Group assignments and presentations are common assessment tasks at uni.
Effective group work helps you to:
gain new ways of thinking about course content
develop a critical employability skill, ‘teamwork’, to add to your resume
reduce individual workloads, by sharing the work
produce better assessments, using the combined brains of many students.
Problems sometimes arise in group work assignments, due to:
unclear expectations about workload or roles
poor or inadequate communication
lack of planning
individual, interpersonal or other factors.
Tips for successful group work
At the start of your project establish expectations, assign roles, make a plan and draw up a contract. These important early steps will help to avoid problems later on.
1. Establish expectations
As a group, agree on reasonable, shared expectations, for example:
Workload: Decide how much work is involved in each task in the assignment, and the amount of time needed for each.
Meetings: Decide how frequently and when to meet. Meeting times should be suitable for all members. Have clear objectives for meetings, and record decisions.
Communication and sharing work: Decide how you will communicate and share your work, for example Teams, Google, Facebook groups. Agree on how frequently you will check and respond to communications.
Professional behaviour: Explore acceptable, professional behaviour in the context of group work, while also considering the importance of being inclusive and sensitive to individual differences. Decide how to give feedback on each other’s work.
Managing issues: Decide what happens if members do not attend meetings, communicate, meet deadlines or do the work.
2. Assign roles based on individual strengths
Consider the strengths of all group members and assigning specific roles according to individual strengths will give each member a chance to ‘shine’.
Consider building a table such as the one presented here, matching the skills and strengths of each group member (as well as skills they may not have but would like to develop) with appropriate roles.
Prepare and design slides for final presentation
Filming and video production
Identify key concepts; make and edit videos
Surveys with the public
Devise graphs and tables to show findings of research
Plan final presentation
3. Make a project plan
Planning is critical for group assignments and helps avoid last-minute panic. The process of planning a group assignment is similar to planning your individual assessments (see La Trobe’sAssessment Planner). Here are some tips:
work backwards from the assignment due date and break up the assignment into stages
put in deadlines for completion of specific tasks and sections
ensure deadlines are realistic
allocate specific tasks to group members
consider dependencies, that is, when one part of the project relies on the completion of a previous part
build in a ‘buffer’ at the end, in case of last-minute hitches.
As a group, agree on these elements, write up the plan and ensure each member is aware of their own tasks, responsibilities and deadlines.
Creating a written ‘contract’, that everyone agrees on, can be an extremely powerful tool for managing group processes, meeting deadlines and generally helping the group stay on track.
Include expectations about:
meetings and communication
work and deadlines
You could also include the assignment plan and group roles.
Once the project is underway, continue monitoring communication, meetings and task completion. This will help avoid serious issues.
Troubleshooting group issues
Problems in groups can include:
members not attending meetings or communicating
members not doing their share of the work or doing no work at all
members who take over all the work, which enables others to do less
If problems arise, do not delay. Here are some strategies:
1. First, try to resolve the issue with the group
Use the group contract and project plan to enable objective discussions, based on clear evidence. At the same time, be open, curious and flexible with members who may be experiencing difficulties. Use active listening techniques.
"We agreed in the contract to meet our deadlines. You haven’t met your two most recent deadlines. Is there something happening, affecting your ability to get the work done?"
"In our contract, we all agreed to attend weekly meetings. If anyone has to miss a meeting, we agreed they should note their progress, to be shared at the meeting. You haven’t done this. Is there any reason for this?"
2. Speak with teaching staff as needed
If the group cannot resolve the problem, speak with your tutor or lecturer as soon as possible. IMPORTANT – telling your lecturer or tutor about the issue is NOT ‘telling tales’!
3. Seek help from other support services
Touch base with other support services, for example the Peer Learning Advisors (PLAs). PLAs are experienced La Trobe students specially trained to help others with study and assessments. They can give advice based on their own experience with group work.