I’m migrating this discussion from my Facebook page to the blog, because I think it poses an important pedagogical question: can we learn history in groups?
I gave my undergraduate students course evaluations last week. Their responses reveal that they really like my class in general—they enjoy my lecture style, and the way I lead large group discussions. But their one big complaint (other than that I assign too much reading, which is a complaint my American students typically make as well) is that they want to do more group work. Danes work more by consensus and this apparently carries over into their classroom expectations. One student even wrote: “More group work would be nice—we are Danes, after all!” In contrast, I never liked working in groups as student, and I don’t particularly like assigning group work as a teacher.
This is not to say that I don’t have experience using group work in my classroom. I taught high school for two years, where group work is often expected, and sometimes even fruitful. And in my position at Illinois State University, I regularly teach a teaching methods course for students training to be secondary history and social studies teachers. In that course I sometimes put my students in groups, mostly because I know they will be expected to do the same as teachers, and thus need pedagogical models.
But even with such teaching experience, I don’t particularly like putting students in groups. I think it breeds conformity, which then acts as a barrier to thinking. I realize this probably reflects my biases, as an American perhaps, or more likely as someone who simply learns best in solitude—reading, writing, and thinking. So what say you all?