Review: The Teaching Professor Newsletter and Successful Group Projects

by Gina Merys, Assistant Director, Reinert Center

I often hear the laments of faculty about not having enough time to keep up with the current research in their disciplines, much less time to read about teaching and learning.  While one of the best parts of the summer months is that it can be a time to catch up on the research and reading that has piled up over the academic year, there are some resources on teaching and learning that are pithy enough to read even in mid-October.

One of my favorite such publications is the The Teaching Professor newsletter.  Part-original work, part distillations of longer texts, The Teaching Professor newsletter contains short articles on a wide variety of teaching and learning topics ranging from engaging students in the classroom to including higher-order thinking questions on exams. These are concise pieces, usually only one-two pages long, focused on topics that are current, useful, and researched.

For instance, in volume 27.6, the June/July 2013 issue, two articles concentrate on the perennial challenge of group projects.  Noting the enhanced learning opportunities group projects have both in creating a project beyond the size and scope an individual student can produce and in providing the opportunity to develop teamwork skills, “Improving Group Projects,” features ten recommendations about how to create conditions for group work that culminate in successful projects that meet high expectations for quality work.  The research behind this article supports scaffolding skills for working together, group formation, goal setting, and student roles, as well as creating interim reports and tracking contributions as important aspects to incorporate into a plan for creating group projects.

In, “Laziness and Apathy are Not the Only Reasons Students Don’t Pull Their Weight in Groups,” the authors point to the exact assumption both faculty and students make about students who do not contribute in group projects.  This assumption is primarily responsible for instructors not including group work in their classes and for student frustration during group work.  The article works to move beyond a blanket answer to this challenge and takes the opportunity to explore the other reasons for noncontributors’ behavior.   As the article reveals additional reasons why some students do not contribute in groups it also gives subtle suggestions on possible ways to address the potential situations before they occur.

These two articles, which together only take up two pages of the newsletter, give significant insight and clear recommendations on ways to think about incorporating group projects to more meaningful and successful ends.


“Improving Group Projects” and “Laziness and Apathy are not the Only Reasons Students Don’t Pull Their Weight in Groups.” The Teaching Professor. 27.6 (June/July 2013): 4-5.

Image courtesy of Magna Publications