their partners.
However, more than half of them believed that when groups are formed by the teacher, chance is the sole factor which
determines the members' effectiveness (whether to be put in a group who cooperates or not). However, among the
respondents, most (63.6%) considered themselves as lucky enough to have helpful working partners, while the
remaining (36.3%) reported the opposite and preferred to select their group members themselves (see excerpt 3 as an
example).
Fortunately, the members of the group which I was put in helped me a lot about different problems and their work
was helpful as well as what they told me.
I am more comfortable choosing my own groupmates.
Group Process
Process refers to "group behavior that can be observed" which might include time spent together, communication,
encouragement among members (McGrath, 1964 as cited in Herre, 2010), conflict, strategy discussion, boundary
management (Glastein, 1984 as cited in Herre, 2010) and any further factor which might be linked to group process.
One of the key aspects of group process on which participants of student-selected groups frequently commented was
the ease with which they were able to communicate with one another. In other words, 50% of respondents reported an
easy communication among the groupmates (see excerpt 4 as an example).
We could easily discuss and make decisions.
Interestingly, all these participants attributed this quality to the friendship factor among group members (see excerpt
5 as an example).
Working in a group with my friends and having the opportunity of choosing my group members made me
communicate more easily.
We, ourselves, selected our group members and it helped us to be more communicative in a group with some of our
close friends.
Another aspect of group process which emerged in several respondents' comments refers to the degree of willingness
to accept criticisms from each other. This view was held by 25% of students. Similarly, students believed that it was the
close relationship among members which contributed to this quality (see excerpt 6 as an example).
We were close with each other, so we could easily accept each other's opinion.
Moreover, another significant aspect of group process on which the members of both grouping conditions had
censuses was related to cooperation among group partners. Specifically, the majority of student-selected groups (72%)
and more than half of teacher-assigned ones (54%) considered their groupmates as satisfactorily cooperative. However,
the remaining respondents did not refer to this issue (see excerpt 7 as an example).
We worked successfully in our team and had no problem. We read our writings together, found the problems,
corrected and revised them.
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My group members and I commented on each other's writing and corrected the mistakes.
Group Output
Output is the outcome of group process or in Gladstein's (1984, as cited in Herre, 2010) words it is group
effectiveness. Although outcome is primarily concerned with quality of group performance, it is never restricted to it. In
other words, there are other factors such as members' attitude which are among the crucial aspects of group outcome
(McGrath, 1964 as cited in Herre, 2010).
The two group formation methods did not differ significantly in their perception toward the outcome. In other words,
both groups regarded the group work as a beneficial activity. In particular, almost half of student-selected groups (54%)
and most of teacher-assigned ones (72%) considered the outcome as favorable (see excerpt 8 as an example).
Student-selected grouping method: We discussed our problems in a short time and the attempts really affected my
work.
Teacher-assigned grouping method: With my group members' evaluations I got to see my work from someone else's
perspective as well. For example, when I wrote a piece it was intelligible to me but not to others and through my
groupmate's corrections I could turn it into something which was more vivid and tangible.
However, a handful of participants from both grouping conditions considered the result of group work as unfavorable.
Specifically, 27% of both groups' respondents highlighted that it was due to lack of sufficient time devoted to group
work that the result was not quality work (see excerpt 9 as an example).
Teacher-assigned grouping method: We did not meet the criteria during our limited sessions and the limited time.
Student-selected grouping method: We had not enough time for analyzing papers. So, it did not help me to learn
much.
Besides, although the majority of teacher-assigned groups were quite satisfied with their group members, almost half
of them (45.4%) believed that instructors must give students the opportunity to choose those with whom they prefer to
work (see excerpt 2 as an example).
If I have to do group work I am more comfortable choosing my groupmates.
The teacher selected our group members instead of us.
B. Writing Samples
As stated earlier, the primary purpose of community model is to work toward revision. Thus, the two participating
groups' (student-selected vs. teacher-assigned) mean scores for the degree of improvement from initial draft to revision
was compared to explore which grouping condition accomplished the task (revision) more successfully. The descriptive
statistics for both groups are presented in Table 5.
TABLE 5
DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS FOR DEGREE OF IMPROVEMENT FROM INITIAL DRAFT TO REVISED TEXT ACROSS THE TWO GROUP FORMATION
CONDITIONS
N
Mean
Std.
Deviation
Std. Error
95% Confidence Interval for
Mean
Minimum
Maximum
Lower
Bound
Upper Bound
student-selected
grouping method
16
.9844
1.06250
.26563
.4182
1.5505
.00
3.00
Teacher-assigned
grouping method
16
1.6563
.76308
.19077
1.2496
2.0629
.25
3.00
Total
32
1.3203
.97185
.17180
.9699
1.6707
.00
3.00
Results indicated that mean scores of improvement were higher for teacher-assigned groups than student-selected
ones (Table 5). However, in order to find out whether the difference was significant, one-way between-groups analysis
of variance (ANOVA) was conducted (Table 6).
TABLE 6
ANOVA RESULTS FOR DEGREE OF IMPROVEMENT FROM INITIAL DRAFT TO REVISED TEXT ACROSS THE TWO GROUP FORMATION CONDITIONS
Sum of Squares
df
Mean Square
F
Sig.
Between Groups
3.611
1
3.611
4.221
.05
Within Groups
25.668
30
.856
Total
29.279
31
As shown in Table 6, there was a statistically significant difference at the 0.05 level in mean scores for the two group
formation conditions (F (1, 30) = 4.22). Additionally, the effect size calculated, using the eta squared, was 0.12.
Following the guidelines proposed by Cohen (1988 as cited in Pallant, 2005) (0.01=small effect, 0.06=moderate effect,
0.14=large effect), this value implies a very large effect size. This suggests that teacher-assigned groups significantly
outperformed student-selected ones.
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In brief, it can be concluded that although students of teacher-assigned group formation method showed no definite
advantage over those of student-selected grouping in terms of group dynamics, they noticeably outperformed
participants from student-selected grouping condition.
V. CONCLUSION & DISCUSSION
A. The Impact of Group Formation Method (Student-selected vs. Teacher-assigned) on Group Dynamics
This study provides evidence that decisions about group composition significantly influence group work experience.
The results reveal that group dynamics varies considerably across the two group formation conditions (student-selected
vs. teacher-assigned). Specifically, students of self-selected grouping reported that pre-existing friendship was the major
criterion upon which they relied to choose their working partners. Interestingly, they regarded this characteristic as a
significant factor contributing to ease of communication, facilitation of cooperation and acceptance among members.
Altogether these factors resulted in what they viewed as quality work.
These results parallel the findings of previous research (Basta, 2011; Chapman et al., 2006; Hilton & Philips, 2008)
which revealed that whenever students are allowed to do group member selection, they choose those with whom they
are friend which in turn leads to comfortable communication (Chapman et al. 2006; Russell, 2010), high satisfaction
(Chapman et al. 2006; Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000; Matta et al., 2010) and high cooperation (Bacon et al., 1999;
Mushtaq et al., 2012) among group members.
Teacher-assigned groups, on the other hand, considered chance as the sole factor influencing the effectiveness of
group members (whether to be put in a group whose members are hardworking or not). Our findings confirmed those of
Hilton and Philips ( 2008) indicating that although participants' initial perception toward this group formation method
(teacher-assigned grouping) seems negative, during the actual group work the majority found their partners as
satisfactorily cooperative which in turn led them to regard the outcome as quality work.
Furthermore, as far as student-selected method of group formation is concerned, several studies indicate that when
group members are too close to each other (friends) it would distract students from the main task (Mitchell et al., 2004),
lower acquisition of social skills (Basta, 2011) and lead to academic homogeneity of members which further endanger
learning performance (Oakley et al., 2004). Although none of these problems were reported by the participants of the
present study, the outcome of group work (in spite of the initial homogeneity of participants' creative writing ability as
well as similarity of instruction for both grouping conditions, many of student-selected groups did not accomplish group
task -revision- and many of those who did exhibited lower quality than those of teacher-assigned groups) is indicative
of the fact that despite the reported benefits of grouping based on pre-existing friendship, student-selected group
formation method poses certain problems.
It seems that student-selected method of group formation suffered from what Hilton and Philips (2008) call lack of
task-orientedness- that is, the tendency to evade working on the designated task. One possible explanation as to why
student-selected groups were not much task oriented might be that pre-existing friendship led to debilitative tendency
among group partners to spend too much group time on off-topic talk (socialize) rather than focus on the academic task
(work) (Chapman et al., 2006; Hilton & Philips, 2008; Johnson, Johnson & Holubec, 1993 as cited in Mitchell et al.
2004; Mac, 2011; Mitchell et al., 2004; Shindler, 2010).
Moreover, it seems that during her experience with community model, Kostlnik (2010) anticipated such problem
when she expressed her concern over how the interaction among self-selected groups would go on while the instructor
is dealing with another group. Michaelsen (2004, the proposer of team-based learning) even goes further and argues that
giving students the responsibility to form their own groups leads to disaster. As a result, he, like many others, posits that
teachers should directly take control of group formation process as an attempt to avoid pre-existing cliques enter into a
group and thus endanger group cohesiveness.
Additionally, it appears that Blythe and Sweet (2008) (the proposers of community model of teaching creative
writing) did not recognize this problem since they team-taught the course, according to which each instructor was
responsible for only a handful of groups (2 or 3) which had certainly facilitated managing the groups and specifically
keeping the group members on the task.
B. The Impact of Group Formation Method (Student-selected vs. Teacher-assigned) on Group Outcome
The results reveal that the outcome of group work outcome considerably vary across the two group formation
conditions. Specifically, groups formed based on the teacher's decision outperformed groups which were selected by the
students. In other words, teacher-assigned groups were more successful at accomplishing the task of revision than the
other group. The results are consistent with previous studies (Bachman, 2010; Dillon & Cheney, 2009; Lawrenz &
Munch, 1984; Oakley et al., 2004) which confirmed that when groups are formed based on teachers' decision it would
lead to better outcome. In particular, Mitchell et al. (2004) argue that in comparison with student-selected groups,
teacher-assigned groups are more task oriented and thus fulfill group activities much more successfully.
However, this finding seems to contradict the results of Mushtaq et al. (2012) and Mahenthiran and Rouse (2000) in
which a better group outcome was reported for student-selected grouping condition. This contrast in finding may be due
to the fact that unlike the present study, these two studies revealed a significantly better group dynamics for student-
selected groups than teacher-assigned ones which then translated into a better outcome.
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In brief, the findings of this study are in line with Chapman et al.'s (2006) investigation which revealed that although
student-selected groups seem to benefit from high cooperation, easy communication and positive attitude toward group
outcome, they falter when it comes to task-orientedness which is considered as one of the most significant aspects of
group dynamics that directly influences group work outcome. Furthermore, as far as teacher-assigned grouping method
is concerned, our findings parallel those of Mitchell et al. (2004) which proved that teacher-assigned groups exhibit
more commitment to the academic task assigned for group work and are thus more successful at accomplishing it (as
evidenced by the quality of performance ).
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Jaleh Hassaskhah is currently an assistant professor at the English Department of the University of Guilan. Her areas of interest
include curriculum development, assessment and exploring new horizons in teaching language skills, which has led to the publication
of different articles and books. She has also served as the reviewer and lecturer on these topics both nationally and internationally.
Hamideh Mozaffari holds an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). She is currently a language teacher at
Allame Tabatabaee Language Centre (ALC).
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... Thirdly, there was a difference between course formats in the selection of group members, namely instructor-selected groups in the DE course and student-selected groups in the face-to-face course format. Typically when students are able to select their groups they base this decision on pre-existing friendships and this familiarity is associated with improved communication, cooperation and satisfaction with the outcome of GW (Bacon et al., 1999;Chapman et al., 2006;Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000;Mushtaq et al., 2012;Russell, 2010). However, there can be challenges with remaining on task while conducting GW (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mitchell et al., 2004;) and lower acquisition of skills (Basta, 2011) compared to instructor-assigned groups. ...
... Typically when students are able to select their groups they base this decision on pre-existing friendships and this familiarity is associated with improved communication, cooperation and satisfaction with the outcome of GW (Bacon et al., 1999;Chapman et al., 2006;Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000;Mushtaq et al., 2012;Russell, 2010). However, there can be challenges with remaining on task while conducting GW (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mitchell et al., 2004;) and lower acquisition of skills (Basta, 2011) compared to instructor-assigned groups. Despite negative initial reactions to instructor-assigned groups, a functional group dynamic is usually achieved with satisfactory cooperation resulting in a positive outcome overall (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Hilton & Philips 2008;). ...
... However, there can be challenges with remaining on task while conducting GW (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mitchell et al., 2004;) and lower acquisition of skills (Basta, 2011) compared to instructor-assigned groups. Despite negative initial reactions to instructor-assigned groups, a functional group dynamic is usually achieved with satisfactory cooperation resulting in a positive outcome overall (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Hilton & Philips 2008;). Thus, the anxiety associated with not knowing group members decreases over time as group members begin to know each other and their work ethics (Hilliard et al., 2020), a process that can be facilitated by the use of a Group Work Contract. ...
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... Collaborative learning through GW generate spaces for social interaction, allows for direct relationships between peers, and creates environments that enable participatory knowledge building, favor communication between students, and increase shared responsibilities [19]. According to Davis and Michalaka [29], collaborative learning allows students in an environment of interaction to integrate the knowledge and social aspects necessary for the exercise of their profession. ...
... In addition, achieving heterogeneity is a critical factor to improve individual performance in cooperative learning groups [17]. Actually, instructors should directly take control of group formation process to avoid pre-existing closeness between members that endangers group cohesiveness [19]. One way to evaluate the interactions between groups of people is social network analysis. ...
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... Collaborative learning through GW generate spaces for social interaction, allows for direct relationships between peers, and creates environments that enable participatory knowledge building, favor communication between students, and increase shared responsibilities [19]. According to Davis and Michalaka [29], collaborative learning allows students in an environment of interaction to integrate the knowledge and social aspects necessary for the exercise of their profession. ...
... In addition, achieving heterogeneity is a critical factor to improve individual performance in cooperative learning groups [17]. Actually, instructors should directly take control of group formation process to avoid pre-existing closeness between members that endangers group cohesiveness [19]. One way to evaluate the interactions between groups of people is social network analysis. ...
... When effective communication is achieved within social networks, the members develop trust. The trust generated in their interactions drives commitment with the accomplishment of assigned tasks [19,36]. The fulfillment of commitments in engineering groups has been associated with better performances [37,38]. ...
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... When conducting group work there are benefits associated with both self-selected and instructor-selected group members. Previous studies have shown that when students are able to select their group members, the primary criterion that they rely upon when forming groups is having a pre-existing friendship, which is perceived to facilitate communication, cooperation and proved satisfaction with the outcome of group work (Bacon, Stewart & Silver, 1999;Chapman, Meuter, Toy & Write, 2006;Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000;Mushtaq, Murteza, Rashid & Khalid, 2012;Russell, 2010). Due to the pre-existing social relationships between group members in self-selected groups there can be challenges with remaining on task while conducting group work (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mitchell, Reilly, Bramwell, Solnosky & Lilly, 2004) and lower acquisition of skills (Basta, 2011) compared to instructor-assigned groups. ...
... Previous studies have shown that when students are able to select their group members, the primary criterion that they rely upon when forming groups is having a pre-existing friendship, which is perceived to facilitate communication, cooperation and proved satisfaction with the outcome of group work (Bacon, Stewart & Silver, 1999;Chapman, Meuter, Toy & Write, 2006;Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mahenthiran & Rouse, 2000;Mushtaq, Murteza, Rashid & Khalid, 2012;Russell, 2010). Due to the pre-existing social relationships between group members in self-selected groups there can be challenges with remaining on task while conducting group work (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mitchell, Reilly, Bramwell, Solnosky & Lilly, 2004) and lower acquisition of skills (Basta, 2011) compared to instructor-assigned groups. Furthermore, despite a frequent negative initial reaction to instructor-assigned groups, a functional group dynamic is achieved with satisfactory cooperation resulting in a positive outcome overall (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Hilton & Philips 2008). ...
... Due to the pre-existing social relationships between group members in self-selected groups there can be challenges with remaining on task while conducting group work (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Mitchell, Reilly, Bramwell, Solnosky & Lilly, 2004) and lower acquisition of skills (Basta, 2011) compared to instructor-assigned groups. Furthermore, despite a frequent negative initial reaction to instructor-assigned groups, a functional group dynamic is achieved with satisfactory cooperation resulting in a positive outcome overall (Hassaskhah & Mozaffari, 2015;Hilton & Philips 2008). In the current study the formation of groups permitted students to self-select their group members, wherein 70% of students knew at least one or more group members socially prior to conducting group, wherein the remaining 30% of students who did not form a group were instructor-selected to work together on the Group Literature Critique Assignment. ...
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Collaborative group assignments in undergraduate education are important for promoting skill development and preparation for the workplace; however, they are subject to the challenges associated with group dynamics. We determined the effectiveness of a Group Work Contract to facilitate professional behaviours and positive experiences amongst fourth year nutritional science students (n=144) while working collaboratively to complete a Group Literature Critique Assignment designed to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking skills. Changes in students’ attitudes and approaches to group work were assessed before and after completion of the contract and the assignment via two online surveys (Pre- and Post-Group Work Surveys). Completion of the Group Work Contract improved group dynamics including i) frequency of communication, ii) distribution of effort between group members, iii) mutual reliability, iv) respectfulness and inclusivity. Students also reported fewer group problems and an improved ability to work collaboratively in problem solving (P<0.05). Importantly, students reported reduced feelings of anxiety related to group learning and perceptions of achieving a better outcome versus working alone and learning more as a result of working in a group (P<0.05). Additionally, students reported an improvement in their job readiness perceptions with respect to the development of their scientific literacy and critical thinking skills as a result of completing the Group Literature Critique Assignment (P<0.05). Collectively, this data demonstrates that structuring the group work process through the implementation of a Group Work Contract can support the development of positive and effective group dynamics resulting in reduced student anxiety about collaborative learning and perception of a better overall outcome.
... Many approaches can be used by instructors to form or assign teams, which can include teaming students by learning styles and personalities [17], academic performance based on GPA [18,19], a peer-teaching environment (e.g., the jigsaw method and latent jigsaw method) [20], or even by undisclosed instructor selection criteria [21]. Metacognition, critical and creative thinking, and enhanced learning are improved when teams are assigned by the instructor, and as a result, team assessment becomes critical to evaluate this type of learning enhancements [22]. ...
... From the three cases evaluated in this study, case III had the lowest student final report grades, as shown in Fig. 2. Results showed that there were not significant differences in the grade achieved on the final report when the teams were self-selected (case II) and when the teams were assigned based on GPA (case I). This result, however, could be due to the [22]. ...
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This study focuses on the impact of team formation approach on teamwork effectiveness and performance spanning three years of instruction of the chemical engineering unit operations laboratory, which is an upper-level undergraduate laboratory course. Team formation approaches changed each year, and assessment tools, including peer-assessment, academic performance, and course evaluations, were employed to evaluate team performance. Approaches included three cases: instructor-selected teams based on GPA with the objective of a similar cumulative average GPA for each team, student self-selected teams, and a combination of self-selected teams with instructor-selected teams for a final experiment. For the third case, new teams were assigned based on a common interest to learn about a specific final laboratory experiment or research topic, and the instructor identification of both low-and high-performing students in the prior teams. Team effectiveness and performance were assessed using CATME, a teamwork VALUE rubric developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and numerical peer-contribution forms. In addition, assigned team leaders for each experiment provided feedback regarding individual team member performance, including contributions to reports and presentations. Results demonstrated that less than five percent of the students presented team conflicts when students self-selected teams for the laboratory course; however, strong or weak teams were formed leading to unbalanced laboratory performance. On the contrary, course evaluation outcomes were improved when students were assigned to teams based on cumulative GPA or reassigned by the instructor for the completion of a final experiment. Overall, this study demonstrates that a combination of student-selected and instructor-selected teams during the same semester led to better course outcomes and enhanced individual experiences, as shown by the students' evaluations of the laboratory course.
... This situation creates an issue that students don't exchange information effectively and spend more time to complete group assignments. It also noted that self-selected groups of friends might spend more time off task discussing extracurricular issues [23]. ...
... We initially considered whether this was the result of strong students influencing weaker students; however, group organization within each course suggests this is not the case (Fig. 2d). With the exception of one class in one term (24 participants assigned by their teacher), students were allowed to self-organize into working groups and they chose to work with other students of relatively similar academic performance (as indicated by course grade), a trend observed in other studies 31,32 . Remarkably, EE students not only excelled during Discovery when compared to their own performance in class, but this cohort also achieved significantly higher average grades in each of the deliverables throughout the program when compared to the remaining Discovery cohort (Fig. 3). ...
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The multi-disciplinary nature of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers often renders difficulty for high school students navigating from classroom knowledge to post-secondary pursuits. Discrepancies between the knowledge-based high school learning approach and the experiential approach of future studies leaves some students disillusioned by STEM. We present Discovery , a term-long inquiry-focused learning model delivered by STEM graduate students in collaboration with high school teachers, in the context of biomedical engineering. Entire classes of high school STEM students representing diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds engaged in iterative, problem-based learning designed to emphasize critical thinking concomitantly within the secondary school and university environments. Assessment of grades and survey data suggested positive impact of this learning model on students’ STEM interests and engagement, notably in under-performing cohorts, as well as repeating cohorts that engage in the program on more than one occasion. Discovery presents a scalable platform that stimulates persistence in STEM learning, providing valuable learning opportunities and capturing cohorts of students that might otherwise be under-engaged in STEM.
... Prior research has shown that student selected groups often yield a more harmonious experience (because students often select to work with people they already know), whereas instructor assigned groups are more likely to present social, communication, and organizational challenges [8]. However, instructor assigned groups can often be more task oriented and more successful at completing group assignments since self-selected groups of friends may spend more time offtask discussing extracurricular issues [9]. Further, prior studies have indicated that self-selected groups may be more appropriate for upper-division courses where students already know one another and know how to work well together [5], whereas instructor assigned groups may be more appropriate for lower division courses to insure that all students do not feel the social pressure to join with friends [10] and shy students or students from historically excluded identities do not feel left out or isolated [11]. ...
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