Opinion

When Group Work Doesn’t Work

A CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: https://standard.ucu.ac.ug/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Call-for-abstracts-EACA-conference-SLO-Revised.pdf
Key Dates:
• Call for abstracts: 15th April 2021
• Abstract submission deadline: 15th May 2021
• Notification of abstract acceptance: 22nd May 2021
• Delegates registration commences: 22nd May 2021

John Vianney Ahumuza

Introducing group course works as an assessment methodology in any higher institution of learning leads to noticeable gains in student achievement, reasoning ability, and motivation. To realize these gains, students must all contribute. Strategies like assigning roles, interpreting questions, discussing the content, and compiling coursework all encourage student participation.

Students, like the rest of us, aren’t born knowing how to work well in a group. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be taught and learned. Teacher design and management of group work on projects can do much to ensure that the lessons students learn about working with others are the ones that will serve them well the next time they work in groups

The main aim of lecturers giving group assignments is to encourage students to produce quality work—better than what the students could do individually—and they want the students to learn how to work productively with others. Whereas group work is a great thing, on the contrary, it can be time-consuming due to individual differences in executing tasks. This means if it is not handled well and there is nobody in charge, the deliverables may be mere dreams. To that end, below is a set of suggestions for improving group work-based assignments.

Emphasize the importance of teamwork—Before the groups are formed and the task is set out, lecturers  should make clear why this particular assignment is being done in groups.

Teach teamwork skills—Most students don’t come to group work knowing how to function effectively in groups. Whether in handouts, online resources, or discussions in class, teachers need to talk about the responsibilities members have to the group (such as how sometimes individual goals and priorities must be relinquished in favor of group goals) and about what members have the right to expect from their groups. Students need strategies for dealing with members who are not doing their fair share and  advice on time management.

Use team-building exercises to build cohesive groups—Members need the chance to get to know each other, and they should be encouraged to talk about how they’d like to work together.

Thoughtfully consider group formation—Most students prefer forming their own groups, and in some studies these groups are more productive. But if the goal is for students to learn how to work with others whom they don’t know, then the lecturer/tutor should form the groups.

Consider roles for group members—Roles can emerge on their own as members see what functions the group needs and step up to fill those roles. However, this doesn’t always happen when students are new to group work.

Provide some class time for meetings—It is very hard for students to orchestrate their schedules. Part of what they need to be taught about group work is the importance of coming to meetings with an agenda—some expectation about what needs to get done. They also need to know that significant amounts of work can be done in short periods of time, provided the group knows what needs to be done next. Working online is also increasingly an option, but being able to convene even briefly in class gives groups the chance to touch base and get organized for the next steps.’

When the above steps are done, one can expect good deliverables within the stipulated time. Let us appreciate group work for greater output. The fact of the matter is that we are bound to work with groups in the public spheres we ought to serve after graduation. The earlier the practice the better.

John Vianney Ahumuza is a lecturer at Uganda Christian University

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