Group work promotes an active learning process, participation and interaction among peers. When students come together to complete a project, each gets exposed to diverse perspectives, a pool of knowledge and a opportunities to gain a better understanding of classroom discussions. While college group work offers benefits, the quality of a finished project depends on each student’s contributions.
Getting to Know Each Other
When group members don’t know each other outside of the classroom, it can be difficult to know each peer’s strengths, weaknesses, skills, knowledge, communication style and personality. The initial task of getting to know one another can prolong the time it takes to complete a group project, especially when there are personality or communication conflicts to overcome. For example, one student may feel as if he must manage every aspect of the project to ensure a good grade, or a group member who is an exchange student may have difficulties communicating.
College students have diverse schedules that can include employment, extracurricular activities, homework and taking care of a family. Finding time outside class to work on a project together can be difficult, especially for nontraditional students who don’t live on campus. When a group agrees on dates and times to meet, a member can add obstacles to the project if he doesn’t show up because of a suddenly conflicting priority.
Even though a professor calls a big assignment a “group project,” the students must complete some of the work alone. Distributing tasks among group members in a way that seems fair and equal may be challenge when projects are multifaceted, a member lacks essential skills or knowledge, or a member slacks off on the work that she agreed to complete. In the online document “Working in Groups: A Note to Faculty and a Quick Guide for Students” on the Harvard University website, Ellen Sarkisian of the Derek Bok Center states that this type of challenge may arise if group participants don’t have a clear understanding of their respective roles or access to appropriate resources.
When there’s a lack of leadership, motivation and organization in a group, the group’s overall performance suffers. According to Sarkisian of Harvard's Bok Center, some form of leadership and organization are essential for a group’s success. When a group fails to create a timeline, establish goals, record ideas and check in with each other, members may find themselves scrambling at the last minute to complete a project or create a class presentation.
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