Group work and group assessment tasks, retention, student engagement and student well-being - any connection?

Year: 2019

Author: Robertson, Margaret, Naylor, Ryan, Sleeman, Jade

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The first year of university is a key time in establishing a positive student experience that can engender student retention. Attrition rates for commencing students in Australian Universities currently hover around 14% (Department of Education, 2017). However, the numbers for disadvantaged groups are often at significantly higher rates (Cherastidtham & Norton, 2018). Of students commencing university, particular cohorts are at increased risk of noncompletion, including first generation and students from low socio-economic backgrounds (Baik, Naylor & Arkoudis, 2015). La Trobe University has a high proportion of these particular cohorts. In order to increase the chances of students persisting through a successful study experience, retention efforts need to engage in large part with what happens in the classroom. The classroom is where students spend the majority of their time, yet first year students are finding the classroom experience and engagement with peers a significant challenge when commencing university (Baik et al., 2015). Group work is a common pedagogic practice in university, based on benefits associated with collaborative learning. It provides opportunities to develop connections with peers, with an increased sense of belonging and well-being. However, not all group work situations are viewed positively by students, and therefore scaffolding participation in groups is important, especially in developing roles and responsibilities that can improve the student experience (Murray, 2017).

This paper reports on recent research conducted to investigate the impact group work assessment tasks may have on engagement and retention of students, and any associated contribution to well-being. The design, scaffolding and timing of group-work tasks is being investigated across three first year, first semester subjects, with a total enrolment of 900 students. Data is drawn from: individual reflections that form part of assessment tasks; student enrolment numbers post-census and subject completion; and online survey.

Baik, C., Naylor, R., & Arkoudis, S. (2015). The First Year Experience in Australian Universities: Findings from Two Decades, 1994-2014. Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Cherastidtham, I., Norton, A., & Mackey, W. (2018). University attrition: What helps and what hinders university completion. Grattan Institute. Retrieved June, 19, 2018.

Department of Education. (2018).Selected higher education statistics. Retrieved from []

Murray, J. W. (2017). I hate/don’t hate/still hate group projects! A tripartite ethical framework for enhancing student collaboration. Cogent Education, 4(1). doi:10.1080/2331186X.2017.1377507