Introducing group work

These tips have been put together from student feedback on what they like about group work, and from staff who have supervised successful group assignments.

Imagine that you include a group assignment in your course and everything goes well. Your students are engaged with the content and the group process, and you only have to get involved with a couple of groups who have problems.

To make the above scenario happen, make clear:

  • what the students will learn from doing the project in a group (that they wouldn’t otherwise learn)
  • what the process is, should there be any issues within groups
  • why this assignment is being done as a group project
  • where students can find resources or get help to ensure their group works well together
  • how the students can work together to produce the best output (for example, should individuals concentrate on parts of the assignment that fit their strengths, should all members discuss as a group to get different viewpoints, are there specific skills that would be useful to have in the group?).

Many students have a negative opinion of group work, mainly because:

  1. They assume that group work will mean they have to do more work than for an individual assignment.
  2. They assume that their mark will be negatively affected by their group members. This applies in particular to high-achieving students.

Reducing these two negative effects has a very positive effect on students’ opinions and experiences of group work.

Students who do group work:

  • gain different perspectives
  • gain teamwork skills
  • learn from their peers
  • learn how to work with diverse people
  • gain skills for their future careers

Some ways to reduce the workload of group work compared to that of an individual assignment are to:

  • Support students to help them work better as a group—direct them to the groupwork tools for useful advice.
  • Make it clear to students how much time you expect them to spend on each part of the group assignment, and allocate marks accordingly. Students will often spend more time than you expect on group assignments due to the effort that goes into group dynamics.
  • Recognise the group element in the mark allocation, for example, by allocating marks to reflect how well the group worked and what could be improved.
  • Ensure that the assignment does not assess skills unintentionally; skills which are often found to be unintentionally assessed include language skills (for example, in a presentation the group may be marked down for one members’ lack of presentation skills).

Some ways to help reduce negative effects on high-achieving students are to:

  • Include an element of individual accountability—this could involve setting an individual assignment related to the group project, allocating different marks to students depending on how much effort they put into group projects, or having exam questions related to the group project topics.
  • Set an assignment question that will require different skills to produce a good product—this could require information about an overseas situation to get international students more involved, it could require students who have majored in different areas, or it could require students who have different personality types.
  • Explain that students who know more about the topic should help their group members to understand, and that through this process they will learn the topic themselves much more thoroughly—this is best when there are questions related to the group project in the exam.
  • Let students self-select their own groups based on information they share with each other (this should be focused on what they can contribute to the group and what their expectations of their group would be), and make it clear that students are responsible for ensuring they are in a group they can work with.
  • Encourage diversity which can lead to deeper learning by setting guidelines; for example, that groups must be multicultural and include both genders.
  • Allocate time for students to get to know each other, in class or tutorials. This can be done through interactive activities, icebreakers, class/group discussions. If students build relationships with each other they will be more likely to commit to their group.