Succeeding in Group Assignments
Many UK universities put an emphasis on group assignments, often setting them as just one type of assignment alongside individual essays and exams. Group assignments are where a group of several students all work together, with minimal supervision to complete an assessment task. Sometimes this also involves an oral presentation.
Both international and local students can find group assignments challenging at times and if you haven’t worked on many before, they might seem a little overwhelming.
But group assignments can make up a big part of your grade so it’s important to know how to contribute and be a good team member. Most importantly, group assignments are a great opportunity to make new friends and develop teamworking skills.
There are a few things you can pay attention to, to make sure that you contribute and get the most out of your group projects.
Choosing your group
It’s nice to work with friends, so if you’re allowed to choose your own group, pick people with whom you get along. It’s also good to work in a group with a mix of local and international students. Local students are likely to be used to doing group work and they can help you out. Once you have your group, get to know everyone in it. Becoming friends will help you to deal with any obstacles that arise during the assignment.
The first conversation your group has will probably be about how you’ll communicate with each other. Make sure to exchange contact details and consider setting up a convenient way for everyone to chat about the assignment, for instance using WhatsApp, Facebook, email, or even a communal document on Google Drive. Make sure that whichever way the group decides to keep in touch that you check it regularly. If your group members send you ideas or questions, give them some feedback and don’t be afraid to ask questions or share ideas of your own. It’s also important to keep the rest of the group up to date on your progress. Often there is a feedback component to group assignments (e.g. grading the performance of your fellow teammates), so make sure you’re pulling your weight by keeping in touch and letting the others know you’re available and working towards the common goal.
To learn more about using Google Drive, read our guide.
Understanding the assessment
Read through the assessment requirements carefully and make sure you understand the task ahead. All students sometimes feel like there are parts of assignments that they just don’t understand and if this happens to you – don’t panic – you can ask for help. You can ask a member of your group or go to see your teacher. Most universities will also have academic support services – some specifically for international students – that you can ask for advice. Some of these services will also be happy to help you proofread your work once you have a draft. Many UK universities also go as far as assigning each student an academic relevant to their major – someone you can easily check in with if there are any problems. Don’t be shy if your university is great enough to offer this service!
Doing equal work
Probably the biggest source of tension in group assignments occurs when someone feels like they are doing more work than they should have to. In the beginning, your group will have a conversation about who should do what job. Try to imagine the assignment like a big piece of pie and ask yourself – is everyone doing an equal amount? Be open about what job you would most like to do and what your strengths are. For example, if you don’t feel confident speaking a lot during a presentation, you can say you would like to do research or written work. If there’s something that you think you will struggle with – tell your group members so that they can change your job or give you some help.
Sometimes conflict will arise within groups. Whether they are big or small, it’s important not to panic and know that there are steps you can take to avoid and resolve disagreements. Often this arises around miscommunication, so nip this in the bud by keeping lines of communication open and easy.
Don’t ignore a problem. When your first notice an issue, try to deal with it when it arises, otherwise it might grow into an even bigger problem later.
Be honest (but polite). If there is something you feel you need to say, speak as clearly as you can about what it is and why you feel it’s important. This will help your group members understand your point of view. Saying things politely will lessen the chance of causing more disagreement.
Listen. Make sure you take the time to really listen to other people’s points of view. They will appreciate that you think their views are important.
Separate people from the problem. Approach the conflict as a problem to be solved – not as a personal or emotional issue. This will help you to avoid personal arguments and see solutions more clearly.
Brainstorm. Suggest that your team brainstorm together to find solutions that will help you to move forward from the conflict.
Seek help and advice. If there is a conflict that really cannot be solved, or you feel you cannot talk to your group members, seek out your teacher or your universities support services for help and advice on how best to deal with the situation.
Overall, most people are out for the same thing you are – to do a good job with their group task and get good marks! Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions, and be sure to maintain a positive working relationship with your teammates. You never know, it might be the start of some long time friendships! And, of course, when all is said and done, you can always head down to your local pub to celebrate a successful team effort – a great incentive for any team!