Tips for getting the most out of group work on your course.
Tips for students working together as a group
As part of your course assessment you may be required to complete an assignment in groups. You may be able to form your own group with your classmates, or you may be assigned to a group by your tutor.
Group assignments can make up a substantial part of assessments, so what is the best way to get the most out of your group and the group assignment?
Group assignments can be any kind of project or written exercise where you have to work with other in your group to produce the finished piece of work as a joint effort. This can be a group essay, or a group report, or sometimes it may be practical based such as field or laboratory work, or a group presentation.
Working as a group, especially if you have never done it before, may seem difficult or even daunting. But things should improve as the group develops and if everyone in the group stays commited and perseveres to work toward achieving the main goal. It is widely held that group working has four basic stages, as outlined by Tuckman’s paper ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’ (1965). These are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, and all are necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow. They enable to team to face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results.
Do’s and Dont’s of working in a group*.
As a group, it is a good idea to arrange to meet at the start. You can meet anywhere you like, such as a café, or there may be some rooms in the library or around campus which you can book for your meeting. Have a look at the University’s Assessed Group Work policy, which aims to provide clarity and guidance to staff and students around the use of group work in learning.
- Work together to agree an overall outline for the assignment or report. You should consider what sections to include and create a draft list of contents for each section. You should not find it too hard to divide the work into sections. Make a decision on the length of each section so that severe editing of any one is not required.
- Allocate the various sections of the assignment to individuals but also have an agreement that at least one other member of the group will act as overseer or editor and can look at the drafts of each of the sections. For example, if it is to be a group presentation, you can decide which group members might be responsible for presenting and which group members might do background work.
- Treat group members fairly, and divide the work equally, making sure that one person is not left with too big a task.
- Once some material has been drafted by the individuals, meet to decide upon the style of presentation, so that each author can conform to that style and format, for example using the same word-processing format, and the same referencing style.
- When the draft report is complete, meet again to review the whole report. It is important at this stage to be positive and focus upon improving the report rather than being too critical. Pick out the good things about the report and build on them and decide what needs more work. While doing this, keep the original objectives of the project and the assessment criteria in mind.
- Record what needs to be done and decide who should do it, ensuring that tone and style is consistent and seamless, and utilising the strengths and skills of the group members.
- Self-assess the report using the criteria given to identify where improvements can be made. This may be the role for the editor.
- Ensure that the references are correct and that the bibliography provides a full list of all the resources used.
- Check each section for plagiarism. If plagiarism detection software is to be used, ensure there is plenty of time left for a re-draft if necessary.
- Hand the assignment in on time and make sure all the declaration forms are signed.
Group work is not always going to be plain sailing. Sometimes you may run into difficulties and these might include:-
- Timing and poor organisation – leaving everything to the last minute, so it is a last minute rush;
- Non-participation or absence of group member for whatever reason(s);
- Problems with correct facts or content, poor academic style or plagiarism, individual or group;
- Poor communication or clashes between group members;
If you experience difficulties with the group, the first step would be to try to resolve this as individuals or as a group as early on as possible. Don’t be tempted to ignore warning signs as it is best to try to nip any problems in the bud. If you are unable to reach a compromise, then you should contact your course tutor and outline the problem and ask for their help.
Also the staff at Learning Enhancement & Academic Development Service (LEADS) can be approached for help, time permitting.
Some groups are required to grade other group members, and this grade can contribute to the overall mark of the individual within the group, for example 10% -20% of the overall grade. If you are not sure how to grade the rest of your group, ask your tutor for guidance.
Team work, leadership and roles
It might be an idea to gain an understanding of good team working and you may find it beneficial to appoint a group leader and understand the different roles within a team. It is important to treat each other with respect, even if you find yourself disagreeing over something.
Please remember that all students must adhere to the Dignity at Work and Study Policy.
*This guide was based on the group working guide available from the Centre for Academic Development at University of Aberdeen.
Useful tips and links
University of Glasgow Assessed Group Work Policy.
University of Leicester http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/study/group-projects
University of Birmingham http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/metallurgy-materials/about/cases/group-work/tips.aspx
The Student Room, general university study tips https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/revision/university/university-study-tips