Monday, January 5, 2015

Collaboration vs. Individual Accountability

Masur // Wikipedia
Recently, our department members have discussed balancing collaboration with individual accountability in flipped classes. A concern was raised that there is potential for students to become too reliant on the teacher for help. It is a fair question to raise; whenever students are allowed or asked to collaborate, there's the risk of group-think, as well as some students using group members, or in this case, the teacher to do the lion's share of thinking. 

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the concerns about individual accountability are not uniquely tied to flipped classes. It's really a question about individual accountability wherever there is collaboration. I have a handful of students, against my desire, who choose to do most or all assignments alone. There are others on the opposite end of that spectrum and need my probing eyes to ensure that they are not allowing their group members to do the heavy lifting. 

With that being said, it's important to be mindful of individual accountability. Last year, I struggled with some students moving through activities but not having a sense of what they should've learned. I think two major changes have helped with this problem. One change is moving toward a standards based grading format and away from assignment completion has emphasized learning. There is little incentive to race through or copy assignments. Students will only have to redo assignments and/or complete remediation activities if they struggle on assessments. Perhaps I shouldn't broadcast that I don't even see some assignments (like notes, problem sets or practice quizzes) unless there is an issue. Copying work from problem sets won't improve student grades at all, especially since answer keys are published. Their grades are solely based on what they demonstrated on summative assessments - not how many solutions they may have copied. The second change is the hot seat discussion. Before taking a quiz, students have to demonstrate learning on an individual basis. If I detect issues, then I can intervene. Again, there's little incentive to move on without understanding the content because the hot seat tends to, but not always, reveal issues. 

Some other ideas that come to mind: 
  1. mandate some of the assignments as individual only.
  2. set aside time each period or week as individual work time.
  3. mandate one-on-one check-in conversations with the teacher.
  4. encourage students, through journals and other reflective activities, to be mindful of how they complete assignments and their contribution to groups.
  5. in group activities, assign roles and make use of jigsaw activities. 
  6. cap group size to pairs (or triplets) depending on the workload.
  7. collect data (eg Google form) from students about group dynamics and intervene when appropriate.
Interestingly, I've heard rumblings of groups being dissatisfied with some of their members on the current project on Genetic Disorders. In this project, students are arranged in pairs with individual roles; it will be obvious which person didn't hold their weight. Perhaps since the focus in this case is  completing the assignment/artifact, rather than demonstrating learning, some students don't feel the crunch of individual accountability. 

I'm unsure if it's possible to eliminate any chance that students will rely too heavily on others. There are adults who take advantage of group members. At the very least, if we're diligent, we can minimize that chance and de-incentivize relying on others.