Dealing with issues

Learn to tackle issues that commonly arise in group work assignments.

Are you interested in starting up a group assignment, but wary of the problems that can occur with group work? Learning how to deal with those problems can allow you to run group projects that contribute to students’ deep learning and make a big impact on their ability to work in teams after they leave university.

The first step is to reduce the likelihood that problems will occur. Here are some of the main issues and ways to prevent them:

Issue 1: group members contribute unequal amounts.

Solutions:

Issue 2: Students do not put in enough effort to make the assignment go smoothly.

Solutions:

  • Include a real-life aspect in the project. This could be involvement with an external firm, with the top projects presented to an external panel and a chance to make their project a reality, or an opportunity to get the assignment published. Including a real-life aspect means that students see the value in the project, and often pushes low- and mid-achieving students to put in more effort than usual.
  • Re-set expectations with the students by going over the amount of work expected and the progress that groups should have made by that point. Often students do not realise how much work a group assignment will be until it is too late, so making this clear can encourage students to put in more effort.

Issue 3: Group members have vastly different expectations of the group work.

Solutions:

  • Ask students to share expectations about what they expect from their groups.
  • Allow students to change groups.
  • If the difference is focused around the amount of work that students want to put in:
    • Help students compromise and find a shared set of expectations.
    • Allow students to agree to put in different amounts of work and be marked accordingly.

In the rare case that the above measures are taken and, regardless, a group becomes dysfunctional and requires mediation, consider following the Evaporating Cloud technique for resolving conflict (PDF 136 KB). It is also advisable that all groups should be required to keep meeting minutes, so that if mediation later becomes necessary the lecturer can request the group’s minutes to inform the mediation process.

Katy has some useful advice on how to manage student feedback relating to levels of accountability of fellow group members.