Top 5 reasons for success and top 5 reasons for failure of class group projects

by Yulia Strekalova
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Group assignments create in-class learning opportunities where students actively participate in the educational process.  Interaction within groups supplies students with additional feedback. They can also practice their newly received knowledge and skills thus better preparing for entering the workforce.  Group work can greatly enhance contributions made by individual members and create learning connections between class members in addition to the traditional instructor-student relationship.  

Successful group assignments require pre-planning to address issues of group formation and team dynamics, evaluation of individual and group performance, peer feedback, and availability of an instructor for meaningful and sufficient feedback. Topics below summarize suggestions to successfully incorporate group assignments in a course.  

Top 5 features of effective group assignments

1. Challenging assignments that require interdependence. If students can easily “split” the work, they will miss on the group learning opportunity. Group assignments are suited best for the projects that would not be possible for one person to complete in isolation.

2. Multiple opportunities for group work. This type of activity may be new for some undergraduate students. Ungraded in- and out-of-class group activities can help them learn this skill.  

3. In-class time for group work. Some examples could be a group discussion or a quick in-class group project as well as a presentation.

4. Repeat feedback and checkpoints. Peer-to-peer learning becomes a good alternative where students can comment on the work of their teammates helping each other succeed.  It is important to avoid a situation where blind is leading the blind and at the end, students confuse each other.  Availability of an instructor for commenting and intermediary feedback becomes key. 

5. Meaningful peer evaluation. Fairly grading team projects may create challenges in situations where one or more members of the team spend varying effort on the project.  Reasons for unequal contributions can be different.  Students may identify one of the team members as the leader and not volunteer to contribute to the project. Peer evaluation at the end of the course will give students an opportunity to provide feedback about their group experience as well as practice another skill—evaluation–that may be helpful in the future.

Top 5 reasons groups fail

1. Lack of general guidance. In making group assignments work, groups should be carefully guided by a course instructor in making plans for group work. 

2. Long written assignments. Long written projects are likely to be divided into pieces between group members. In situations like this, opportunities for collaborative work may be lost.

3. Groups formed spontaneously. Unguided group formation may lead to students selecting to stay with their friends.Strekalova is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

4. Insufficient planning/time to complete assignments. Group assignments can be effective for larger projects. Completing them before the deadline will not create an optimal learning environment for students. Instructors can help by providing guidance and creating submission milestones to have periodic progress checks.

5. Unequal distribution of workload within the group. Hijacking and hitchhiking are main threats to effective completion of group assignments.

Additional information and references:

Yulia Strekalova is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

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