Information on different types of group working, and how to get the best out of group activities
One of the teaching methods used at postgraduate level is to put students in groups to work together on a project - for example a presentation or a research activity. Many of our students have experienced group work in previous studies or work life, but if you are not used to working in this way it can seem daunting.
Here are some simple ways to make the most out of being involved in groups.
When you are allocated to your group, contact the other members and set up a meeting (in person or electronically) to establish how the group will work. Agree on expectations - how will you communicate? How frequently will the group meet? When are the deadlines? How will tasks be divided amongst the group members?
Ideally, group members will take turns chairing meetings, by leading the discussion and ensuring the project is on schedule. But not everybody may be confortable adopting this role, so it’s best to keep this voluntary.
Acknowledge each other's contributions and remember that not every valuable contribution will be obvious. ‘Quiet’ group members can still be actively involved, for example by undertaking research activities, critical analysis or writing.
Make sure group members are clear about how the tasks/activites they have agreed to do. Theories around team roles, such as Belbin or Myers-Briggs type indicator can be helpful when working in groups as they allow you to consider your preferences and skills.
Is your group not meeting the expectations set out at the start? Are people not turning up to meetings? If your group isn’t working effectively, approach this as an opportunity for learning. If possible, talk to group members to find a solution. If that’s not possible, then you may need to contact the course leader to discuss options. Don’t wait till the last minute: identify and address problems and issues as they arise.
Many of our students form study groups to share readings or explore topics in greater detail. Discussing your work in a group will allow you to learn from your peers and to incorporate their opinions into your thinking.
Study groups can consist of students from one discipline or different disciplines, with each offering advantages. A group focused on one discipline will allow for more in-depth analysis and reflection, while a cross-discipline group will allow for a wider range of perspectives and tend to be more common in a work environment.
Some Schools will actively encourage study groups and may help you find group members. If your School doesn't, then you could advertise for members on the School/Programme notice boards or online learning environments.
When discussing topics in your group, remember that the loudest voice may not always be correct. Listen to all group members. At the same time, don't simply rely on other perspectives – make sure you develop your own view as well.
As with any group, be clear about how the group will work. Who can join? How often will the group meet? Will it focus on one paper at each meeting? Setting tasks to work on between meetings, such as analysing a topic, will keep members focused and motivated.