The idea that group projects are “project based learning” is untrue. Students have to THINK together in order for collaboration to take place. Students have to disagree, argue, negotiate, and agree in order for collaboration to take place. Group work refers to hard skills, such as “who will type this part up,” or “who can put pictures in the presentation.” Collaboration is a soft skill, which includes the ability to articulate ideas, discuss content, with the division of labor coming naturally from the higher order skills. Group work is the “dessert”- there are a few choices and it comes at the end of the main dish (i.e. after instruction). On the other hand, collaboration is the “buffet” (i.e. there are many choices to be made serves as the main source of learning).
I recently reflected on the importance not just of problem “solving” but also of problem “recognition.” To simply instruct students to solve a problem we have identified is not authentic. In your job, do you find yourself more apt to work hard on a problem that’s been assigned to you, or do you prefer to have ownership over the work you do? Do you think students are any different?
I think this presents a barrier to most teachers, who were trained and have practiced their craft in an age of prescriptive curriculum. Allowing students to work on a project that has never been done before requires the teacher to let go of some control; a very scary idea for some. Most teachers are comfortable with creating an project, and assigning the students to groups, and then asking them to ‘work together.’ This is not enough…students need the authentic practice of thinking together to identify a problem and generate a solution.