But the question I'd like to raise now is this: I used Blackboard's group building feature to place the students in randomly selected groups. I simply announced to students which groups they are in during the first meeting of the term. I think that randomly created groups are better, but I can imagine some reasons for permitting students to select their own groups.
Letting students select their own groups has some obvious advantages. First, if there are students in class who already know one another, then their groups are more likely to function well and have some initial momentum. Students might also feel that selecting their own groups is more respectful of their autonomy and maturity than being placed randomly in groups by their instructors.
But I opted for randomly selected groups, for what I think are decisive reasons. First, I need my groups to get organized quickly. I teach in ten week quarters, and if I let the students select the groups, they might take several weeks to do so. Second, random groups are likely to be more diverse than self-selected groups, in terms of gender, background, academic major, and the like. And it seems to me that a group benefits from the intellectual and cognitive diversity that may result. Lastly, being placed in random groups more closely resembles how students will later have to work in groups once they are employed. In workplaces, students may be asked to complete projects with people they have never met and who are fundamentally different from them culturally and in terms of their skills. So random groups prepare them for an important challenge later in life.
So: which is better — randomly selected learning groups or self-selected groups?