Balance, Classes, Connections, General, How-to, People, Student Life, Study

Making Group Work Work

“Teamwork makes the dream work”, or so I’ve been told. Some people might be inclined to respond that “Group work makes the nightmare work”. It’s a scary form of assessment which universities seem to be falling increasingly in love with. From an outsider glance, it’s easy to see why: future researchers need to be able to collaborate with people who have different knowledge than do they in order to continue advancing our understandings of the world, and anyone working or living in the world today needs to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills to survive.

Both in the real world and in the university, group work poses a few risks: someone might coast along with the team just to take credit, people might take control of the group,  and duties might not be distributed fairly, among other things. In the classroom, there’s the added weight that your grade usually depends on working with other people. It’s a scary trial that many people will have to confront before they graduate.

Yet, despite so many students harping on group work at UofT and around the globe, a google search for how to make university group work actually work shows almost no results: mostly just resources for teachers trying to make group work worthwhile. But what about us students? Where are the guides for making group work work? Good question. It will depend on the kind of group work assigned and the discipline it’s for. But I think there are some answers on a broader interpretation. Continue reading:

1. Introduce yourself. Even in small classrooms, it’s very easy not to know the people around you. It will be a lot easier to work with people if you know their names, and it helps to break the ice. Even if your group work is only going to last ten minutes, it only takes a few seconds to introduce yourself.

2. Exchange the best contact information. A lot of students feel obliged to give out their utoronto email accounts, even though a lot of them don’t use their accounts too frequently. This makes it hard to keep touch. Go ahead and share your sk8r_h8r1998 hotmail account if it’s what you use most. Or, try Facebook groups or third party applications. Whatever is going to keep your team in touch.

3. Don’t be too modest. Everybody has their own skills. A team works best when it’s using everybody’s skills together. If you’re good at presenting, let them know. If you have great research skills, great! If you have strong penmanship, well you’re likely a total keeper. It will make assigning any jobs easier, and will make it easier for you to do your part when you’re already good at it!

4. Break out but don’t break up. It’s easier to work on projects in smaller groups and way easier to schedule! (Not to mention, may be helpful with productivity). But be careful that you don’t wander too far: your break out groups should stay accountable to your whole group. I can only tell you what happens when the people supposed to do section X disappear on presentation day, and nobody knows what their part was.

5. Get [a] stranger. If you have the option to pick your own groups, consider bringing in a stranger. It can be comfortable to study and work with the people you know, but (a) it also means conflicts can be even worse, and (b) some studies show that bringing new people into a group setting improves the creativity and productivity of the group. Who knows what your peers have in store for you!

6. Bonus: Ditch the doodle polls for group scheduling; when2meet has made my scheduling life so much easier in every way.

Have any other tips for surviving group work? Let me know in the comments!