Group work has the unique ability to deliver results that extend far beyond a single term’s academic grades. Asking students to work together as a team benefits them in several ways. The nature of collaboration among peers leads to greater critical thinking skills, stronger collaborative skills, more accountability, improves self-regulation, and enhanced communication skills. Students hone the ability to develop and build an argument that stands up to scrutiny while increasing retention of knowledge and understanding of key concepts. Putting together groups that reflect diverse experiences means greater perspectives that lead to more effective problem solving with more creative solutions. And the strong social and academic ties that arise from group work can improve overall student retention. 

How Group Work Challenges Students

Before developing strategies for better group work results, it’s important to understand why some students find group work unsatisfactory. Given the diversity in personality types, it’s natural that introverts and extroverts will see their roles in group work differently. Students’ ability to self-manage can vary greatly and those differences skills like time management and empathy can cause frustration. Some students may feel a lack of confidence in trusting the instructor to accurately see how much each student contributes and the quality of those contributions. And students may also have concerns about their fellow students’ commitment to the project. 

Group Work Challenges Faculty, Too

It’s not just students who find group work challenging. While there are some distinct benefits to faculty, such as the ability to assign more complex projects and perhaps an overall fewer number of projects to review, there are some obstacles, too. It can indeed be hard to objectively see how students are contributing and the quality of their contributions. Faculty may make erroneous assumptions about students’ ability to collaborate and self-manage in a group work setting. And faculty may have difficulty in fairly assessing and evaluating individual and group project results. To score only one and not the other can fail to meet students’ expectations and that frustration can be damaging. 

Develop Strategies for Effective Learning Through Group Work

A school’s faculty has great latitude in making students’ group work experience productive and worthwhile. Much of it comes down to the foundations laid by faculty members in advance of the assigned activity and in the introduction of it. Have a clear idea of what the final goal of the project should look like and communicate these expectations to students. Consider reviewing key principles of successful group work, such as assigning roles and delegating tasks. Balance individual effort with group productivity by soliciting reflections on both. 

At an institutional level, make it easier for students to collaborate by providing a web-accessible educational technology space where groups can exchange ideas and feedback amongst themselves, including sharing documents and feedback. Provide students with confidence in the process of assessment and evaluation by offering ed tech analytics as an objective tool. 

Group projects have long been a part of the educational experience because the benefits can heavily outweigh potential drawbacks. Building self-management, collaboration, negotiation, communication, and critical thinking skills serve students well beyond academics and into employment. Faculty play a role in establishing a strong framework for success in assigning group work, and institutions can support them both by implementing education technology tools like web-accessible collaborative workspace and analytics for objective assessment and evaluation. 

By Andrew Lang