Enjoy group work
The diversity of your student cohort places inclusivity at the forefront of group activities and assessment tasks. Differences across language, culture, skill sets, age, gender, and socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds must be considered, negotiated and coordinated to maximise coherence and minimise potential conflict.
(Pedagoo.org, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Group or team work is often met with trepidation (from both staff and students). Therefore, careful planning, building team skills and communication strategies, equitable distribution and fulfillment of tasks and roles, and motivation are key factors to successful group operation.
Strategies for managing diversity and effective group work
- Build awareness about diversity; for example: design a seminar activity where students discuss a reading on managing diversity in group work.
- Consider if any class members (e.g international students) would be disadvantaged by tasks involving local knowledge or networks.
- Determine each student's skills and knowledge capacity and how these meet the group assessment requirements.
- Keep groups small, ideally three to six members work most effectively.
- Familiarise yourself with student interests, skills and background if groups are allocated by staff.
- If groups are self-selected by students, allow time for class members to get to know each other first.
- Dedicate seminar time for team meetings (in-class or online, e.g. Blackboard Collaborate or Skype).
- Ask students to provide individual resumes or inventory of skills to their group to facilitate allocation of tasks and roles.
- Ensure all students have access to and knowledge of how to use online communication tools for group activities (e.g. meetings and sharing documents), such as: wikis, blogs, and discussion forums.
- In particular, ensure availability of digital tools that facilitate remote and/or asynchronous group meetings.
- Point out areas of the group project that are likely to require more time.
- Encourage student engagement by making the assessment task interesting and of practical real-life relevance.
Refer your students to Deakin's excellent study support resource for Group work. This offers clear guidelines and tips for making the teamwork journey an enjoyable and productive learning experience. The 'Collaborating online' tab provides instructions on how to access and use Skype, One Drive and Office 365.
Tips to avoid or resolve conflict and problems
Students require an understanding of group formation and continuing guidance on how to deal with the challenge of working with diverse group members on their projects. Consider these suggestions:
- Explain to students why group work is the most effective method in this instance to achieve the learning outcomes.
- Provide examples of what can go wrong and ask students what they could do to minimise these issues.
- Ask students to develop group ground rules and guidelines for communicating, meeting, goal setting, timelines, allocating tasks and responsibilities.
- Consider integrating individual and team assessments to encourage students to be more accountable for their contribution.
- Devote some class-time to teaching teamwork skills and conflict resolution strategies; for example role-play activities; provide checklists (PDF 74KB) and guidelines.
- Encourage individual and/or team reflection on process, goal setting and achievements attained; this could be incorporated into the assessment task as part of the assessment rubric.
- Encourage development of formal meeting protocols by requesting that students submit periodical team meeting minutes; this allows you to keep tabs on student progress.
Refer your students to Deakin's excellent study support resource for Group work. This offers clear guidelines and tips for making the teamwork journey an enjoyable and productive learning experience.
Pros and cons of group work
When organised and managed effectively by providing support and structure from the outset, group work can be an enjoyable and productive learning experience for all by:
- breaking complex tasks into parts and steps
- planning and managing timelines and deadlines
- delegating roles and responsibilities
- allowing students to interact with those outside their own social networks
- developing negotiation and communication skills
- exchanging ideas and sharing diverse perspectives
- challenging assumptions
- promoting a collaborative and supportive learning environment
- building work-places skills sought by future employers.
Being aware of the following limitations will help you as a teacher design group work projects and what weighting you should give to these if they are part of summative assessments:
- Learning may be confined to the individual task or element allocated to the team member, therefore students may not acquire overall knowledge of the set topic.
- Students are often resistant to group assessment.
- Allocating an overall team mark may compromise individuals' final grade for the unit.
- Group work often fosters less certainty and predictability.
- Students lacking adequate guidance and knowledge about teamwork skills may feel overwhelmed.
- Student contributions to the group task may vary in quality and effort.
- Stronger or more vocal students tend to dictate and take control of the group task.
- Conflict and tensions may compromise team coherence and achieving set goals.
Deakin academics offer some thoughts
Deakin teaching staff offer some insights about student diversity and the benefits of group work.
'[A] collaborative community is really important for students to work together, to go on a journey together. And at Burwood I’ve got a number of international students in some of my classes. One of the things I’ve tried to encourage, is that international students don't just come to me, but that the students who are sitting around them also work with those students to support the learning experience. So everyone goes on the journey; you take everyone along, you don't discriminate in any way. But often students will feel more comfortable if another student talks to them about something they don't understand. But that’s what I mean by the community of learners. It’s that developing of an environment in which people are willing to speak out and say that they don't understand something or "would you please explain [whatever you are talking about] more fully?" But to have students working with each other—and I know that students hate doing group work for assignments—but you can develop an environment where it is group work. I mean, everyone will work at certain times as individuals. But it’s that collective engagement with ideas that is just so important'.
Jenny Grenfell, Senior Lecturer in Education
'When I group people, I sit them randomly sometimes. I tell them, the only people you can choose in your life are your friends and your partners, and even that is not absolute, because they should be willing to be with you as well. So learn to work with people who are randomly selected, that’s what is going to happen to you in the work place. Group work is something very important. And when you go for an interview, that is one of the things they will ask: how do you find working with people?'
Nina Weerakoddy, (formerly) Assoc. Prof. in Media and Communication at Deakin University
Inspiring group work examples from Deakin academics
The following case study and two videos show creative ways to approach team-based learning in diverse student groups.
Using teamwork to motivate students to do their set readings!
Teresa Capetola recounts the success of team-based learning through 'home groups' in her unit HSH 302, Politics Policy and Health.
The 2015 cohort comprised about 230 students (approximately a quarter of which were cloud-based). As the content for this core unit can be quite ‘heavy-going’ and alienating, it is imperative to find creative ways to engage students. To this end, Teresa adopted a team-based learning approach in seminars of 25–30 students to stimulate their interest and motivation. On-campus students were allocated to groups (3–5 members), which become their ‘home group’ for the trimester. Students were instructed to organise themselves into groups comprising a diverse mix (by course, gender, age, ethnicity etc.). The importance of the home group structure cannot be underestimated through engendering a sense of belonging and support wherein each student had a responsibility and obligation to the rest of their team.
A short 12 question quiz was administered (multiple choice, true/false) in each seminar based on the weekly topic resources. Students completed the quiz individually, then discussed the questions and answered as a group. Each group then presented their answers to the other groups with justification for their responses. This cultivated a form of team-teaching interaction as answers were discussed, questioned and debated. Cloud students similarly undertook the weekly quiz individually and came together in their online seminar where the questions prompted class discussion. For on-campus students, the weekly quiz scores were tallied and at the end of trimester the highest scoring group received a ‘Certificate of Recognition’ and team members received a letter of reference testifying to their achievement of outstanding team-based and academic skills.
This weekly activity was not assessed, yet students were motivated to do the weekly readings, attend the seminars and participate. Why? Because a positive peer group experience was created whereby they bonded, shared, exchanged ideas and learnt from each other in an inclusive teaching and learning environment.
Team work: 'the rowing eight'
In this video, Dr Rick Evans, (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), discusses inclusive teaching tips for engaging students in team work activities and assessments.
A transcript may be downloaded here: Team work: the rowing eight (DOC 34KB)
Task-based learning in groups
Watch the following video in which Dr Cai Wilkinson (School of Humanities and Social Sciences) presents some innovative task-based learning activities in seminar groups. The Powerpoint presentation that accompanies the talk may be downloaded here: Task-based learning (PPT 3.6MB)
A transcript may be downloaded here: Task-based learning (DOC 31KB)