Group work in college
There may be times when you will be required to work with fellow students in a course. At times you may be asked to have a group discussion or work together to complete a project, whether it be a written report, oral report, an experiment, solving a problem, or perhaps designing a new product or service. Often a group project is a significant task, which takes an extended amount of time to produce.
The benefits of group work
Students learn best when they are actively involved in their learning. Students who work in small groups learn more and retain the information longer when the same learning content is taught in other instructional ways, such as a lecture. Different perspectives and experiences lead to more resource options for problems solving and completing the task. There are many benefits to working in a group:
- Increased productivity—groups that work effectively together are able to achieve more than individual efforts. When ideas are shared and discussed, a deeper understanding of the subject matter is often the result.
- Skill development—team work will help you develop your interpersonal communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills. These skills are useful as you work to achieve your academic and career goals.
- Enhanced self-knowledge—you will learn to identify your strengths and weaknesses. You may find, for example, that while you may be good leader with big ideas, you might not be so good at putting them to action. Self-knowledge helps you to evaluate yourself so that you can develop your abilities.
Stages in group work
Cooperative or collaborative learning is a team process where members support each other to achieve a common goal. You will find it helpful to accomplish your team project successfully if you manage your activities by dividing them into 4 stages:
Stage 1 - Get Familiar (at the first meeting)
Members in the group get to know each other—time should be spent to get to know one another and discuss individual interests in the subject and share skills and resources. Learn each other's names, and get each other's telephone numbers and email addresses. At the first meeting everyone should:
- Introduce themselves with their particular interests in the project, their qualifications, and access to resources.
- Select a convener, someone who is responsible to keep members on task.
- Decide how often to meet, in person or through technology and where to meet. Although technology is a convenient tool for communication, it can't replace face-to-face contact. It is more effective to communicate when you can see everyone and have what you are working on at hand.
- Determine how the project objectives will be achieved. What are the timelines? Are sub-groups needed? What applications are needed? (word processing, spread sheets, software, PowerPoint, etc.)
- Set up some basic rules. Good team members:
- Respect the time of all members, by being on-time to meetings and keeping to the agenda.
- Complete their own tasks by deadlines so that other members of the group are not "held up" in completing their tasks.
- Take turns when speaking.
- Keep each other informed about developments and potential problems.
- Maintain a supportive atmosphere.
- Share responsibilities equally.
Stage 2 – Plan and Prepare
Members in the group plan precisely what needs to be done and who should be responsible to get these tasks done. During this stage everyone should:
- Agree on the tasks that are needed to complete the project.
- Assign tasks to each member, making sure that roles and time commitments are as evenly balanced as possible. Make the most of members' abilities and talents by dividing work to fit that person's expertise.
- Make an action plan of what needs to be done by what timeline, working toward the final deadline.
Stage 3 – Implement
Members in the group effectively take on their tasks.
- While members in the group work toward goals, preserve the group's sense of purpose by meeting regularly to check on progress of tasks and motivate each other.
- During these meetings, take notes to record ideas, deadlines, and discussions toward the completion of the product.
- Email each other for quick communication so that issues can be flagged as soon as possible.
Stage 4 – Complete
The final stage is perhaps the most difficult and requires attention to detail. The group needs to work together to create a final action plan to "tie up loose ends" and to make certain that the product meets the requirements.
There are times when a group can run into trouble, so it is helpful to be aware of some of the challenges a team can face and possible solutions.
- Unfair division of tasks—this can lead to resentment if some members feel that others are not "pulling their weight." Use meetings to check on members' workload and discuss problems openly as a group.
- Conflict between members—there are many different reasons for conflict. Sometimes members compete for leadership or disagree on how to move forward. Be sure the group's practices are democratic and flexible in order to accommodate different opinions.
- Be sure to consult the instructor if there are overwhelming concerns in the group or questions about the assignment that get the group "stuck."
Planning effective oral presentations
If your group project is an oral presentation, be sure that it is written and that opportunities for speaking are shared if possible. It's effective to use different voices in your presentation. Change speakers at transitional points in the speech, for example, the introduction, key points, and conclusion. Be sure to link one speaker to the next, by announcing who will be speaking next—"Thus far we have discussed the design of our model, and next, Kealii will discuss its features..."
Writing a group report
Writing a group report requires skill in transitioning different member's writing so that the report is written in a consistent style. Choose someone to take overall responsibility for making the written report appear as if one person had written it. Copyediting is most important at the final stage to be sure the writing is logical and consistent. Be sure to have time left in the process for this final stage. Main elements to consider:
- Do all authors use the same writing style? (verb tense/voice/pronoun point of view)
- Do the individual sections transition logically to the next?
- Are references, units, abbreviations, and notations consistent?
Although a group project is a significant task, the experience will usually lead to a positive outcome and self-growth. Teamwork is managed effectively by planning for the different stages of group activity. Organization and communication will help the group be productive and complete the task. Enjoy the experience!