Monday, June 15, 2009

Group work - creative or conformist?

There's a post on Psyblog that I found interesting called Why group norms kill creativity. There is considerable evidence it seems that group work can actually stifle creativity due to the fact that groups tend to be focused on reaching a consensus. Groups quickly establish norms that govern their interaction and because of these norms it is very difficult to propose radically different ideas if they threaten the balance of the group.

We've all been in situations where you realize that your opinion is in conflict with the rest of the group and the most diplomatic move is to go with the flow or to make your idea more palatable. But what if your original proposal was right? How many good ideas have been sacrificed to please the group? Are there significant differences between working in physical groups and working in net-based groups?

George Siemens comments nicely on his blog, elearnspace:
"Wisdom of the crowds is often misinterpreted as suggesting that people are intelligent when they think together. It’s more accurate to say that people are intelligent when they think alone and that this intelligence is amplified when they connect. It’s a subtle but vital distinction. A homogeneous group is often not very effective at creativity. Individual diversity, connected, produces substantial advances. A group can refine, extend, augment, and even perfect certain concepts and ideas."

In education we assume that working in groups is good in that students will offer mutual support and provide a social dimension to the learning process. However, not all students appreciate the benefits of groups and I recently heard of students actually dropping out of courses due to a group assignment. Group work can indeed be frustrating when so much energy is required reaching a consensus or if some members are not willing to pull their weight. Some part-time distance students can only study late in the evenings making synchronous meetings with the rest of the group almost impossible.

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