During the assignment

Find out how to support groups during the assignment, how to provide them with group rules and how to deal with group issues.

How to support students during group work

During the Assignment

During group assignments, it is important to provide support for the students. When support is incorporated into the course, less time is needed to resolve group issues; here are some common issues that occur in group assignments, and suggested ways to deal with them.

The material below looks at support strategies, and the establishment of group rules, including a group rules template.

Support strategies

During group assignments it is important to support students. Support from lecturers and tutors can pick up and resolve potential issues before they harm the group's ability to function.

A regular check-in helps ensure that groups remain on track, and reduces the number of problems that get brought to the lecturer to resolve. This is particularly appropriate for students who are inexperienced with group work.

Check-ins are often most effective when conducted in tutorials, with tutors regularly asking the groups for progress updates, e.g. every week or fortnight. Asking for updates in the presence of other groups gives students the chance to see how their group progress compares to others, and can highlight those that are behind.

Wikis and blogs in Blackboard also allow group processes to be more transparent and dynamic.

Allocating tutorial time for groups to work on their assignment is another way to ensure that groups remain on track, while also giving them a chance to ask the tutor for guidance if required. Tutors can also see how the groups are working together and encourage positive group dynamics, for example, by encouraging shyer students to contribute to their group.

Another way to create interim check-ins is by using a form of tracking document. These have successfully helped groups describe what they have done and what they intend to do in the upcoming week, so that the lecturer can ensure that groups are on track. These can be particularly useful with assignments that involve interaction with external clients, who can be asked to comment on the group's progress, or to fill in a scale showing how happy they are with various aspects of the group's work to date.

Creating group rules

It is useful to encourage groups to set their own rules and monitor themselves. This gives students some control over their group and encourages them to take responsibility for their own progress and group dynamics. If done via a wiki it provides insights into group dynamics.

Encouraging students to discuss and agree upon their group rules is an ideal means of mitigating the potential for conflict over misunderstanding and differing expectations. These guidelines should be set at the start of a group project, with all students in each group agreeing to them and submitting them to the lecturer or tutor soon after the project starts.

The ability to negotiate with group members and set clear guidelines could even form a small part of the assignment grade. Provide the students with a list of issues to consider so they cover all possibilities.

Make it clear that you will enforce the group rules if it becomes necessary to do so, and that students should not agree to group rules that they would not want enforced. A key part of groups setting their rules is negotiation. However, if some groups have very different expectations (e.g. some students are aiming for an A+ grade and others are aiming to pass) then it might be appropriate to allow them to change groups. Provide students with the group rules template prior to group selection to encourage them to consider with whom they will work well.

Example of group rules:

Group rule template

This is a template for the group rule tool explained above. It is suitable to give out in class with minimal adjustment for the specific assignment.

  • Grade your group is aiming for: A+, B, pass
  • Time spent in group meetings: 2 hours per week
  • Meeting behaviour: show up 5 mins early, let everyone know 2 days in advance if you can’t make it. You can find a meeting agenda example with student resources.
  • Amount of work done individually: research portion, rough drafts of each part
  • Timeline: everything drafted by week 5. You can find a detailed timeline example with student resources.
  • Communication between meetings: email reply within 3 days, text reply within 1 day
  • Consequence for being late for meetings: bring a snack for everyone for the next meeting
  • Consequence for not finishing an individual task on time/to a high enough standard: group will let the marker know who is responsible for that part and ask them to mark accordingly
  • Consequence for not finishing an individual task/not contributing fairly: grade reduced by 5% of final group mark (if considered fair by lecturer)