Group work is often assigned as it provides students with the opportunity to practice and develop their critical skills, as group work often requires evaluation of the contributions of other group members.
The podcasts below outline some of the experiences our students have faced whilst at university working as a group. Also available is an academic perspective on providing tips and advice on succeeding as a group.
I have had to work with between 4 and 6 other people, and we have had to produce research of about 5000 words, where we have to go out and interview people and then write it all up. I thought that there would be some group work, but I didn’t think that it would be 100% of a module, and that they would place it as being so important. It’s really hard because, I did my first piece of group work in first year, and I did it with friends and we worked really well, it is all about interaction, and we had an equal workload and it’s about team work and things like that.
In second year, I was in another group work project, and we were actually put into groups, and the lecturer was looking more for individual roles, so not so much about the group working equally as a team, but more so, about one person needed to be a leader, one person needed to be a motivator, and it was a lot more like you have a specific role that you needed to follow, not so much about the overall group.
Well, the context of group work, well, the back ground of it, is that most organisations these days, they don’t think that it’s good for someone to be working on their own, say working for 9 hours a day on their own, because it is an organisation, you are going to be bumping into people. What uni tends to do, is put you into groups, of say 5 people, sometimes if it’s a big group, and give you a task and see how well you work together. The good thing about it is that you learn how to interact with people, professionally. Because, even though you are at university, no one is actually watching how your meetings are run. But, you know that you have to deliver the work. So, you start behaving professional, you start organising meetings, you start turning up on time, you start calling and texting each other and you start co-ordinating , ‘I can’t meet here because I have football practice, can we meet at this time instead?’. Which are the skills that you are going to use in work as well. When you start running projects and stuff. The bad thing with group work is that you are sort of relying on other people for your grade. Sometimes they could say that you are going to get individually marked, sometimes they could say that you just get a group mark, and you may get the lazy people that just don’t do anything and they expect you to do all the work. That’s stresses a lot of people out actually. And you may find that you need to find ways of engaging everyone, and find ways of allocating work. Which is what organisations actually want you to do. To find out how you would break down a big piece of work into little pieces, between you nicely and achieve something.
I think that making new friends, it becomes your little family after a while. I had a module, called ‘business game’, and the people I was with, they started becoming sort of a family. So, you knew each other very well, you would go out at times, and I still see them actually, even this year, we bump into each other. Because it was a module that stretched over the whole year, you got to know each other throughout the whole year. So you saw how you progressed, all of you together, and see what you achieved together. And, people have different personalities, so, I would say be open and expect anything, as there are different personalities that you might meet. You could find some people that are abrasive, and they don’t really want to interact with you, and you can find some people that are really really chatty and they trail off the topic and they don’t want to do any work. They want to chat about social stuff. Or, you could find a friend in there. So be open.
We have lots of different types of group work I think, sometimes we would set a group presentation as an assessment, and in that case we would be looking for the group working together, being a coherent whole. Making sure that one section of the presentation leads on to the next section of the presentation, that the slides are all in the same format; all those kinds of things to show that the group has actually worked together as a group.
But in fact, in our programme, we would also have a lot of group work that wasn’t assessed, so if you came to a lecture of mine for example, it is very rare that I would stand up there for an hour and talk to people, and have them take notes. I would always break up what I was saying with pair or group work. First of all in order for students to make sure that they follow what’s going on, but also, so that they have the opportunity to articulate their own ideas and opinions on the subject at an appropriate point. Now, if you are involved in that kind of group work, I think that it is important that you use that opportunity to do those things. To put your point of view across, to check that you have understood correctly what the input has been.
Be ready to ask other people to contribute to the discussion, so if you notice a student who has not said anything, that could be for any number of reasons, that might be because they are lacking confidence, they might be an international student, they maybe don’t know what their role is in that group, they maybe don’t know what they are supposed to do. Maybe they have got a learning disability that makes that type of activity difficult for them. So there are all kinds of reasons as to why somebody wouldn’t contribute in group work. But I think that it is incumbent on the other people in that group to invite that person in, to say to them, for example ‘Debbie, have you got anything to say?’ or ‘what did you think of that last point?’ or ‘do you understand what she meant by blah?’, to give everybody the opportunity to speak. So, in group work, its group work, everybody should say something. Another thing is that I think it is really important for people to listen to what people in the group say. I really don’t think that that is a problem most of the time, I think that most people are interested in what other people have to say, and I think that if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a group with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, that is even more interesting, because I think that you start to understand that your opinion is only one of many, and you can then develop your own thinking and ideas around the topic that you are discussing.
But then, if someone gives a point, or discusses something, not then to move on and ask ‘well what do you think, and what do you think and what do you think?’, because really, that is not a discussion, that is people putting across their own points of view. Try to respond to the content of what the person has contributed to the group work, so that you start to develop themes and ideas as a group. I think that that’s very important, not to get into this sort of ‘everybody has a say and that’s the end of it’. It’s what happens as a result of what people say that is the interesting thing in group work.
I think the other thing to think about is if there is an outcome to the group work, if it is some kind of task with an outcome, ensure that you are working towards that outcome, because I think that quite a lot of time people go off piste sometimes and talk about things that aren’t really about that outcome. And that is quite interesting too, obviously they have gone off task for some reason, but make sure that if you know you have got ten minutes, that two minutes before the end, that you’ve come back to the task, to the focus and that you’ve got something that you can report back, because often the tutor will ask for feedback from the group. So, ‘what is it your group wants to say?’ Not ‘what is it that you want to say?’ But, ‘what is it that the group as a whole want to say? What are the key points?’ So make sure that you are focused on outcomes as well.