Evaluations: Mastering the group coursework
Lecturer: “A significant part of your evaluation this module is a group assignment where you will be put into teams of 4 and write a paper, create an excel spreadsheet, and present for 10-minutes on your topic. I expect everyone in the presentation to speak equally…”
This is most likely everyone’s first thought of the group assignment. Your grade is now dependent on other team members, some you may have never met before. You can no longer work at your leisure, choose the plan, or put your name on the top of the essay: it all has to be a group effort now.
In light of this, today we decided to dedicate our resources to help you navigate this group assignment so that you can understand yours and the rest of your team’s roles, work harmoniously, and present a masterpiece of collectively crafted work to your tutor (or professor).
Your team members
The first, and arguably the most important, element of every group assignment is the team. If your group is the right mix of intelligence, motivation, work ethic, and presentation skills, then you are already several steps ahead. Remember a month ago we spoke about attending the first lecture so you can start making friends with intelligent people for group assignments? This is why.
A group consists typically of around 4–5 people but can range anywhere from 2–6+ members depending on class size. While group dynamics and members can seem complicated, we can split members into two categories: members who do work, and members who don’t. We call this active and passive group members. Someone with excellent presentation skills is not useful in your group if they don’t contribute any work to the presentation or show up on the day. At the same time, someone who is a great friend will also not be helpful if all they contribute at group meetings is house gossip.
The best way to form a group is to have as many active participants as possible and divide skillsets, strengths, and weakness among those members. In the first group meeting, everyone needs to identify themselves either as a member who wants to put in lots of work or one who doesn’t. Active members will likely try to lead the meeting, bring forward ideas, get a meeting schedule running, and have already done work before the first meeting. On the other hand, passive members will either not show up (and not message other group members), be silent in group messages, or act as observers in the meeting. If you are in the second category (and by no means do we suggest you be), then picking team members who are in category one is even more important, as they will be making up for your lack of contribution.
After the active group members have identified themselves, you should explore the collective strengths, weaknesses, and expectations of each active member. If one person has extensive knowledge on the topic, let them research and write most of the first draft. If one person has good presentation skills, make sure they do the majority of the presentation if possible. Of course be careful when suggesting these roles, people don’t like getting work ‘dumped’ on them or being told they don’t know topics particularly well.
Tip: If doing a presentation make sure the room technology works beforehand, especially when using a different system to the university technology. For example, if you notice your tutorial room desktops are all Microsoft Windows (likely), and you want to do a fancy presentation on your Mac using Keynote you better test your computer and tech beforehand, otherwise this could be a disaster. In this scenario we would also suggest you keep a PowerPoint backup on your university email so you can bring it up instantly in case of a tech failure.
The active group members
If you are an active member, you usually have at least one other active companion in the group. If this is not true, then you should try to sway at least one other member to participate, as carrying the group solo can be too much effort on your part. Let’s now discuss the different group members strengths and weaknesses within the active category. Depending on your assignment characteristics, you can assign various tasks to each other.
The Hard Worker
This person has no problem putting in 6-hour shifts at a time (a lot for university work) to complete the core parts of the assignment. They usually assemble the research, take the notes, and write most of the essay-style components. You should let this person work alone, and praise them for the work they put into the assignment. They are few and far between.
The Presenter is not someone who is social and has a lot of friends. Just because this person can chat away confidently, does not mean they can get up in front of an audience and speak intelligently about a subject. The Presenter is someone who has public speaking experience. They could be in the debating society or competed in public speaking competitions previously. If you are one of these people, identify yourself right away and let everyone know you don’t mind handling most of the presentation (see our tip above) if no one objects. Most of the time others won’t object, as presenting is one of the least desired roles among group members (speaking in front of an audience is scarier than death ). If you identify yourself early and the group knows that you will be leading the presentation, then it can be acceptable for you to do less on the written part of the assignment (if there is one).
Tip: If your lecturer expects everyone in the group to talk equally ensure the strongest presenter does the introduction and conclusion. Not only will this start the presentation off well (which will help the other presenters) and end it on a high, but adding the intro and conclusion on top of the main argument slides is customarily considered equal speaking levels even though ‘airtime’ may be different. For example, a group of four doing a ten-minute presentation with 1-minute intro and 1-minute conclusion and 4 main points at 2 minutes each, the strongest presenter can do one point and both intro and conclusion, leading to 4 minutes of airtime but contributing equally to the ‘main argument’.
This person isn’t a published author (although they very well could be), but a person who enjoys writing and wants to contribute to the written part as much as possible. If you are this person, you can work with The Hard Worker to re-write, edit, and polish their work for the final submission. They will be happy to work with you.
The Designer has lots of creativity. They should be the ones designing the theme of any presentation slides, titles pages, and various other tasks which require creativity. Many large assignments in the first year have at least one creative component (presentation, video, magazine (yes this one is possible), website, or images) so a designer in your group will be a plus.
The Organiser and Motivator
The Organiser is the glue that brings the group, and the project, together. They contribute where they can, but there most desirable attribute is their organisational and editing skills. They set up group meetings, book the meeting room, make sure everyone is on task, email the professor for help when required, and talk the most on your group chat.
The list could go on, but if you have at least two of the members above you should be in pretty good shape. If not, then as an active member it is your time to step out of your comfort zone and learn how to do tasks you may have no experience with, such as designing a presentation.
Elements of an effective group
Now that you have identified each members strengths and tasks, it’s time to start working on your assignment. To get a good grade, you need to be an effective group. This means regular communication, productive meetings, and fair responsibilities.
There are a dozen commonly used communication channels you can use to message, share, and collaborate your group efforts. We suggest you have one instant messaging platform, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. These are cross-compatible with most devices, and all group members are likely to have either of those channels. We then suggest a formal Group to share more significant material. Facebook works well for this. Information shared could be in the form of longer posts (which you can pin to the top of the group), research documents, your essay drafts, and other presentation materials. Finally, an official Cloud Folder or Drive to share and edit all formal assignment material. DropBox or Google Drive works well, and Google Drive lets you create shared documents where multiple members can make edits simultaneously. This should be organised into folders where you separate research, drafts, and final submission documents.
Tip: All members regardless of participation level should be invited to all communication platforms.
These need to be held at least once per week, even if they last only thirty minutes. You need to meet regularly to discuss your progress and how you are approaching your tasks if you want your final drafts to be consistent and coherent. Think of it this way, employees working as groups sit next to each other, constantly sharing ideas and progress, so meeting once per week is the minimum you should be meeting. Book a meeting room where you can project the presentation, share your work, and get ideas from others. This is where the presenter can work with the designer and practice the slides. After the meeting suggest going for a group dinner (or a pint), so you can get to know each other more. You may find each other tolerable outside a work setting and make some lasting friends, which is always a plus.
Tip: If you’re booking a room, book it for example at 3:30pm but tell everyone that you booked it for 3pm. That way you’ll get the full hour of the room and not have to wait for stragglers.
Pro-tip: Gauge the likelihood of people being late and adjust accordingly.
Key points to consider
After your group has been formed there are some key points you need to discuss and consider.
The project due date (may be different than presentation date)
How long you have to complete the project (due date minus start date)
What days work best for meetings (Mondays? Wednesdays? Sundays?)
Identify each member‘s tasks and expectations
Where and how often do you plan on meeting?
Have an agenda for each group meeting and expected work to be completed
Time creeps up on you fast, and if time management was essential to you during your individual assignments then it is even more critical during group work. You may have more people contributing to the work effort, but if someone slips and the due date is approaching then extra effort is needed to catch up.
Meet with your group members as soon as it’s formed. This could be going to a cafe after the lecture or finding a spot in the library to exchange ideas. If some members cannot make it due to commitments, get their details and add them to all communication channels so they can catch up later.
Work backwards from the due date. Plan to have all submission-ready drafts done at least three days before. Have the presentation finished one week before your presenting date so you can practice. Working backwards ensures you’ll meet the time goals regardless of how long you have to complete the assignment.
Ensure your assigned work is complete before the group meeting, rather than completing it during. You want your teammates to give you feedback and discuss rather than waste their time helping you write an introduction.
Group assignments typically have a more complicated submission process, as there is usually multiple elements and members. If you are handing in a written piece of work, all names must be present, and likely your university will have a unique code for each student to identify themselves on the paper.
If you must also submit through Turnitin or another online similarity checker, do this at least 24 hours in advance. If your instructor allows resubmissions (usually the case), then you can make any referencing amendments required to improve you originality score, which is a component your tutor will look at when checking for plagiarism.
After you have submitted your essay, go all enjoy a pint together at your university pub and congratulate yourselves on a job well done. After all, you have survived what most students call one of the most dreadful aspects of university life.
Other articles you might enjoy
Evaluations: Mastering coursework
The first part in a 3 part series looking at the different types of evaluation students undergo during their time at univeristy. This one focuses on coursework.