Good design is Kate’s formula for success in the group work course component. She keeps workloads manageable for both herself and her students, without compromising on student support or learning outcomes.
Kate’s support for group work comes from ten years as a senior manager in marketing and fundraising, in the Canadian and New Zealand arts sectors. Group work was common in these sectors. She knows her students will need the related skills in the workforce. The pedagogical benefits of group work also appeal: students learn a lot more from each other than we sometimes give credit; together they generate ideas and reason through problems.
Kate values this socially contextualised learning, as it solidifies knowledge, rather than abstracts it to words on paper. Kate wants her courses to be a social space where people feel excited about their work and respected in their opinions. But she also knows the difficulty of conducting open and engaging discussions in a class of 100 people. To share their ideas openly, they can only get going in a group. Ideally students would talk to their friends and family about their projects, but Kate acknowledges the need to prompt discussion through practices such as group work.
Kate conducts most of her group work within her Arts Marketing MARK310 course, which examines how marketing strategy and consumer behaviour analysis can be applied to the arts sector. She finds it feasible in her course of typically 60-100 students. Kate warns that group work can be a logistical nightmare, so it requires management upfront. It is best to keep things simple, as the administration of group work can be difficult.
Kate sets the group work assignment mid-course, and asks students to reflect on what they have learned so far. They are expected to create a strategic marketing approach to their group’s chosen art event or company, by examining its environment and determining which market segments should be targeted. This gives students the opportunity to put the course concepts into practice, and provides a good foundation of understanding going into the latter half of the course. Groups present their ideas to the class, on which they receive formative feedback from Kate, the class in general, and from an individual student assigned to give focused feedback. The group later meets to debrief on what they have learned. The group members then go their separate ways to write up a more detailed individual assignment on their art event or company, informed partly by the knowledge gained in the group. This ensures that if a student fails to meet an individual assignment deadline, they have not delayed the whole group. It also builds a collegial atmosphere and gets students talking about projects together. However, the final result is an individual effort.
Kate allows her students to set up their own groups. This gives them a greater sense of responsibility for managing group dynamics. Her course description offers the simple guidance: find some people you like to work with, who have similar interests. Kate wants the groups to be formed both on the basis of established peers and making new ones. To help students learn about one another before approaching potential group members, she uses icebreakers and class time for students to introduce themselves to their neighbours. Short questions based on course readings for informal discussion also help. Students can switch groups early in the process, if it will mean a better fit.
The group work component is worth 15 per cent of the course grade—the maximum allocation allowed under current university regulations. Prior to her time at Victoria University of Wellington, Kate used to allocate 30 per cent. This created a greater obligation on her to monitor and manage groups to avoid freeloading. The integration of group work with individual assessments makes group work more worthwhile to the students, even if it only counts for 15%.
For any group project, Kate gives the same grade to all group members. If there are group issues, she encourages the students to work it out early and seek her involvement sooner rather than later. She tells the students: you will be in groups, and it isn’t always fair, but if you work hard, you will ultimately benefit individually. After the group work, students individually research their group’s arts event or company in detail. Kate allocates 35 per cent to this project to provide an opportunity for her students to benefit from their previous group contributions. It also scaffolds to the final exam, which is case-based, and requires students to discuss how they would market a preselected arts event. Thus, Kate explains, they will do better on the exam, if they work on it more in groups and individual reports because they’ll know the theory. In these ways freeloading is indirectly penalised and hard work is rewarded.
During her time at Victoria University of Wellington, Kate has never needed to intervene in group dynamics. Prior to this, however, she did encounter the odd dysfunctional group that required mediation. Kate has learned much from her previous group work experience. Keeping the summative assessment at 15%, allowing class time for various icebreaker sessions, encouraging students to share their strengths and weaknesses, and allowing individuals the flexibility to switch groups early in the process; these have all likely facilitated effective group selection. The groups’ dynamics may have also benefited from the useful tips Kate offers students on how to work in groups.
Kate’s students cope quite well with group work. Presentations are usually high quality and create a sense of community. One student offered feedback on her group work experience, saying that she enjoyed it as a sounding board for ideas that allowed her group to become greater than the sum of its parts. Another student reflected that while group work can be more difficult than individual study, it provides skills for the workforce such as delegation, leadership, compromise and teamwork, and is thus a valuable component of our university education. Kate acknowledges the many benefits that make group work worthwhile, but warns that achieving these benefits requires preparing the students carefully—with rules, expectations, support, tips, and opportunities to meet each other. Group work can be very time-consuming for students. By requiring just a presentation for the group assignment, and integrating its lessons throughout the rest of the course, Kate feels that this year, she got the balance just right.