Competition or collaboration: group work woes

Mosa Mgabhi

Individual assessments are common in university, however, also of importance are group assessments as they can be a powerful and effective way to learn.

A guide written by Cynthia J. Brame and Rachel Biel for Vanderbilt University reveals that the use of cooperative learning groups is based on the principle of constructivism which rests upon the idea that “individuals learn through building their own knowledge, connecting new ideas and experiences to existing knowledge and experiences to form new or enhanced understanding”. The guide suggests that cooperative learning follows the notion that small groups are important because students can be heard and hear their peers.

There are various reasons in favour of group work; an infographic by Monash University titled “A guide to group and teamwork” lists the advantages of team work are that a team can produce much more comprehensive or complex work, individuals learn more when working with each other, and that team work “develops decision-making and problem solving skills, project management and organisational skills as well as conflict resolution skills”. However, it also highlights the disadvantages of group work as that “group members might have conflicting ideas or viewpoints and that they may not contribute equally”. The infographic recommends that students need to be patient, committed, conduct productive meetings and communicate well to achieve optimum results for their efforts.

The University of Queensland’s website lists a few disadvantages of group work including: “tasks not being completed by deadline, ideas not thoroughly discussed by the group, members not contributing, ineffective communication, domineering personalities, inability to focus” and it provides a set of dos and don’ts of group work such as “taking notes, setting an agenda, setting deadlines and dividing work into smaller tasks as well as dealing with problems as they arise while avoiding having one student dominating conversations and talking over others and also discouraging students who just agree to anything the other students suggest.”

Siya Jinoyi, a faculty student advisor at the Humanities department of the University of Pretoria, says that students working in a group are able to “work interactively [and] share ideas. [Also], they get to see their strengths through the group and their frustrations including how to handle issues that come about because of these frustrations.” She also sheds light on the fact that “working as an individual [can have] its own advantages because a student knows that they have set a goal to achieve at a particular time, whereas when working with a group of people, there are those people who never want to take any responsibility” or those who have different preferences in terms of working at night or during the day. She further went on to say that students are often intimidated by group work because of underlying personal issues such as self-esteem and struggle with working with a diverse group of students from different backgrounds. She suggests that students need to empower themselves and try to do anything they can to boost their self-esteem and find a way of being comfortable with working within a group.

Not all students are able to work to their full potential when working with other individuals and according to Tutorhunt.com, advantages of individual student type work include: “students work at their own pace, they are confident about what they know, and they can use their preferred learning styles and strategies.” However, students do not get the opportunity to learn from their peers when they work individually and those who prefer interpersonal learning settings also struggle. It takes longer to complete a task when doing it alone compared to a group.

Group and individual work has its place within the university structure and both have their pros and cons, Jinoyi urges students to attend workshops that are provided by different faculties across campus to be better equipped with how to deal with the two forms of assessments and she also stresses their open-door policy to anyone who needs and is willing to speak to a faculty student advisor.

 

Image: Elmarie Kruger

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