A group project is a cooperative learning assignment that requires students to work with peer group members to plan, discuss, and complete a specific project, often over the course of an entire semester. The project can be a research paper, an in-class oral presentation, an out-of-class study project, or research contributed as part of a larger class project involving multiple student groups. The purpose is to prepare students to work collaboratively in order to develop the intellectual and social skills needed to examine research problems from a variety of perspectives, to communicate effectively with their peers, and to evaluate and resolve issues on their own with support from other group members.
Burke, Alison. “Group Work: How to Use Groups Effectively.” The Journal of Effective Teaching 11 (2011): 87-95; Colbeck, Carol L., Susan E. Campbell, and Stefani A. Bjorklund. “Grouping in the Dark: What College Students Learn from Group Projects.” The Journal of Higher Education 71 (January - February, 2000): 60-83; Using Group Projects Effectively. Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University; Williams, Katherine. Group Work Benefits and Examples. Study.com.
As stressful as it can be, group work can actually be beneficial in the long run because it closely parallels the dynamics of serving on a committee, participating in a task force, or working on a collaborative project found in most professional workplace settings. Whatever form the group assignment takes in your course, the opportunity to work with others, rather than on your own, can provide distinct benefits. These include:
Colbeck, Carol L., Susan E. Campbell, and Stefani A. Bjorklund. “Grouping in the Dark: What College Students Learn from Group Projects.” The Journal of Higher Education 71 (January - February, 2000): 60-83; Collaborative Learning/Learning with Peers. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Golde, Chris M. Tips for Successful Writing Groups. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Presented November, 1994; Updated November, 1996 at Association for the Study of Higher Education; Howard, Rebecca Moore. "Collaborative Pedagogy." In Composition Pedagogies: A Bibliographic Guide. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 54-71.
I. Getting Started
To ensure that your group gets off to a good start, it may be beneficial to:
II. Discussing Goals and Tasks
After you and the other members of the group agree about how to approach the assignment, take time to make sure everyone understands what it is they will need to achieve. Consider the following:
III. Planning and Preparation
This is the stage when your group should plan exactly what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and determine who should do what. Pay attention to the following:
NOTE: Try to achieve steps 1, 2, and 3 in a group meeting that is scheduled as soon as possible after you have received the assignment and your group has been formed. The sooner these preliminary tasks are agreed upon, the sooner each group member can focus on their particular responsibilities.
While each member carries out their individual tasks, it is important to preserve your group's focus and sense of purpose. Effective communication is vital, particularly when your group activity extends over an extended period of time. Here are some tips to promote good communication:
V. Finishing Up
Be sure to leave enough time to put all the pieces together before the group project is due and to make sure nothing has been forgotten [e.g., someone forgot to correct a chart or a page is missing]. Synthesizing each group member's work usually requires some negotiation and, collectively, overcoming any existing obstacles towards completion. Technically, this can be done online, but it is better to meet in person to ensure that everyone is actively involved in the process.
If your group has to give a presentation about the results of their research, go through the same process--decide who is going to do what and give everyone enough time to prepare and practice ahead of time [preferably together]. At this point before the assignment is due, it is vital to ensure that you pay particular attention to detail, tie up any loose ends, and review the research project together as a team rather than just looking over individual contributions.
VI. Writing Up Your Project
Writing the group report can be challenging; it is critical that you leave enough time for this final stage. If your group decided to divide responsibility for drafting sections, you will need to nominate a member of the group [if not done so already] to bring everything together so that the narrative flows well and isn't disjointed. Make it their assignment rather than assigning that person to also write a section of the report. It is best to choose whomever in your group is the best writer because careful copy editing at this stage is essential to ensure that the final document is well organized and logically structured.
Focus on the following:
Barkley, Elizabeth F., Claire Howell Major, and K. Patricia Cross. Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2014; Boud, David, Ruth Cohen, and Jane Sampson, editors. Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning from and with Each Other. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2001; Collaborative Learning/Learning with Peers. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Espey, Molly. "Enhancing Critical Thinking using Team-Based Learning." Higher Education Research and Development 37 (2018): 15-29; Howard, Rebecca Moore. "Collaborative Pedagogy." In Composition Pedagogies: A Bibliographic Guide. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). 54-71; INDOT Group Work and Report Planning Handout. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Working in Groups. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Working in Groups. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Group Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Golde, Chris M. Tips for Successful Writing Groups. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Presented November, 1994; Updated November, 1996 at Association for the Study of Higher Education.
Where Your Group Meets Matters!
Choosing where to you meet can have as much of an impact on your group's overall success as how well you communicate and work together. When your group is first formed, be sure to set aside some time to discuss and come to an agreement about where to meet in the future. Obviously, convenience has a lot to do with your possible choices. However, discussions of where to meet should also focus on identifying a space that's comfortable, easily accessible to everyone, and does not have any distractions, such as, the smell of food from nearby, heavy foot traffic, or constant noise,
Places that meet all of these conditions are the collaborative workrooms in the East Asian Library of Doheny or the group study spaces in the Lower Computer Commons of Leavey Library or on the second floor of Leavey Library. These rooms can seat anywhere from 4 to 10 people and all have dry erase boards and power and network connectivity. Most rooms also have large monitors with laptop connections that your group can use to display a presentation, document, spreadsheet, or other information that is the focus of your collaborative work. Note that these rooms are very popular, especially towards the end of the semester, so schedule early and be courteous in promptly cancelling your reservation so others may use the room. Finally, if everyone agrees that meeting in person is not crucial, a meeting to discuss the group's activities can be conducted over Zoom or other video conferencing platform.
Bilandzic, Mark and Marcus Foth. "Libraries as Coworking Spaces: Understanding User Motivations and Perceived Barriers to Social Learning," Library Hi Tech 31 (2013): 254-273.