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ACS Cent Sci. 2017 Jun 28;3(6):614-620. doi: 10.1021/acscentsci.7b00133. Epub 2017 May 30.

Group Problem Solving in Class Improves Undergraduate Learning.

Author information

1
Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, Northwest Corner Building, MC 4846, 550 West 120th Street, New York, New York 10027, United States.
2
Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, United States.
3
Department of Pediatrics and Department of Population and Family Health, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, United States.
4
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, New York 10032, United States.

Abstract

Developing methods for improving student learning is a long-standing goal in undergraduate science education. However, the extent to which students working on problems in small groups versus individually results in improved learning among undergraduate science students has not been evaluated in a randomized controlled trial. We have performed such a trial with 80 students in an undergraduate biochemistry class, in which students were randomized to either learning in groups or learning individually. All students participated in the same class, which consisted of a lecture with periodic breaks for students to solve problems using an audience response system. Students in the individual learning condition answered these questions on their own, but students in the group-based learning condition answered these questions in an assigned group of four students. At the end of the class, all students then took the same exam as individuals. The exam had two types of questions-recall questions, in which students had to simply recall information provided to them, and predict questions, in which students had to apply their new knowledge to a new context. Students in the individual and group-based learning conditions performed similarly well on recall questions. However, students who had been in the group-based learning condition performed significantly better as individuals on the predict questions. This suggests that learning in groups may be more effective than individual learning for undergraduate science students, particularly for applying their knowledge to new contexts; this highlights the potential need for pedagogical approaches in undergraduate science courses that incorporate learning in groups.

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