The group work series of articles has included a range of topics. Over the last four newsletters we have covered getting students started and activities that help, important considerations when putting students in groups and a few ways of doing so, ideas on group roles and tasks, with the last article in 2018 revisiting the various stages of group work and identifying activities to help prepare students for each stage. This final article in the series will consider managing conflict and assessment activities. The importance of ensuring that students know what is expected of them, have the importance of group work explained and are given opportunities to develop required skills related to working with others all help reduce conflict (Kriflik & Mullan, 2007). Prichard, Stratford, and Bizo (2006) elaborate by stating evidence from studies show students who had received training ‘demonstrated higher levels of cooperative skills such as helpful behaviours and explanations to assist others and used more inclusive language than’ students who had not been trained (p. 257).
Training students to work in groups also helps them to understand that conflict is a common feature of group work. Conflict is so common that one of the stages, the transition or storming stage, is also known as the conflict or conflict management stage (see Group work stages and activities). Conflict is not always a problem, as although it may lead to discomfort, it can also lead to improved learning, experience and improved personal insightfulness. What is important is supporting students to understand the challenges that arise and helping them manage their responses to them.
Strategies to help students resolve the challenges of group work might involve asking them to develop a group contract which includes how they will complete tasks and deal with students who do not meet their obligations. Students’ effectiveness in groups may also be attributed to their individual skills, abilities, personal beliefs and self-awareness. The use of self-reflection exercises (see How do we cultivate reflective learning?) as part of the group training or assessment is another useful strategy. Ensuring students communicate well and appropriately across cultures is also important. According to Beccaria, Kek, Huijser, Rose, and Kimmins (2014) ‘the skills required [by students] to explain and even negotiate their contributions may increase their metacognitive awareness, by creating an awareness of their existing knowledge, and what they may not know in relation to others’ (p. 1095). In addition, the strategies discussed earlier in the group work series such as the way students are divided into groups and the roles and tasks they are required to complete will help reduce conflict.
Assessment can sometimes be another cause of conflict for students completing group work assignments, especially if some students feel others are not doing their share of the work, or if the assessment tasks are not appropriately organised. There are several ways of assessing group work, including:
- asking students to develop their own marking criteria
- giving all members of the group the same mark
- all members of the group are given the same mark for the overall product, but their individual contribution is graded separately
- the group grades each members’ contribution (including their own) and these are included in the overall grade which is assigned to the final product.
Further information, suggestions and ideas related to assessing group work are included on the CILT website.
On a final note, according to Natoli, Jackling, and Seelanatha (2014), ‘students often learn more when they study together than alone’ so placing them in groups, teaching them how to work in them and ensuring assessment practices are fair and equitable supports students’ learning (p. 118).
If you are interested in hearing more about supporting successful group work outcomes come along to the face-to-face workshop scheduled for 14 March. For more information on the workshop or to enrol visit Staff development opportunities. You may also be interested in visiting the University of Technology Sydney Enhancing experiences of group work website.
Beccaria, L., Kek, M., Huijser, H., Rose, J., & Kimmins, L. (2014). The interrelationships between student approaches to learning and group work. Nurse Education Today, 34(7), 1094-1103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2014.02.006
Kriflik, L., & Mullan, J. (2007). Strategies to improve student reaction to group work. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 4(1).
Natoli, R., Jackling, B., & Seelanatha, L. (2014). The impact of instructor’s group management strategies on students’ attitudes to group work and generic skill development. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 9(2), 116-132. https://doi.org/10.1080/1554480X.2014.912519
Prichard, J. S., Stratford, R. J., & Bizo, L. A. (2006). Team-skills training enhances collaborative learning. Learning and Instruction, 16(3), 256-265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2006.03.005
Written by Dr Ann Luzeckyj
Senior Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT