Often times when students hear the phrase “group project”, they shudder almost immediately at the very idea of having to collaborate with their peers. Group projects tend to be attached to feelings of stress, frustration, and confusion. Besides the initial dread of organizing the logistics of when to meet and where to meet, there are many instances where problems can arise throughout the process of completing the project. At times, it can be especially difficult to motivate a group and maximize efficiency. Problems can emerge in a number of different ways. The group can have trouble determining where to get started, agreeing on ideas, staying organized, remaining on task, and so on. These are just some of the negative characteristics that seem to give group projects a bad reputation in the minds of students.
On the flip side, if group projects are completed effectively, they can fulfill their true purpose and be an exciting experience where students learn from their peers and acquire good skills, like compromise and problem solving, which are needed for working with others (Veil & Turner, 2002). Veil and Turner (2002) suggest many strategies for maximizing the efficiency in a group. The following are some of the helpful tips that they suggest (along with annotations from yours truly) to increase motivation, energy and efficiency in order to improve the group project experience.
- W – Watch your ace. Pay attention to the pace at which the group is working. If you find that the group is moving too quickly, slow down the pace of the group, but if you find that the work is dragging on, speed up the pace of the work (Veil & Turner, 2002). If certain members are having trouble keeping up, or particular parts of the project are not being given enough attention, this may be a sign that the pace is moving too quickly. To slow down the pace, techniques that I suggest are to have everybody go back and review the parts of the project that have been completed, or to talk about the overall goals that the group wants to achieve by the end of the meeting. These are opportunities to take a small break, and to allow the team to re-group again. On the flip-side, if you notice that the group is experiencing a lull, I recommend that you try switching the subject or moving onto a new task for the time being. This quick adjustment can be the right boost of energy that a group needs to re-establish motivation and efficiency.
- E – Establish a Commitment to the Group’s Success. To try to make sure that all members are working towards the success of the group, it can be helpful to establish “common goals” that are reviewed throughout the duration of the project, to recognize the “progress” that is made, and to record the “achievements which are [made] due to joint effort” of everybody (Veil & Turner, 2002, p.138). During the completion of the project, I think that it can be motivating to recognize and to celebrate (perhaps by crossing a task off on a list) when goals of the group are being worked towards or are completed. Additionally, when there is a clear list of goals and tasks, jobs can be divided more easily between members which makes the project more manageable for everybody. Being accountable to others and a list of joint goals can be motivation to encourage group members to not only complete their portion efficiently but also put their best work forward.
- E – Ensure that All Members of the Group Have a Voice. Sometimes it can seem that the group members who talk the most have all the best ideas; so, the most “talkative group members” can seem to dominate the discussion now and again (Veil & Turner, 2002, p.139). Of course their ideas are valid, important, and encouraged; however, it is important to acknowledge the value of the quieter members’ ideas as well. Their quietness does not mean that they do not have anything to contribute. Veil and Turner (2002) say that “[looking] for body language and [distinguishing] timidity (‘I do not dare’) from inability (‘I cannot’)” can be a way to identify when to encourage quiet members’ participation (p.139). If the less talkative members are quiet because they are apprehensive to offer their ideas, try addressing them personally and asking them their opinions. However, if a group member truly looks like they do not have anything to contribute, let that go and come back to them later for an idea on a different topic. To maximize motivation and efficiency, I think that it is best to try to incorporate the ideas and strengths of all members in order to achieve the group’s full potential.
- D – Devil’s Advocate Be Gone. Have you ever stopped contributing to a group discussion because your ideas were continually being questioned? Establish within your group when it can be helpful to play devil’s advocate and when it is not. Some group members have a difficult time not challenging every idea that another person may share (Veil & Turner, 2002). Creating these boundaries helps those members know when to challenge and when to let that idea slide. This is especially important because constant questioning of ideas can lead to decreased motivation and willingness for people to share their ideas as they feel that there is a high risk of their ideas being attacked (Veil & Turner, 2002). In my opinion, group projects are all about sharing and learning from one another; therefore, the group work environment should be a safe place to brainstorm any and all ideas. Any idea, no matter how silly, or off-the-mark, can act as a starting point for great, innovative ideas that may shape the entire project!
These tips are just some of the ways that will help you to WEED out the negative aspects of group projects, and allow you to cultivate the motivation and efficiency of any group in hopes of achieving the group’s maximum potential.
All the best,
Veil, C., & Turner, J. R. (2002). Group efficiency improvement: how to liberate energy in project groups. International Journal of Project Management, 20, 137-142. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.libproxy.wlu.ca/science/article/pii/S0263786300000363
Hello everyone! Welcome to October! There are a few things coming around the corner like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Midterm season. That last one is not as fun as the first two. During midterm season, I see many students stressing out over their exams and their essays that are due this month, myself included. As much as being stressed may be the only option to make it through midterm season, there are ways to reduce that amount of stress. Here are a few tips and tricks I have learned over my many midterm seasons to help reduce stress:
- Make a study plan. During midterm season, I am constantly looking at my calendars. It helps to show me what tests are coming up and what essays and assignments are due when. Do not get me wrong, sometimes I get the feeling of “How am I going to make it through this week?”. But fret not, as this is where the study plan comes in. By creating set times to study, I am able to sit down and focus myself for an hour or two at a time to look over my notes, do my readings, and work on my essays. If you want to have a study schedule but have no idea where to start, feel free to book an appointment for a Personalized Study Schedule at the Centre for Student Success.
- Do not study the same subject for too long. Sometimes after studying for the same course, I find myself reading one of the pages in my textbooks for that course and absorbing nothing from it. This is because I’ve overexposed my brain to a certain subject, and my brain likes variety. For example, if I have 5 or 6 hours of study time that day, I am not going to dedicate the entirety of that to studying for my Religion and Popular Culture class. By hour 3 I find myself daydreaming and not paying attention to the page in front of me. So I like to switch up what I am studying in order to keep me interested.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Most people have seen a movie where a college student pulls an all-nighter to study for the test he or she has the next day. And surprise, he or she aces the test. However, it does not necessary work like that in the real world. I have seen classmates come in after pulling an all-nighter that are groggy, overtired, and more nervous than before they tried to cram all their studying into one night. Not only are they overtired, but their brain did not have time to properly encode the information that they studied through the night. The brain needs sleep in order to do that. So not only were they tired, but they did not absorb as much as they thought they did.
- Take study breaks. In my first semester of my first year, I did not stop studying for my midterms. I pretty much spent all my time out of class reading, looking over notes, or writing essays, only stopping to eat and sleep. By the time midterm season had ended, I was completely burnt out. I learned from this. In my second semester, I stopped to watch videos, to hang out with my friends, etc. I found that by not spending all my time studying and by including activities I enjoyed into my plans, I was not as burnt out by the end of midterm season.
No one said midterm season was easy. However, it is possible to manage the amount of stress associated with midterm season. As always, if you would like help with study skills or want a personalized study schedule, feel free to book an appointment at the Centre for Student Success in Brantford.
Good luck during midterm season,
It may seem as though online discussions will be easy – after all, don’t we as students have lots of experience with posting in the online world? However, online discussions on say, Tumblr or Reddit, are vastly different from the sort of discussion expected of students in an academic environment.
To be fair, there are some similarities. In both cases, an online discussion is essentially a conversation between individuals; as such, there is usually a fluid back-and-forth quality to the communication.
As far as similarities go, that may be it. Online discussions in a university-level course require a certain standard of analytical thinking, proper grammar and spelling, and constructive feedback to peers that is often, to put it lightly, lacking in other online forums.
My recent experience as a discussion facilitator has prompted me to think about how students can be successful in the online academic world.
Here are some strategies that I’ve uncovered:
- Make sure you know the course requirements. This is probably the most important strategy on this list. If you don’t know what’s expected of you, how will you succeed? Some professors may have very specific expectations. How many posts do you need to write? How many times do you need to respond to the posts of your peers? Do you need to provide citations? If so, what citation style should you use? The syllabus should be your best friend!
- Consult the rubric. This is a close second as most important strategy. The rubric, if provided, will tell you exactly what your professor will be looking for when grading. If you want an A, this is the best way to ensure you achieve it!
- Don’t just summarize. If your discussions are based on course readings, you may be tempted to just summarize the material. Do. Not. Do. This. Summarizing the material does not demonstrate the critical thinking skills that online discussions are meant to draw out. Instead, go beyond the course material, as explained in my next point…
- Make connections. Online discussions are a perfect opportunity to showcase that you really do understand the course material. You can do this by making connections to real world scenarios or events, by providing examples or illustrations, and by connecting different theories within the material to your main discussion point. Posts that make connections beyond the course material are usually the ones that are most successful!
- Engage your peers. Online discussions are meant to be just that – discussions! Even if your professor doesn’t explicitly state that you need to respond to your peers, it’s essential that you do so. Otherwise, what you are really doing is posting your thoughts in a vacuum. If students aren’t reading each other’s posts and responding, then really, what was the point of posting? Ask questions to get your peers to respond to your post, and make sure that you return the favour! Get those discussions flowing.
- Don’t forget to edit. Just because an online discussion seems more informal, it doesn’t mean that spelling and grammar don’t matter. They do. It may be helpful to first type out your response in Microsoft Word, edit and revise, and then post it online.
- Have some fun, but be courteous. This may be one of the few opportunities you have in the academic world to play ‘devil’s advocate.’ Ask tough questions, make interesting comparisons and don’t be afraid to share your opinion. Just remember to always be courteous and constructive!
- Pay attention to what the facilitator is up to. Even if you haven’t, the facilitator will have consulted the course syllabus and the rubric and will most likely also be in communication with your professor. If the facilitator makes a suggestion or comment that indicates a response is necessary, they are most likely trying to indicate that you have not fulfilled the requirements. They are there to help you succeed, so don’t ignore their input!
Well there you have it – if you want to succeed in the online academic discussion world, these strategies are sure to help! And really, it might not hurt to extend some of these strategies to other online forums (I’m looking at you Reddit). As always, if you would like further guidance on how to approach online discussions or help with other assignments, you may book an appointment with the Centre for Student Success on the Brantford Campus by clicking here. We’d love to help you out!
Keep calm and carry on discussing,
Summer Peer Mentor