Richard has taught group work for six years in HRER307, where students learn how training and development can improve organisational performance and capability. Last year he extended his group work to HRER320, which acts as a capstone course for human resource management majors. Richard finds that international exchange students are a great resource due to the variety of management practices across cultures. To best engage this wealth of international experience Richard takes a highly interactive approach to teaching. He assigns students to groups of four to six, arranging the seating of the lecture theatre like a tutorial to provide the best opportunities for close learning relationships. This approach is feasible up to an enrolment of around 60 students. Beyond that, classes become anonymous and lecturer-centred.
Richard examines the class composition of nationalities during week one. He instructs his students to use blogs to introduce themselves and their study interests. Richard then assigns groups, based on this information. The course had a high proportion of students from Germany and the United States in one particular year. The organisational structures of Germany’s engineering-dominated firms contrast sharply with the typically shareholder-driven, accounting-dominated Anglo-American firms. Richard’s interactive classes brought these contrasts to life and succeeded in fostering a more critical perspective in students.
The group assignment is worth 10 to 15 percent of the course grade, with students receiving a shared group mark. Richard rewards the students who make significant contributions to their group assignments by requiring an individual report, worth 30 percent, on an organisation from the group’s chosen sector. Groups present to industry representatives, who assume the roles of evaluators and potential employers. Bringing in evaluators from the real world lifts the students’ game.
This year Richard has needed to intervene in two groups where the students complained about one of their group members. Richard met the two individuals concerned, before deciding on whether to give them a shared group mark or require further individual work, as specified in the course outline.
Most students are very positive about Richard’s interactive courses. One student described feeling like a deer stuck in headlights upon learning about the group work component, only to be later pleasantly surprised. Several students highlight the communication skills and course content they have learned as a result of bouncing ideas off one another during the group assignment.
For Richard, group work is absolutely part of preparing students for the real world. He argues that graduates will be required to work successfully with people they do not necessarily like or trust, or who underperform. Richard is a firm believer that group work should be part of most university study.