4 tips for designing a successful group project

by Seul Lee
PhD student, University of Florida

Group projects are important for students majoring in advertising, public relations, journalism and telecommunication because those industries require a higher level of cooperation.  If structured well, group projects can promote important intellectual and social skills and can help students prepare for work world in advance.

Group projects are distinguished from group activities in that group projects are more likely to be long-term-based and require group product(s), such as a written report, a presentation, a design work, or a paper.

Positive group experiences contribute to develop skills specific to collaborative efforts and to have a field experience with real-world clients. However, there are often typical problematic group members, such as a free rider, a dictator, the do-it-all, the procrastinator, the socializer, the academically poor student, the quiet student, and/or the complainer.

To prevent all those potential problems, here are some suggested practices of how to design a group project.

Tip # 1 — Create interdependence

When you create the groups, more than five or six students tend to be unmanageable, but there are no firm rules. The size of a group should be determined by the project’s learning objectives. Dr. McKeachie, in McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, suggested that group composition should be determined by the instructor, not students themselves.

Here are two ways for the instructor to determine the groups:

  1. Based on skill inventory form: After you figure out what skills are needed for the project, you can survey your students to collect information about their skills that will enable you to compose groups. skill inventory form
  2. Role-based assignment: Assign a role to each group member. One student can be responsible for initiating and sustaining communication with the rest of the group, another with coordinating schedules, and the other with recording ideas generated and decisions made at meetings. Assign roles such as devil’s advocate to group members so that they can reduce conformity and push the group intellectually. groups_possible_roles

After composing the groups, ask each group to develop group resume so that they can get to know each other, and it will give you the opportunity to compare one group to another. group_sample_resume

Tip #2 — Establish ground rules

Create ground rules for group behavior or ask students to do so themselves with a team contract. Group ground rules can include things such as:

  • return e-mails from group members within 24 hours;
  • come to meetings on time and prepared;
  • meet deadlines;
  • listen to what your teammates have to say;
  •  respond to one another’s comments politely but honestly;
  • be constructive;
  • criticize ideas, not people.

You might then ask students to formally agree to these ground rules by signing a group learning contract. group_contract_template

Tip #3 — Set interim deadlines

Break the project down into steps and set deadlines for interim deliverables, such as in order of a project proposal, timeline, bibliography, first draft, and final report. Timely feedback improves the overall project.

Tip #4 — Assess individual performance as well as group performance

You should assess process (how students work) as well as product (the work they produce). For the team evaluation, make your assessment criteria and grading scheme clear.

Peer evaluations are important to translate group performance into individual grades. Depending on including herself/himself, peer evaluation could be worked as a self-evaluation as well. group_peer eval

For more information, here are some helpful resources that I have found:

1. Group project survival guide (http://www.babson.edu/faculty/teaching-learning/group-project-survival-guide/Pages/home.aspx) provides a talking PowerPoint.

2. Study guides and strategies (http://www.studygs.net/groupprojects.htm) offers you an interactive tool for the first meeting.

Seul Lee is a student in Mass Communication Teaching.

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