Transforming group-work into collaborative team work in undergraduate course work: focus on knowledge or marks?

Year: 2019

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

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). As a means of supporting first year students’ transition into university students experience group-work as part of the teaching and often assessment strategies across a range of disciplines. Group work is a common pedagogic practice in university, based on benefits associated with collaborative learning. 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). The formation of the groups varies across subjects, as do the strategies used to scaffold the group functions. However a group is not necessarily a team and group work is not necessarily collaborative. Functional collaborative teams focus on knowledge development (Robertson 2016) where groups might be cast as focusing on the mark to be received for the task.

This paper reports on recent research that drew on student reflections from group work assessment tasks from two first year first semester subjects, one science (n=230) and one education subject (n=525). The subjects had different mechanisms for forming the groups and different strategies to support group work in tutorials. The reflections gave an indication of which groups functioned as collaborative teams and which groups struggled the find group cohesion, persisting only to get a mark for the task. Our findings add to developing clarity in the discourse of group-work by defining the differences between ‘group’ and ‘collaborative team’.

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