Group work


Education is a people industry so collaboration is a limitless resource to give and take from (within reason of course).
Year 2, MTeach Student


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Students give advice on groupwork

Students give their perspective and offer tips to first year students on how to develop and apply skills in group work.

Why group work is used

Collaboration is at the heart of Education and Social Work. You will find collaborative learning and group work are used throughout your course. Group work is often assessed through group projects where reports and presentations are given.

Group work is important because it can:

  1. Improve the quality of overall learning in a variety of ways – for example:
    • students become active participants in their own learning
    • it is better to break down the work required for complex topics between a group of people
    • it is better to have different points of view when considering controversial topics
  2. Develop generic skills – for example:
    • graduate attributes such as life-long learning
    • other skills sought by employers such as communication, teamwork , negotiations skills and the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds
  3. Develop individual skills to become reflective and self-regulated learners – for example:
    • understanding individual strengths and weaknesses in relation to the project at hand
    • learning to find solutions to the constraints found in the group
    • reflecting on the approaches used in order to improve on strategies at the time and for the future
  4. A complete list of the benefits of group work can be found in this pdf.

Challenges

Despite the many benefits students can still find group work challenging. This can be because students find themselves in a group with people they do not know; who have differing constraints; or are carrying out a project in a time-limited way, normally of one semester.

In addition, the focus is also often on the assessment or ‘product’ rather than on the process. As (c) above implies the process of group work is one of the most important aspects of student learning and group members should either formally or informally reflect on the effectiveness of the strategies used.

Strategies

I think the most important aspect to develop, especially in first year, is communication skills, which can be built up through collaboration, group work, and presentations.
Year 4, BEd (Primary) Student

Some strategies which are useful are as follows:

  • Agree on the goal and plot the major tasks and timeline needed to achieve the goal at the beginning
  • Agree on roles and responsibilities of different group members – this should be based on strengths and personal preferences
  • A group contract can be used to formalise this if necessary
  • Find out about the constraints of group members up front and come up with solutions early e.g. if it is difficult to meet then use email communication to gather views and material from those unable to attend face-to-face meetings
  • To prevent one person dominating the group, share the responsibility of facilitating group meetings to ensure everyone has a voice, or obtain ideas by email prior to the meeting so that they can be tabled and considered equally
  • If a group member is having difficulties and is not pulling their weight be solution-focused rather than accusatory
  • Use open and respectful communication to group members at all times
  • Consider group work itself a learning process and use the opportunity to reflect on how successful the group was and how effective individual and collective strategies were
  • Use group work as a way of getting to know other students
  • Celebrate the successful completion of a project

Resources at Sydney

Other resources