Group work

Promote groupwork with thorough preparation and relevant cases to build up students' collaborative skills.

Group work can be perceived as difficult and potentially unfair to over-performing students. In reality, all students can benefit from group projects that are relevant and well organised. For group work to be a success, teachers should explicitly promote the rationale for it.

The suggestions below are from the ‘Teaching Success’ interviews; we have drawn on these and assembled further resources in the Group Work guide.

Promote the benefits of group work

  • There is always help available from other group members.
  • Group members get to work with different people and learn from each other.
  • Teamwork is increasingly valued in the work environment.
  • Group members can draw on the skills and experiences of others and complement each other's weaknesses. It becomes a collaboration of effort rather than just individual effort.
  • Group members get to know and become friends with fellow students.
  • Students learn well in a social environment and challenge each other.
  • There is a place for individual work and there is a place for group work. Students need a balance.

“When you're in the actual work force, you'll be encountering different personalities, diversity and things like that and you should be able to adapt, regardless. In order for your project to be accomplished, each of us had to put aside our own way of doing things and learn to adapt to the team culture. With teamwork, everyone together achieves more.”—Project management student

Group work needs good preparation, structure, ongoing support, and relevance

  • Be organised. Spend the time developing group work beforehand.
  • Use real life scenarios—a good way of putting theory into practice.
  • Teacher selected group projects can enable students to focus on communication, creativity and solutions, rather than on finding a problem and information.
  • Give guidelines or methods, so students know the steps to take.
  • Structured support or monitoring can be provided in tutorial time and in meetings with the teacher.
  • Agree on a timeline for group projects, and meeting times.

“I do give students quite a lot of guidance, but I always have a diversity of assignments. So I don't feel that by giving them all this information that I am giving them the answer, because quite frankly, I am not. It doesn't stifle their creativity. In fact, I get very creative presentations.”—Dr Karen Smith

Group work skills need to be built up from first to third year level

  • Start early on, to get used to working in groups and build communication skills. In the first year, tutorials are a key to group work.
  • Set smaller and shorter group work at lower levels.
  • Structure group work more around creative tasks in earlier years, rather than more critical tasks or projects with large deliverables. Don't put too much pressure on the students.
  • Gradually build up the workload; e.g. from an artificial project in the first year to ‘keeping it real’ later.

Ways to mitigate free-rider effects in group assessments

  • Use individual reflection after a group presentation (individual grade): each student reflects on their own presentation and the other presentations. Critical evaluation: ask students, if you would do it again what would you do differently? This produces honest reflections on how to deal with teamwork.
  • Use a written summary of group work (10%), which is individually assessed, alongside the group assessment (15%).
  • Assign a low percentage grade to the group project (worth only 5%). It is then more about enjoying the activity, which is assessed as a group. If anyone doesn't contribute, then that person can be taken out of the group (0 mark, but stays in the course).
  • Group work with individual assessment at the end: get into small groups and work together as a 'company'. Students share ideas, which fosters creativity and overall quality, but the produced strategic plan is individual. Students can use the core ideas, but it needs to be genuinely their own work. Get the best of both worlds: group synergy and reward for individual effort.

Based on the Assessment Handbook (2009) regarding group work and group assessment (section 5.4), Group Work refers to learning activities on which students work together to produce a report or complete a specific task. Group work may be assessed in such a way that all group members are assigned the same mark—this is called Group Assessment. Alternatively, the contributions of individuals in the group can be assessed separately, perhaps through an oral or written examination on the group work, with a class presentation, or through Wiki contributions. The total share of the course grade based on group work is restricted in section 5.3 to 50% or less. Group assessment may not contribute more than 15% of the final grade without permission.