I’ve always struggled with creating student groups for projects. It’s especially difficult when I’m trying to form groups at the start of the semester for some ongoing assignment that may take a few months. At that point, I don’t really know the students or their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know which students are going to work well together or which students, when assembled, will form an explosive critical mass.
Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of techniques to group students. I’ve tried mixing under-class students with upper-class ones. I’ve tried partnering students based on their academic interests and grouping students randomly. I’ve even allowed students to select their own groups. Regardless of the method I’ve tried, inevitably, some groups are really successful and others languish.
This semester, I thought I’d try something different. My wife is a school counselor at a local high school and has used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help her students identify possible careers. I was discussing my grouping problems with her recently and she suggested trying to use the MBTI to form groups. While I recognize that some people question the validity of the MBTI, I also realize that using the Myers-Briggs to organize student groups couldn’t be worse than some of the other methods I’ve tried. I also did some research. I found a study in the Journal of Information Technology and Application in Education that examined how the MBTI could be used to foster positive collaborative groups for Information Technology projects. Another study in College Teaching Methods & Styles Journal looked at how the MBTI could be used for team-building projects in business classes and found that the method helped in selecting team leaders and identifying group responsibilities. After reading the studies, I felt using the MBTI to create student groups was something I should at least try.
This week, I had each student take an online typology test based on the MBTI. The test took about fifteen minutes and I had each student write down his or her personality type (ENFJ, ISFP, etc.). Rather than just have them look for people different than themselves, I had students identify their temperaments and then create groups with mixed temperaments. One of the studies I read discussed how professor-created groups based solely on MBTI reduced student ownership and buy-in, which created productivity issues later in the semester. To assemble project groups in my class, I allowed students to choose classmates as long as they had a mix of temperaments in each group. While the process didn’t exactly go smoothly and several students initially resisted the process, I was able to eventually create project groups successfully. Some challenges emerged, however. Since I was doing this in an education class, there was a great deal of similarity across personality types and temperaments. For instance, the majority of the students had the exact same personality types (ENFJ), which made it somewhat difficult to assemble diverse teams. It was also difficult to get students to take control of selecting groups. Since the process created an odd middle ground between instructor-assigned groups and student-selected groups, many students didn’t know how to react. With a little guidance and some patience, however, students groups were assembled.
I honestly don’t know whether this grouping technique will work or not. Since this a semester-long project, I won’t know the final outcome until later in the year. Check back later in the semester for an update.