This blog was co-written by Georgina Barratt-See and Sang-Eun Oh
Teamwork is a crucial workplace skill. Our students bring a diverse range of skills and strengths to their group projects, and further developing these skills is a priority for all of us at UTS.
Teamwork, however, requires a range of skills: presenting your opinion, disagreeing with someone in a functional and productive way, leadership and followship, and the ability to negotiate and compromise. These softer skills are rarely explicitly taught in schools or other learning environments. They can be hard to develop, particularly for students who have less confidence in their language or presentation skills.
At HELPS we focus on building students’ confidence through supporting them to master key verbal and written communication skills. We incorporate psychological safety, encouraging the student to be included, learn, feel able to contribute, and be gently encouraged to improve.
1. HELPS U:CONNECT
Central to this are our speaking programs. Our research shows that for participants in the Buddy Program, Conversations@UTS and TalkFest from 2015-2022, confidence and fluency increased on average by 70% while volunteers noted improvement in their communication skills (69%) and social and cultural awareness (83%).
‘Conversations at UTS’ not only provides an opportunity for international students to practice English language skills in a safe environment; but it also facilitates a chance to obtain a micro skill that is a subtle art of noticing or signalling how to take turns to speak in a group situation. This is an important acculturation process for those who may have been culturally encouraged to reflect in silence. Conversations also builds confidence in our volunteer student leaders, who are then able to recognise their strengths in running a group discussion.
The buddy program matches students who want to practise English in a one-on-one context with staff and student volunteers. A PhD student from Vietnam reflects:
Being a part of the Buddy Program has given me opportunities to cross paths with strangers who are just friends that I haven’t met. The genuine connection that I have cultivated through the Buddy Program has helped me tremendously to develop the inner confidence that is needed for me to thrive in Australia.
2. HELPS U:LEARN
Staff at HELPS believe that the basis for academic support starts from empathy and inclusivity as being heard can promote students’ confidence and agency. When it comes to learning support, our approach is facilitation of self-efficacy rather than one-way knowledge transference.
For example, our ‘no wrong door’ approach means we will try to help with any issue that a student comes to us with, even if it isn’t related to learning support. This helps build relationships with students, which ultimately can motivate them to access our various services.
Anxiety can really affect confidence and ability to interact with others, so our Advisors also play a crucial role:
A lot of the time, students really just need someone to talk to about their assignments and feel reassured knowing that they’re not the only one confused about it. (E.g. I had a first year law student come in confused about her assignment but I was also pretty confused about it. She had a massive sigh of relief and felt reassurance that other people felt the same way as her.) When this happens, it really is a team effort between the Peer Advisor(s) and students to figure out the best course of action and students generally come out of the drop-in sessions feeling more confident and ready to work on/submit their assignments.
Similarly, a student was hugely helped in her presentation skills, as one of our peer advisors reflects:
There was also a case of a student who had come into the online drop-ins and they wanted help with a presentation that they had to speak in front of the class for. Due to English not being the student’s first language, they were very nervous about having to present and we were able to alleviate this by talking them through good presentation strategies and actually allowing them to practice their presentation with us so that they felt more confident when they did the actual presentation in class.
We also showed them some resources on good presentation/public speaking practices. This was probably the experience that showed the most drastic change that I could see in a student’s confidence in that they went from being embarrassed and speaking very quietly to presenting in a much more confident and self-assured manner.
3. HELPS U:PASS
UTS HELPS U:PASS program also builds confidence in students:
… I wasn’t sure it would help me or not initially but I just enrolled in U:Pass without a second thought. I didn’t have confidence in mathematics related subjects as I didn’t performed well in my high school, however, U:Pass session got me a sense of security and had me be more confident in mathematics related fields.UTS FEIT student
Extra practice gave me confidence as tutorials were very fast and made it difficult to grasp concepts.UTS Business student
4. HELPS Resources
Finally, we have some great group work resources you can also share. These student-produced videos cover practical strategies for making groups work more effectively, dealing with non-contributors, managing conflicts, and managing yourself in the context of a group project.
Find out more at the FFYE forum
Hear more from the HELPS team and others in the learning and teaching community who are supporting students to work together in groups at the upcoming FFYE forum. As well as the communication and collaboration aspects, there will be a focus on the importance of creating safe building relationships, team cohesion and trust – the basis of successful teams (as per this Google example). Register here: