Improving Group Work – A Student Point Of View

Improve Group Work – CC0 Public Domain
Improve Group Work – CC0 Public Domain

Many of the college courses offered today include some type of group-work such as an assignment, project, presentation or some other type of paper or report. This includes both online courses and traditional face-to-face courses. Unfortunately, instructors [including myself] are often met with resistance from the students who don’t like working in groups and feel that their grade will be negatively impacted by group members who do not do their share the work.

We all know that there’s plenty of research that details the many benefits that come along with group-work. This is not just limited to developing teamwork skills but…active learning, improving communication skills and time-management skills. And as a result of the increased group work found in today’s office environments it’s important for students to have some prior experience with group work. Students will need to have a collaborative attitude and the ability to work with others at just about any place of employment.

Several years ago I was inspired by a presentation I saw at an EDUCAUSE conference that I attended. The theme of this presentation was getting to know your students through the use of direct conversation and/or task force that included members of student body.

After returning from the conference I made a point to start working closer with students and small groups myself to get a better sense of what they thought they needed to have from their instructors in order to have a more enjoyable small group experience within a course. Here are a few things that I learned:

  • Communicate – clearly communicate the purpose of the group work being assigned. Specifically detail the benefits that relate to academics AND the professional workplace.
  • Discuss –  hold a discussion about past group work to identify concerns. This is the moment when perceptions can be altered to learn new strategies for collaboration.
  • Define – define the differences between cooperative learning and collaborative learning. This is a good time to put into place the best strategies for completing a project as a group.
  • Time – set aside time and technology for group work. If you are facilitating a face-to-face course, you should consider using some class time to ensure participation. If you are facilitating an online course you should consider providing a technology [with training] to allow for easy collaboration. Google Hangouts is currently a popular option for many reasons.
  • Visit –  provide guidance and support by visiting each group small group on a regular basis.
  • Allow – students often ask to be allowed to evaluate each other. From my experience this has many benefits. One of the things that I have been impressed by is that of the accountability students have to each other.

As educators we are expected to prepare the students for their professional lives in the workplace after they have graduated. Some of the top priorities mentioned by employers when seeking job candidates include the ability to work in groups, good communication skills and a good work ethic. Overall it’s important to teach students how to be better team players and how to deal with all of the things that come along with Group work and the group collaboration process.

-RG