June 1998 // Featured Products
The Nominal Group Process as an Instructional Tool
by James L. Morrison
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: James L. Morrison "The Nominal Group Process as an Instructional Tool" The Technology Source, June 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

The Nominal Group Process (NGP) is a useful instructional tool because it ensures balanced participation in classroom activity and it enables students and professors to work more effectively as a group. I will illustrate how I use NGP in my classes, both small and large, and how I use Microsoft Word and a computer projector to enhance the use of the NGP in instruction.

The Process

The NGP requires students to first think about a central question. For example, in my class on the social context of educational leadership, at the beginning of the semester, I ask the central question: "What are critical emerging issues that will affect the future of public education?" After allowing time for students to write their responses, I use a round-robin approach in which each student in turn is asked to nominate his/her response to the question, which is either written on a flip chart, or, better (see below), typed on a computer and projected onto a screen.

There are three rules for this part of the process. First, there is absolutely no discussion as each student’s statement is written on a flipchart or projected on a screen. Students are instructed to listen carefully to each response that is nominated. Does the thought behind the nomination trigger another response statement? Do they agree that the nomination is a valuable response to the question? The emphasis in this part of the exercise is to think, not to talk. Second, students are instructed to offer their best statement when it is their turn. Third, students are allowed to nominate only one response statement at a time in order to balance nominations around the group. This technique is called the "nominal" group technique because in this phase all activity is primarily independent even though we are in a group situation.

The round-robin nomination process continues until there are no more nominations. Discussion of the responses to the question begins by taking one statement at a time and asking two questions. First, do we understand the statement as written? If not, we need to edit it for clarification. Second, do we agree that the statement is a good response to the question? In this phase, we are indeed an interactive group.

A slight alternative to introducing the question at the beginning of class is to have students submit their responses to the class listserv before class. By setting a deadline for submitting statements several days before class, I have time to compile the response statements and project them as a group at the beginning of the class. Discussion can then focus on the statements. An advantage of this alternative is that by eliminating the round-robin phase of the process, I save class time.

Using Microsoft Word and a Projector to Enhance the NGP

When I meet the class for the first time, or when a question arises from class discussion that students want to pursue, we use the round robin. Rather than using flipcharts or blackboards, I use Word and a computer projector to type student response to the question. Typing is faster than hand writing, editing is a breeze, and, at the end of the exercise, I can e-mail the result to each student on the listserv.

To use Word in this exercise effectively, however, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  1. In a small class, you can probably get by with 14-point type, particularly if you format the type in bold. Try different sizes of fonts on the screen and go to the back of the room to see which sizes are readable.
  2. Use the "full screen" feature of Word under the view menu in order to get maximum space on the screen. You will need to scroll by using the arrow keys when in this view.
  3. Use the automatic list feature of Word on the menu bar to number each nomination. This facilitates identifying statements in the discussion phase and, if any are combined, automatically renumbers the statements.

Utility of the NGP in Instruction

As I mentioned above, you can use the NGP in both small and large classes. In large classes you can divide the class into small groups (8-10 students), frame the question, instruct the students in the rules, and let them begin. You will need to place students from each group in workstation format so that each group has sufficient wall space to hang its flipchart sheets. If it is possible for each group to have a laptop available, the end result of the exercise can be sent to the class list at the end of class. If laptops are not available, someone in the group needs to hand-write the final results and then type them for transmission to the class list.

The NGP is an active learning tool. It requires each student to participate in class activities: each student must nominate at least one response to the question. Because of this involvement, more students will participate in the ensuing discussion when going over the list of response statements. Moreover, the quality of discussion will be higher because students will have given thought to their responses to important questions prior to beginning discussion of these questions.

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