DoingCL - Group Roles





Group Roles

When setting up collaborative learning activities, the instructor must decide whether to assign group roles or to let the group members decide. Some criteria to consider may include the educational maturity of the students, their familiarity with group work, and the available time for the activity.

Some groups function best if they decide the roles themselves. This is often true with more mature students or students familiar with group work. However, students may opt for the role they are most comfortable with and avoid the opportunity to develop other skills. If this is the beginning of the course, this may be a reasonable approach since it is non-threatening. Alternatively, the instructor can simply rotate roles within the group after the first activity to assure that all students experience a multiude of roles. This is especially useful if there are a series of week-long tasks for the group. Fewer roles may be needed for short or simple tasks. For example, a brainstorming session probably only needs a recorder. See Ann Burgess's teaching story to see what roles her groups use.

Here are some examples of roles individual team members can play. Your groups may require somewhat different roles or combinations of roles (Johnson, et al., 1991; Millis and Cottell, 1998; Smith, 1996):

  • Group facilitator: moderates discussions, keeps the group on task, assures work is done by all, and makes sure all have opportunity to participate and learn.

  • Timekeeper: monitors time and moves group along so that they complete the task in the available time, keeps area clean, assumes role of any missing group member if there is no wildcard member.

  • Recorder: takes notes of the group's discussion and prepares a written conclusion.

  • Checker: makes sure that all group members understand the concepts and the group's conclusions.

  • Summarizer: restates the group's conclusions or answers.

  • Elaborator: relates the discussion with prior concepts and knowledge.

  • Research-Runner: gets needed materials and is the liaison between groups and between their group and the instructor.
  • Wildcard: assumes role of any missing member.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G., Jr. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher education faculty, American Council on Education, Series on Higher Education. The Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ.

Smith, K. A. (1996). "Cooperative Learning: Making 'Group work' Work" In Sutherland, T. E., and Bonwell, C. C. (Eds.), Using active learning in college classes: A range of options for faculty, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 67.

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