Research is very often a lonely pursuit in the undergraduate world. That could possibly be why the library is so often flooded with students weeping over their laptops, sobbing next to bookshelves, or blowing their noses into textbooks that had not previously been used for anything else. Professor Tom Hilton, Department of Information Systems, provides a support group for lonely scholars in his active learning room by assigning group research projects like the one depicted below:
Setting: Group-based activity (10 pods with 4 students per pod)
Setup for the activity: This activity was associated with a text chapter students were to read before class. Aside from the reading, the only advance preparation required of the students was me teaching them how to manage the pod technology, particularly how to display their own laptop screen on the pod display, how to switch the pod display among pod group members' laptops, and how to send their pod's screen to all pods.
How the activity unfolded in the classroom: To start, I displayed from the instructor station on all pod screens a list of discussion questions that were answered or partly answered in the reading. As a class, we briefly reviewed them to establish a baseline of understanding of the questions.
Next, each pod group collaboratively chose one or two questions (depending on the number of questions and the number of pod groups) to answer. I explained that all members were to contribute to the development of a whole-pod-group-approved answer.
For 10-15 minutes (depending on the number of questions and the time available), each pod group developed answers to their chosen question/s. Each member used his/her own laptop to search the Web, text pdf (sometimes available), do calculations when needed, and/or write a summary answer. Members shared what they found by talking and by displaying their own laptops on the pod screen. During this time I circulated among the groups clarifying the question being research, (re)directing the discussion, and occasionally arbitrating disagreements.
After the activity: After the research time, each pod group presented its question and related answer. They displayed on all other pods' screens their pod's written paragraph, web resources, or whatever support they found. Usually one member spoke for the pod group, but sometimes all members contributed to the presentation. I encouraged all the other class members to ask follow-up questions for the presenting pod to answer, but this was sometimes hard because students either didn't know enough to come up with additional questions, or they were worried about embarrassing the presenters. To help with this, I would ask follow-up questions as examples. The whole class could respond to the questions, so the presenters weren't left on the spot.
Additional comments from instructor: "I use this activity in several different classes, and sometimes (as in the senior seminar) it has been appropriate to gather the answers into a text addendum of sorts. This has often become a point of pride for the students: extending the text information right up to the state of the art."