Students say drawing lots is a good way to form groups

According to the annual AllWell? survey, students want teachers to form groups for course work instead of picking who they want to work with
School of Business students
Photo: Aalto University/Ari Toivonen

Aalto University’s AllWell? well-being survey is used to determine issues that could be developed to improve students’ ability to study. The responses to the survey support the practice of teachers assigning groups for course work. Randomly formed groups prepare students for working life, where you cannot always choose who you want to work with.

According to Tomas Falk, Associate Dean responsible for teaching and education at the School of Business, it is essential that students experience a sense of community during their studies and that diversity and inclusion are part of our community. ‘The feedback we receive from students is important to ensure that we are on the right track.’

Professor Seppo Ikäheimo has first-hand experience of how students prefer the teacher randomly forming groups for teamwork over choosing their own teammates. 

‘I'd always thought that it would be a waste of time and effort if I assigned the groups. However, for my Better Business, Better Society: Enterprise in Society course, I got an assistant from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, and they convinced me that it was a good idea and took care of forming the groups. I gave in to the proposal, although I wasn’t excited about it to begin with. Based on the course feedback, giving in was an excellent decision. I'm glad to say that 99% of the feedback on the topic was positive, so I’ll continue to let the course assistants form groups on future courses.’

When the teacher forms the groups, even those who do not already have friends on the course find their place without additional stress. Students who have friends and acquaintances from high school or elsewhere gain a new, refreshing experience and meet new people. It’s often easiest to work with people you already know, but randomly assigned groups help students to make new acquaintances. Courses are more likely to promote diversity and inclusion when the teacher forms the groups than when students pick who they want to work with. According to feedback, international students also find this practice beneficial.

Peer learning also proved effective

Another idea that Seppo Ikäheimo did not initially warm up to was that the groups could see each other's unfinished projects and comment on them before the final deadline. Nevertheless, the approach was put to the test.

‘Each group had a look at the work of a couple of other groups, and the students were then able to improve their project based on the comments given by others. I'd never used this kind of peer learning approach before, and I wasn't very enthusiastic about it at first, but it proved to be an excellent tool,’ Seppo Ikäheimo says. ‘In general, I have a positive attitude towards making improvements and feel that group work techniques have a lot to offer. By learning more about them and refining them, they could be used more efficiently than at present.’ 

Aalto University Study Psychologist Alli Mattila says that last spring’s AllWell? results continue to reflect the impacts of the pandemic. ‘The results show that students are worried about not belonging and the lack of peer support, which is why it’s particularly great that many programmes have made efforts to strengthen inclusion and the sense of community. It’s important that students can get a feeling of belonging and experience peer support on courses, and not only in student activities organised in the evenings.’  

According to Maura Ratia, Pedagogical Specialist at the School of Business, group work and its streamlining are often discussed at Aalto’s pedagogical training events. ‘Group formation is one of the themes that often comes up, and we recommend that the teacher forms the groups instead of letting the students pick their teammates,’ Maura Ratia says. 

The next AllWell? survey will be published in early spring 2024. The survey will be open to all second-year bachelor’s degree students and first-year master’s degree students. The number of recipients is approximately 4,700. The survey is used to collect up-to-date information on students’ ability to study, motivation, quality of teaching and peer support. The findings are utilised in developing degree programmes, teaching and student support services.

AllWell? questionnaire of 2023 reaches 38% response rate

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