Some college students dread group projects. Depending on others and working as a team can require more time investment from some students, and can challenge students who have different work strategies and study habits.

But there are many benefits of group work, including developing the soft skills required for a student to become a team player. Working in groups is a necessary skill to develop for college students who will be entering the working world, and there are many benefits to orchestrating group projects in your curriculum.

Benefits of group work

Group work can be stressful, but ultimately valuable, for college students. Some of the benefits include:

  • Encouraging participation for students who may have difficulty speaking in front of a larger group
  • Giving students an opportunity to take on a project too large for an individual
  • Help students encounter and share diverse perspectives
  • Increase performance and productivity, as students who prepare for a group project are more likely to participate and engage in the classroom.

Collaborating with peers also gives students a chance to gain self knowledge. How are they different from their peers? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Working in a group allows students to establish a peer relationship in a team setting, and helps students to hold one another accountable for their achievements—all skills that will benefit them outside their academic careers.

How to structure group projects

While group projects should be student driven, you can help guide their structure at the start by making the goals of the project very clear when it is assigned. It may help students to have milestones throughout the semester, so they don’t leave all the work right until the end! Give them requirements with concrete deadlines, but allow as much flexibility as you can in the project’s execution, so they can have a chance to brainstorm their own creative solutions within the project’s parameters. It also allows for increased risk-taking within the project, and gives the students a chance to make mistakes—hopefully at the early stages of the project!

You can also ask the students to establish their own expectations and rules for how the group will interact. Student-led decisions on roles in the project may lead to increased ownership of the results.

Tips on evaluating group projects

When evaluating the group project, it’s important to decide what factors you are assessing. As Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki explained in McKeachie’s Teaching Tips 14th edition, “You might be assessing student learning in the form of papers or products produced by the group or members of the group. Or you might be assessing the way in which students worked together in the group, focusing on group process and teamwork more than on content learning.” (McKeachie, 82)

If you are concerned about each student’s individual learning within the group, consider asking students to write their own final reports. Allow students to collaborate on sections such as research design, but require that sections of the report that represent an individual’s thinking on the content be unique. Alternately, create final exam questions specifically on the content of the group project to evaluate what content the students learned. You can also ask students to assess the work of their peers to develop a picture of how the group’s internal work was accomplished.

Other evaluation tools can include:

  • Individual journals the students keep over the project’s process
  • Minutes taken of meetings held by the group
  • Self, group, and peer assessments from each student, asking them to look at their own contributions, the contributions of their peers, and the group’s results as a whole.

What techniques have you found best in introducing, organizing, and assessing group projects? Let us know in the comments.

Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Marilla Svinicki. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.