One of the Flinders University Graduate Qualities states that
We expect our students to interact effectively and properly with others in a variety of settings. This includes, where appropriate, working cooperatively and productively within a group or team towards a common outcome. It also includes showing respect to others and to their ideas and perspectives, and learning to negotiate and resolve conflict or difficulties constructively.
Some of the positive aspects of group work include:
- Increase in meta cognitive awareness
When students have to explain and negotiate their contributions to a group project it can assist them to develop and increase their meta cognitive awareness. That is, in low risk contexts they begin to know what they know and know what they have yet to learn or find out.
- Development of generic skills
Group projects can provide opportunities for developing generic skills such as: organisation, negotiation delegation, team work, co-operation, leadership, following etc.
However, students don't automatically pick these up through being involved in a group project. These skills must be explicitly taught and critically evaluated. Students need to be explicitly aware of such skills to intentionally develop them and to include them in their personal attributes in job applications.
- Development of social networks and relationships
A distinguishing feature of the history of successful university students is that they have strong social/learning networks with other students. Group work is useful for encouraging social interaction for new students who might be isolated; especially for shy, rural and overseas students.
- Development and contribution of individual capabilities
Group work can be a means for acknowledging and utilising the strengths and expertise of individual students. They can contribute their unique capabilities in completing a group project or performance.
- Greater depth and breadth in final products
When a small group of students explores a topic in a limited time frame there are opportunities for their collaborative efforts and the products of their studies can go to greater depth and breadth than if they work individually.
- Authentic approach to learning
Learning and production of projects in the real world rarely requires individual effort. While individuals may have specific responsibilities most projects and enterprises require marshalling a mix of expertise and responsibilities.
Group work in university can be used for real world projects and to harness opportunities to work in multidisciplinary teams as learning communities exploring specific themes or issues.
However for groups to work effectively students require guidance and support to ensure they develop the complex skills and abilities to work as an effective member of a group. It is important that group work is planned, groups are given guidelines to aid in their establishment and that these are then assessed and evaluated. When done well group work can aid in the creation of a supportive learning environment for all participants. However if it is not done well or groups are left to chance they can become acrimonious, leading to conflict between participants and situations where participants feel that assessment work is not equally or collegially developed. Unless carefully planned by staff group work can result in numerous unexpected stresses, particularly for students who are time poor; live long distances from the campus and/or rely on public transport.
Well designed assessment is integral to groupwork and detailed informtion and examples are available at our Assessing Groupwork website.
The following resources were developed to support and guide staff as they support students working in groups:
- Group work for Staff
From the University of Sydney's Office of Teaching and Learning in the Economics and Business
This site offers a step by step practical guide to designing, managing and assessing group work. It discusses how to prepare students as well as how to form and manage groups. Templates on planning, delegating and running meetings are also provided.
- Group-work video resource
from Learnhigher - Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
This site provides access to a number of resources that may be used as teaching or learning aids. "Each episode highlights a different aspect of working as part of a group and includes a number of video clips, audio clips as well as observation and discussion points."