Despite being every student’s pet peeve, group assignments are hugely important for personal development and future employability. The University of Adelaide prides itself on producing graduates with qualities and characteristics that are transferable beyond the disciplinary context in which they have been developed. It is group work in particular that aligns with two of the University’s core graduate attributes. These include teamwork & communications skills and self-awareness & emotional intelligence.
So, if group work is so beneficial for student development and employability, why do students dislike it so much?
Group work is a reoccurring task within courses; however, students can sometimes find group work off-putting due to various challenges they may face. After consulting several students, we compiled some of the main pet peeves they have with group work:
- Others not pulling their weight
Some group members can be seen as ‘free-loaders’ and coast through the assignment, have minimal input and produce minimal work.
- Disagreements on approach
Group members may have conflicting ideas about the path of direction on the chosen topic.
- Conflicting standards
Some group members are aiming for a Distinction, while some are aiming for a Pass only. Some students may have greater input as they are striving to obtain a better outcome, where those who are content to pass also reap the benefits of a high overall mark.
- Time management
Group work can be challenging at the best of times, however organising face-to-face catch ups to discuss the assignment can be difficult due to such conflicting schedules. Group members usually have other classes and work various jobs at various times.
- Personality clashes
This can occur when working with classmates outside of your friendship group. Groups can be made up of dominant personalities, those who are controlling and can result in forceful actions to take the assignment in their direction.
Despite these common challenges, there are many valuable lessons and skills to be learnt from them. Let’s talk more about what essential future skills are developed from participating in group work.
Group work offers students a scenario where collaboration and cooperation are required and valued to assist in reaching the desired goal. Besides the above key graduate attributes, students will learn and continuously develop the following skills:
- Communication skills
Group work allows students to learn how to communicate effectively and be assertive, especially when they are grouped with other class mates that they wouldn’t normally socialise with. This scenario of working within a diverse group of people can mirror common future workplace environments.
- Delegation of tasks & organisational skills
Students will work as a team to delegate tasks fairly and ensure each member is accountable for their assigned task. This can mirror future workplace scenarios and allow students to understand that there will be times where they have to rely on others to get work done so learning how to set initial expectations within the group is a vital lesson.
- Conflict resolution
Group work allows for development of negotiation tactics in sometimes difficult situations. Students can be put in scenarios where they will need to learn how to diffuse conflict and engage positively in purposeful debate. Students put in these scenarios are able to learn a lot about themselves by understanding how their moods may affect other group members. Developing this kind of self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence.
Being accountable is an attractive characteristic in a future employee and group work can help students to understand why this is so. Being reliable and working with integrity pay off in both a group work scenario, and in a real-world workplace.
Looking for a new tool to help you AND your students assess the performance of themselves and their peers in group work?
SPLAT might be just the tool you need. The self and peer learning and assessment tool, otherwise known as SPLAT, is an online tool used by students to assess the contributions of individual members of their team, as well as themselves. Using course coordinator-defined criteria, an individual weighting factor, more commonly known as a Peer Assessment Factor or PAF, can be calculated for each student. This PAF score can be used to underpin a mentoring session with the team, or, if applied to team marks, can be used to generate an individual mark commensurate with contribution. Students who have used this tool have found it to be helpful in alleviating some of their pet peeves with group work, especially in terms of accountability. Having the power to assess their peer’s efforts has resulted in motivating students to perform better as there is an individual mark commensurate with contribution, and they may not get a good mark if they don’t pull their weight.