Coming to Grips with Group Work

Coming to Grips with Group Work

Already worrying about that upcoming group project on your syllabus?  Fifth year Interactive Arts and Science student Ellen Thornton brings you student advice on successfully completing university group projects.

As a new school year begins, almost every student is taking the first few weeks to look at their syllabuses and figure out their overall workload.  Typically you will see that the final mark will calculated based on a final exam, a couple of essays or labs, and some sort of a group project.  To some students, this may not be a big deal, but others may absolutely dread it based on past experiences or hearing horror stories from friends.

Fortunately, group projects don’t have to be as bad as they seem!  Here are some of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) when it comes to working in groups over my university career.

Communicate Often

The biggest factor that will make or break any group project is how much you communicate with your group members.  Not only is it important for everyone to know exactly what their work is, but everyone needs to know who they are working with.

I once had a group presentation where no one knew each other in another class, until someone sent an email to our Brock emails.  The only problem was we never heard back from one member, so we continued our work without them.  Along comes the night before our presentation, everyone’s work is done, and we are just going over the finishing details, and the missing group member replies back asking when we were going to start working on our presentation!  Needless to say what we thought would be an easy night ended up being incredibly stressful trying to find something for them to add.

From experience I learned that it’s incredibly important to keep up communication with group members in order to make sure everyone is included.  If someone is not responding, keep sending messages in case the first one never goes through, and even try talking to your group members during class breaks or after class if you finish early.   Conversely, if you have not heard from any of your group members, try reaching out to them in order not to get left behind.  Who knows, you might even be the one who gets the project started!

Start your Work Early

The other main factor of a successful group project is starting as early as possible.

Many professors assign group projects and have students create their own groups early in the semester, to give them time to work together and juggle the rest of their classes.  However, if you are the last group to submit your work it may be tempting to wait until later in the semester to start working on it.  The biggest issue with this strategy is when exams start coming up, and everyone is spending their free time studying and completing final assignments. This makes it much harder to find a time for the entire group to come together and work on the project.

The best way to work around this problem is to meet with your group early in the semester.  If you really want to start early you can talk to your group members the day that the group is made.  At the very least you can put a face to the name of your group members, and if you’re ambitious, start coming up with general ideas for topics.  This way, everyone can begin doing their parts while their course load is still relatively light.  Who knows, the project may even be finished early and then everyone has one less assignment to worry about!

Have Fun with it!

Almost every lecture, seminar and tutorial that students will attend throughout the semester will involve the professor explaining a certain topic and having to write down as many notes as possible in order to prepare for the final exam.  While this is very informative, it can get less interesting doing the same thing week after week.

Group projects give students the opportunity to bring some excitement back into the course by letting them become experts in a certain topic and in most instances, teaching the class their findings.  It also allows for students who are part of the audience to potentially gain a better understanding of a certain topic because it was being taught in a different way than the professor would have taught it.

Some of the most memorable group presentations that I have seen while at Brock have been when a group is clearly passionate about their topic, because they got creative about how to present it, or included really interesting resources and examples.  If you are able to choose your own topic, pick something that everyone has a common interest in; or if you are assigned a topic, try to find a specific area of interest, or something you would like to continue researching.

For example, a group that was teaching the class about the evolution of technology in the everyday home talked about a “smart” litter box that connected to the owner’s phone to track their cat’s health.  Choosing such a unique and somewhat odd example kept me interested in listening to the entire presentation.  The presentation was also really helpful when I began working on my final assignment because I had learned a lot about their topic.  If everyone enjoys what they are working on, it will feel less like a tedious assignment and more like an enjoyable learning experience that the audience will immediately pick up on.

Overall, learning how to work in a group is not only an important skill for university, but it is essential to life after graduation.  In almost every career path there will be a need to work with other people, and being able to successfully work collaboratively to create quality work is incredibly valuable.  Hopefully with these tips you will be able to embrace and enjoy the opportunity to work with others and create something even better than what could have been done individually.

For other resources about group projects or other assignments check out Brock’s A-Z Learning Services


About ainnes

Social Media Coordinator, Faculty of Humanities, Brock University

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