One of the advantages of teaching group dynamics is that the subject matter itself can be created and demonstrated within the confines of the classroom—both traditional ones as well as those that make use of distance learning technologies. To facilitate this process, I have gathered together a number of exercises and activities for group dynamics in a resource that can be downloaded here: Instructional Resources for Group Dynamics. These activities were designed to satisfy the needs of those who wish to demonstrate the application of theoretical principles and empirical results in a small group setting.
Learning (not growth) Activities. The activities offered here are linked to the content of the chapter in a direct way. They focus is on application and demonstration of text material to group experiences rather than personal growth or self-insight.
Grading and Engagement. Not all students enjoy, or take advantage of, small group learning experiences. Meyers (1997) and Forrest and Miller (2003) both note that some students will not work very hard when in groups, and they identify a number of steps to take to reduce social loafing. Meyers provides a very detailed summary of group activities that can be used in group dynamics class. In some cases—particularly when students work in long-term groups—the only way to insure fairness is the have students evaluate one another’s level of contribution and heavily weight the student input when assigning grades.
Experiential Learning and Reflection. The activities can be carried out in class or outside of class. Most involve forming small groups, giving the group time to solve a problem or complete a specific task, and then reviewing the implications of the experience in a debriefing session. Students tend to enjoy the activities, but then not link the experience back to course concepts. The solution: have them prepare a short paper on the project.
Consent. Some of the teaching ideas presented in this manual require withholding information from students, misleading them in some way, or role-playing. If you use such methods forewarn students at the beginning of the semester and solicit their informed consent. Also, be certain to leave sufficient time for a thorough debriefing following the exercise.
Measurements Issues. Some of the activities involve asking students to complete self-report inventories of basic personality constructs, such as leadership tendencies. Make clear to students that these instruments were designed for research purposes rather than practical assessment, and they are only approximate measures of their standing on the attribute.
The Internet offers a range of resources for instructors who wish to use technology in their teaching. Students can access databases of abstracts dealing with groups, review the homepages of researchers in the field, read and respond to interactive programs that demonstrate group processes, take part in online experiments, study the activities of contemporary groups in media reports, and visit the homepages of groups. These resources are described in more detail on this site.
Forest, K. D., & Miller, R. L. (2003). Not another group project: Why good teachers should care about bad group experiences. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 244-246.
Meyers, S. A. (1997). Increasing student participation and productivity in small-group activities for psychology classes. Teaching of Psychology, 24, 105-115.
I developed these materials over the years in both graduate and undergraduate classes dealing with groups, and I offer my thanks to my students for providing me with so much useful feedback about their effectiveness. I also wish to thank colleagues who have contributed their energy, ideas, and activities to this compilation of teaching exercises, including Ray Archer, Jennifer Burnette, Glenn Littlepage, Dick Moreland, Judy Nye, Ernest O’Boyle, Ray Pope, Paul Story, Gwen Wittenbaum, and the participants at various workshops on teaching group dynamics.