The Problem with Large Groups
Kialo can support any number of students in a single discussion. However, as with any collaborative exercise, having large groups of students working on a single discussion can become chaotic.
The first issue is the sheer volume of contributions. For example, if 30 students are creating claims in a discussion and take an average of 2.5 minutes to create each claim, each student will create four new claims in 10 minutes. This means in 10 minutes, 120 new claims are created!
With this many new claims in a short time-frame, it is unlikely that students are paying much attention to other students’ claims. This can lead to further problems – most notably, the discussion can suffer from a poor structure and a significant number of duplicate claims.
These problems are not necessarily an issue, depending on the desired outcome of the task. If the objective of the discussion is student participation or engagement (rather than the end quality of the discussion), having all of your students in one discussion may be very appropriate.
If, however, you want your students to create a high-quality discussion (such as for a graded assignment), the issues above make this goal hard to achieve. The solution is to organize your class into smaller groups, with each group having their own copy of a discussion to work on (see: Organizing Students into Groups on Kialo).
Recommended Group Sizes
While having too many students in a discussion risks the problems outlined above, having too few students in a discussion could result in too few opportunities for students to engage with others’ contributions. Therefore, the ideal number of students in each group is one where they are not overwhelmed by the number of contributions, but still have opportunities to engage and collaborate with others.
Based on our testing and feedback, we’ve found the following group sizes generally work best:
- For an ungraded classroom discussion focused on student participation: 15-30 students per discussion.
- For a graded assignment where students are assessed on the overall discussion quality: 4-8 students per discussion.
While these are suitable recommendations for most assignments, you may want to further tailor group sizes to meet your specific circumstances. See the following section for more information.
Student Activity and Group Sizes
The primary consideration in determining the ideal group size for any assignment is how active the average student will be. Generally, the more active students are expected during an assignment, the smaller the ideal group size.
Various factors influence how active each student is likely to be, such as:
- The depth of the subject matter discussed, and how much knowledge students are likely to have of it.
- Whether students are required to make a specific number of contributions for the assignment, and if so, how many.
- How controversial the topic is (how likely students are to argue for their view).
- Whether there are incentives to collaborate built into the grading of the assignment.
For example: in a graded task assigned after studying a controversial topic, students are more motivated to contribute and have more knowledge to draw on. Therefore, the discussion is likely to have higher levels of activity than usual, and fewer students should be placed in each group.
In contrast, in an unassessed task assigned early into a topic of study, students have less motivation to contribute and less depth of knowledge to draw on. As a result, the discussion can include more students without impacting student experience.
Additional Information & Further Reading
- Synchronous and asynchronous discussions on Kialo each have their benefits. Synchronous tasks allow students to have an equal chance to contribute while it’s easy to create new claims. Asynchronous discussions allow students to more easily focus on the quality and structure of a discussion, without racing other students to make initial contributions. Use this to tailor assignments to your desired outcome (perhaps even begin a discussion in class, then assign a homework task for students to improve the quality and structure).
- You can use the factors outlined in Student Activity and Group Sizes to adapt your assignments, such as by awarding students marks for collaboration as well as for the content they create. By adjusting the driving motivations for your students, you can increase the number of students able to participate in one discussion without treading on each other’s toes.
- If you’re covering multiple potentially-debatable areas of material in a class or course, use the need to split your class into groups to your advantage. Give each group a different part of the course to cover in a Kialo discussion, then share all the resulting discussions with the entire class as a starting point for revision.
- You can think of each discussion as having roughly 50 easy-to-write appropriate claims. Therefore, having 15-30 students in a discussion results in each student being able to easily create 2-3 claims, whereas a discussion with 4-8 students results in each student making 5-15 claims.
It is natural for students to instinctively want to create new claims, rather than to spend time ensuring their contributions are unique or trying to improve others’ claims. This can lead to students creating duplicate claims, which increases the volume of contributions without adding anything new to the discussion. Duplicate claims are most likely when students are working synchronously in large groups over a short time-frame.
As such, during discussions where you expect a large volume of contributions, consider doing one or more of the following:
- Emphasize to students that quality is more important than quantity. Encourage students to improve each other’s claims, back up claims with supporting claims, and find and add sources.
- Give students more time to participate and allow them to participate at their leisure. When students aren’t all in the discussion synchronously, they have the space to plan and think about the structure and organization of the discussion, rather than rushing to create claims in response to each other.
- Many topics have a set of key arguments that students rush to add, often duplicating each other’s work as they do. You can create these claims yourself before students start, and instruct students to support or oppose them with more specific pros and cons.
- Try dividing students into groups and assigning them to work on specific branches of the discussion.
- Assign student roles: put specific students in charge of identifying unsupported claims, duplicates, or under-developed arguments.
- At the end of a Kialo discussion in class, give students an assignment to “finish” the discussion. Include finding and removing any duplicate claims as part of the task (in order to minimize disputes, you can instruct that the first-created claim should be the duplicate retained).
Kialo has many features and tools that are useful when working with large groups of students. Further reading relevant to working with large groups of students: