Engagement-elevating activities used in a course such as group dynamics fall into two broad categories: topic-focused short-term activities and problem-focused, longer-term projects. Topic-focused activities are, in most cases, deliberate applications of a concept or process in a group-based experience and are typically tied to the content of the course in a direct way. For example, when students study group decision-making they may meet in small groups to make a series of decisions. Afterwards, they examine their group’s decisions, and gauge for themselves the extent to which their group reacted as theory and research would suggest. Problem-focused projects, in contrast, ask students to work in small groups over an extended period of time (i.e., weeks or months) on a group project. For example, students may be asked to develop a paper or a class presentation on a specific topic or conduct a research project under the guidance of the course instructor.

Both types of activities can help the students gain detailed knowledge of the course topics, experience group processes first hand and perhaps even develop practical skill useful when working with others in groups. Both can falter, however, if the students never grasp the pedagogical purposes of the activities. Students often enjoy the active-learning, experiential phase, but then they fail to make the connection between the experience and the psychological concept (Forsyth, 2003). To help them make this connection, the instructor may need to add description, analysis, and application phases to complete the learning cycle. Students must not only experience the event but must also describe their experiences, tie their experiences back to course-related concepts and findings, and consider the personal and practical implications of the experiences. In consequence, at minimum, extensive discussion is needed following each activity, but ideally students should complete some type of written analysis that helps them translate their experience into psychological knowledge (Forsyth, 2003).

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Copyright © 2013 Society for the Teaching of Psychology. This book chapter first appeared in Promoting Student Engagement (Volume 2): Activities, Exercises and Demonstrations for Psychology Courses.

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