Active Learning is a way to get folks involved in their own education by doing things that are more mentally challenging than listening to someone drone through a lecture or — even worse — read a slideshow to them.
In the usual class, students take a test independently and then get the results during the next class period. Either there is no review of the test, which leaves students no better off than they were before, or the class sits through a dull review of the questions and answers, which bores the students who did well.
With group testing, the students take the test independently the first time then get together in a group and take it the second time while discussing their answers to arrive at a consensus. There are even systems that allow students to check their answers as they go (Fink & Fink, 2009).
There is a risk of one student dominating the discussion or one or more students shirking responsibilities, so some manner of accountability would need to be in place. You can’t have the “smart person” in the group do all the work while everyone else gets the credit for doing nothing more complex than playing hokey games on a cell phone. This phenomenon can be warded off using some different strategies.
First, always set clear expectations. When I was teaching, I sometimes found that what I thought was a no-brainer required the most explanation. Even basic concepts like integrity and honesty might need clarification.
In an ESL class I taught, I caught two students copying answers from each others’ tests. I gave both students a different version of the test and separated them. They got to start over with less time to finish. Later, another teacher challenged my decision. In the students’ culture, what they did wasn’t cheating. Students frequently worked together, even on tests. Before the next test, I had to explain that independent work was expected.
Second, monitor the groups closely. This isn’t a time to sit and score papers from another assignment while students work on a test together. Monitoring the group allows you to intervene if one person is getting stuck with the lion’s share of the work or if the bulk of the group is working while one or two coast.
Third, make peer feedback be part of the process. Along with the corrected test results, students also turn in a form rating their own work quality and the quality of their peers. All the results are averaged for each person, including you, then combined with the original test score and the group test. Averaging the results and applying the final score as a limited percentage of the test grade can help deflect some of those problems.
A group test approach gives students an opportunity to gain insights from each other, but you do have to make sure expectations are clear and procedures are in place so you don’t have a whole group of parrots with one person actively working.