Today one of my tasks is to create presentation groups. They will present ethical dilemmas -- and they'll be responsible for all of the content for a part of the class.
I've learned a couple of good lessons -- among them, not to have drug legalization as a possible topic. Last time I did it, I ended up with all the pot heads in one group. Counter to the stereotype, they fought like cats and complained to me -- even tossing them bags of cheetos didn't work. Predictably, the presentation was a complete flop.
The other problem I've had is that the groups shrink at unpredictable rates. Students drop or disappear from some groups and not from others. I've ended up with groups of 3 and groups of 7 all getting the same amount of credit. That just didn't seem fair.
So -- I decided a few things might help...
1) Giving an option to write a 10-15 page paper as an alternative. This removes the students who hate group work and thus would be the most trouble.
2) Asking the students to give me names of their preferred group members, so the ones with good habits can work together.
3) Having the students rank all the presentation topics so that I can get a feel for their preferences as to topics.
4) Asking a set of true/false questions designed to get to know them a bit better. They are things like "I am good with PowerPoint" or "I am afraid of public speaking".
5) Waiting until later in the semester to divide them into groups. Many of the ones who are going to withdraw have done so already.
6) Looking at whether or not they've turned in other work before assigning groups. I announced that the folks who haven't turned in either of the assignments so far may not be placed in groups at all. I have no indication as to whether they'll do the group work if they haven't done the individual work.
Hopefully, it will all work out.... of course, I can't know how this will help until the end of the semester, but I think it will lead to less of a hassle than in other semesters -- if not for me, then for my students...