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‘I love group work’…said no student ever!

04 Mar 2022 | Dr Nigel Francis Dr Nigel Francis, Cardiff University, introduces a guide: 'Using Group work for assessment', co-authored with Professor Jane Thomas and Matthew Allen, both from Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching, Swansea University

What is it about group work that students dislike so much? What can academics do to make them realise how fundamental the skills developed in this teaching approach are? Unfortunately, the common feeling among students towards group work is one of negativity, but it does not have to be this way, although it is undoubtedly one of the trickiest teaching methodologies to get right.

Students often perceive group work as unfair or harder than individual assignments, which can certainly be true. It is almost certainly easier to work individually to produce a piece of work, but students miss out on the critical transferrable skills that employers expect of the modern graduate. When working in a group, students are developing the soft skills that are so fundamental for success in the workplace. Learning to work cooperatively with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, attitudes or motivation towards work, varying knowledge bases or skill sets is essential, especially as the workplace becomes more collaborative. The ability to solve problems or resolve conflict requires communication skills, as well as leadership and mediation, which are all attributes that employers are seeking.

Aside from the transferrable skills are the benefits that group work can have on student learning. The quality of work in a group task is almost always greater than in individual tasks due to the discussion and peer instruction that occurs. Moreover, peer feedback can be a powerful learning opportunity if students are willing to engage with it. When coupled with reflection on performance within the group task, it allows students to identify strengths and weaknesses that can be taken forward into the next assignment.

So, how do you get the best out of group work? Well, no one size fits all and in ‘Using group work for assessment – an academic’s perspective’, a wide range of tips, tricks and considerations are discussed that have been collated from the experience of refining group work over a period of seven years. The most important thing for the academic to identify right from the start is the rationale for using group work and to appreciate that the ‘Nike Approach’, or the ‘Just Do It Approach’, will almost certainly not work and may remove many of the benefits associated with working collaboratively. However, when set up correctly and used appropriately, group work can be one of the greatest learning experiences for students, and we will be doing them a disservice to shy away from this approach simply because it is difficult.

‘I love group work’…said one student, someday!

Read the guide: Using group work for assessment – an academic’s perspective, by Dr Nigel Francis, Cardiff University with Professor Jane Thomas and Matthew Allen, both from Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching, Swansea University. 

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