Working in groups or teams is a useful way for students to develop their problem solving, communication and critical thinking skills, and also allows them the opportunity to work with – and learn from – their peers just as they would in the real world. However, group work is not always popular with students usually due to variations in group dynamics and participation levels. Students often feel they receive less than desired levels of academic support or intervention, so need to be efficiently managed by tutors.
Some of the pitfalls to beware of are:
- Planning and logistics of where and how often groups meet up
- Differences in expectations
- The potential for an uneven distribution of workload
- The potential for conflict
- Perceived lack of control over individual grades
Source: Online teamwork and collaboration (UNSW/COFA Online)
Group assessments can also be negatively affected by inappropriate tasks or assessment criteria, which does not always account for inequities of contribution and therefore can create tension and resentment. Consequently, group work needs to properly validated and often requires considerable teaching and nurturing skills to be effective.
8 tips for success:
- Help students to build trust by facilitating ‘ice-breaker’ exercises and giving them time to bond.
- Frame the group exercise and provide a real-world context to illustrate that it is an authentic and meaningful assessment task with benefits.
- Provide clear guidelines on how students should form groups such as using SWOT analysis frameworks to identify T-shaped skills; establish balanced groups using Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing techniques.
- Help the groups to decide roles and responsibilities for each group member to ensure that all students are clear on who is doing what and what is expected of them.
- Help students to establish rules of engagement and group protocols.
- Establish clear complaint handling and issue resolution protocols and expectations.
- Provide clarity on how students will be graded both collectively and individually.
- Suggest useful tools and best practices to help support their collaborations, many of which offer transparency and accountability by leaving clear records of what each team member has contributed.
Next resource: Engaging and motivating students to learn online
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