Group Work Sucks!...Preparing for and Managing Student Resistance to Active Learning

Center for Teaching and Learning Workshop February 2018, Susan Shadle

Blog posts on student resistance and reluctance:


In online environments:

Articles & Books about Student Resistance to Active Learning and Working in Groups:

Seidel, S. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2013). "What if students revolt?" Considering Student Resistance: Origins, Options, and Opportunities for Investigation. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(4), 586-595.

Felder, RM., & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction.

College Teaching, 44, 43—47. Retrieved from

Felder, R.M. (2007). Sermons for grumpy campers. Chem. Engr. Education, 41 (3), pp. 183-184. Retrieved from

"Hang in There: Dealing with Student Resistance to Learner-Centered Teaching."

Shekhar, P., Demonbrun, M., Borrego, M., Finelli, C., Prince, M., Henderson, C., & Waters, C.

(2015) Development of an Observation Protocol to Study Undergraduate Engineering Student Resistance to Active Learning, International Journal of Engineering Education, 31 (2), 597—6 http://homepages.wmich.eduFchenders/Publications/2015ShekharIJEE.pdf (A preliminary study based on 4 case study observations and a newly developed instrument to empirically determine strategies that reduce resistance.)

Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, by Maryellen Weimer. Jossey-Bass, 2002. Chapter 7 is "Responding to Resistance "

Center for Teaching and Learning Workshop February 2018, Susan Shadle:

  • Group Work Sucks!...Preparing for and Managing Student Resistance to Active Learning.

  • Ideas for framing active learning in my course.

  • Supporting Student Learning once the course is underway.

  • Talking points for responding to student resistance in my course.

Sermons for Grumpy Campers

Student: "Those group activities in class are a waste of time. I'm paying tuition for you to teach me, not to trade ideas with students who don't know any more than I do!"

Professor: "I agree that my job is to teach you, but to me teaching means making learning happen and not just putting out information. I've got lots of research that says people learn through practice and feedback, not by someone telling them what they're supposed to know. What you're doing in those short class activities are the same things you'll have to do in the homework and exams, except now when you get to the homework you will have already practiced them and gotten feedback. You'll find that the homework will go a lot more smoothly and you'll probably do better on the exams.

(Let me know if you'd like to see that research.)"

S: "I don't like working on homework in groups—why can't I work by myself?"

P: "I get that you're unhappy and I'm sorry about it, but I've got to be honest with you: My job here is not to make you happy—it's to prepare you to be a chemical engineer. Here's what's not going to happen in your first day on the job. They're not going to say 'Welcome to the company, Mr. Jones. Tell me how you like to work—by yourself or with other people?' No. The first thing they'll do is put you on a team, and your performance evaluation is likely to depend more on how well you can work with that team than on how well you solve differential equations and design piping systems. Since that's a big part of what you'll be doing there, my job is to teach you how to do it here, and that's what I'll be doing."

S: "Okay, but I don't want to be in a group with those morons you assigned me to. Why can't I work with my friends?"

P: "Sorry—also not an option. Another thing that won't happen on that first day on the job is someone saying 'Here's a list of everyone in the plant. Tell me who you'd like to work with.' What will happen is they'll tell you who you're working with and you won't have a vote on it. Look, I can show you a survey in which engineering alumni who had been through extensive group work in college were asked what in their education best prepared them for their careers.[41] The most common response was 'the groups.' One of them said

'When I came to work here, the first thing they did was put me on a team, and you know those annoying teammates back in college who never pulled their weight—well, they're here too. The difference between me and people who came here from other colleges is that I have some idea what to do about those guys.' In this class you're going learn what to do about those guys."

From: R.M. Felder "Sermons for Grumpy Campers" Chem. Engr. Education, 41 (3), 183-184 (2007).

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