For Faculty: Promoting Study Groups in Your Course
Would you like to encourage your students to study together? Consider promoting study groups.
Academic Support & Learning Advancement offers a Peer-Guided Study Group program, which enables students to benefit from collaborative learning and a trained peer facilitator. However, Peer-Guided Study Groups are not available in all classes. If your course is not supported but you'd like to encourage your students to study with others, read on.
If you are interested in exploring Peer-Guided Study Groups for your class, please contact us.
Why should I promote study groups?
A small-group peer learning environment complements the traditional classroom environment, ideally providing a comfortable space for “academic risk-taking”: asking questions that may reveal a student’s confusion, trying out ideas even when they’re not confident they’re on the right track, and even admitting outright that they’re not feeling confident about the material. Students studying together also have greater opportunity to explain and elaborate on their ideas than they might in class or studying alone, and as a result can more easily see where they might be shaky on the material. And studying collaboratively means that students are observing one another’s thought processes and learning strategies, adding to their own “toolbox” of strategies for learning.
How should students organize into study groups?
There are many factors that influence how effective a study-group experience will be, and the composition of the group is one. Students’ background knowledge, confidence level, social identity, and personality traits all play a role here. The research around “ideal grouping” is mixed and complex, but there is some evidence that in the college setting, groups comprising students who bring different levels of familiarity with the material can create an overall better learning experience (Micari, Van Winkle & Pazos, 2016; Wiedmann et al., 2012), and that cognitive diversity in small groups can improve students’ ability to transfer knowledge to new kinds of problems (Canham et al., 2012) — although at least one study (Baer, 2003) had contradictory findings. Being in the minority within a group in terms of one's social or gender identity can also complicate the experience, and group environments lacking diversity may pose barriers for students with marginalized identities (Dasgupta et al., 2015; Hunn, 2014; Inzlicht et al., 2003).
Because pre-structuring groupings becomes especially complex for out-of-class meetings, you may want to simply pre-select times, allowing students to sign up according to their schedules. You can encourage productive and inclusive groups by offering study-group guidelines to your students, and actively encouraging them to reflect on these.
We are glad to have conversations with instructors about organizing study groups; if you are interested, please contact us.Note: For more formal project or task groups that are part of the course curriculum, you may want to play a more active role in determining group composition, particularly because students may be likely to select similar others to work with (Hinds et al., 2000). You may also want to play an active role in guiding group processes in formal project or task groups, both to support students' development as group members and help ensure that group tasks are not relegated based on gender or other social identities (Silbey, 2016).
Are there guidelines I can share with my students on making the most of a study group?
Yes! Please share these guidelines from Academic Support & Learning Advancement with your students.
Is there an easy way to help my students organize study groups?
Yes! Canvas has a function that allows you to easily set up groups.
Baer, J. (2003). Grouping and achievement in cooperative learning. College Teaching, 51(4), 169-175.
Canham, M. S., Wiley, J., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). When diversity in training improves dyadic problem solving. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(3), 421-430.
Dasgupta, N., Scircle, M. M., & Hunsinger, M. (2015). Female peers in small work groups enhance women's motivation, verbal participation, and career aspirations in engineering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(16), 4988-4993.
Hinds, P. J., Carley, K. M., Krackhardt, D., & Wholey, D. (2000). Choosing work group members: Balancing similarity, competence, and familiarity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 81(2), 226-251.
Hunn, V. (2014). African American students, retention, and team-based learning: A review of the literature and recommendations for retention at predominately white institutions. Journal of Black Studies, 45(4), 301-314.
Inzlicht, M., & Ben-Zeev, T. (2003). Do high-achieving female students underperform in private? The implications of threatening environments on intellectual processing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(4), 796.
Micari, M., Van Winkle, Z., & Pazos, P. (2016). Among friends: the role of academic-preparedness diversity in individual performance within a small-group STEM learning environment. International Journal of Science Education, 38(12), 1904-1922.
Silbey, S. (2016). Why do so many women who study engineering leave the field. Harvard Business Review, 1-2.
Wiedmann, M., Leach, R. C., Rummel, N., & Wiley, J. (2012). Does group composition affect learning by invention? Instructional Science, 40(4), 711-730.