Group work: students’ solutions to the challenges by Sonia Hood

Group work is an integral part of assessment at university but students rarely arrive equipped with the skills, experience and knowledge to deal with the challenges they face when working in groups. This can be a cause of anxiety for students and also a time consuming intervention for lecturers.

Henley Business School approached Study Advice for help in supporting students with this form of assessment. It was felt that students needed help navigating the wide range of resources available to them. In addition, in order to offer effective support, we felt we first needed to understand the challenges students face, how they have/intend to overcome these and how best they would like to be supported in doing this. A project was set up and we received TLD funding to investigate this further.

The project had two main aims: the first to create a bank of resources that students working on assessed group work could be directed to. The second was to recommend some interventions to support students with the challenges they faced when working in groups.

The research

A student researcher was employed to evaluate the wealth of group work resources openly available. This resulted in a folder of group work resources being created and uploaded onto Blackboard.  In addition a pack containing key resources was compiled and handed out to part 1 REP students when commencing their first group work project. We were able to evaluate the effectiveness of this pack within this research.

A range of focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted with Real Estate and Planning students, and HBS staff , over the past year. They explored both the perceived challenges to group work and the proposed solutions to these challenges. This qualitative data was then analysed and a number of key challenges, possible solutions and recommendations were presented to Real Estate and Planning teaching and learning staff.

What students want

The interviews and focus groups revealed the complex challenges associated with group work, supporting previous research into this area. Solutions varied between the PG and UG students, though both recognised that effective teams take time to get to know each other informally. Students suggested that informal events could be organised as part of their course to help them through this ‘forming’ stage. PG students also asked for careful consideration of how the mark for group work is allocated (with a higher proportion allocated to individual work) and for a penalty to be imposed, as a last resort.

More support was requested in dealing with conflict and difficult team members, and the need for more self-reflection from everyone within the group was identified. There are also some simple things we can do to help students with the practicalities of group work, like timetabling group work sessions and  booking rooms at set times for students to use. In terms of tutor support, it was recognised that their time was limited; when it comes to personal issues within a group, speaking to a mentor (like a part 2 student) who could offer confidential, impartial advice would be a preferable option for UGs.

Resources for your students

We now have a bank of resources to support students with group work, available on Blackboard, which can be copied into any course. The resources are clearly divided into folders and contain a mixture of: video tutorials; advice on dealing with challenging situations; self-reflection tools and group assessment questionnaires. The initial pack handed out to part 1 students proved to be useful for UGs, mainly as an aid to focus early group discussions. It contained some forms to record minutes, ground rules, contact details and roles, as well as offer advice to the common issues experienced within groups

Work continues on this project, as at present we are only just starting to disseminate the findings. Whilst the recommendations might not be relevant to all engaged in group work, a number of themes and challenges are shared across a variety of disciplines. We would welcome speaking to anyone who is interested in finding out more about this project and how they might benefit from this research.

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