This research is mainly about the different views about working in groups. It tackles the following: (1) the type of group work students engage in McMaster University; (2) the advantages and the disadvantages in working in groups; and (3) the factors that help determine whether group work is a positive experience or negative experience based on the perspective of students. In addition, this research compares the similarities and the differences of the findings of this research and the study reported by Brown–Feichtner and Actis Davis (1984) in accordance to group size and composition, peer evaluation, assessed work and instructor preparedness.
The setting of this research is at the McMaster University who coincidentally gives a lot of importance to group work. Most of the faculties and departments in the university give utmost importance to collegiate activities involving group works. The Engineering, Health Science, Commerce and Geography are one of the few departments that use group works to facilitate learning among the students.
In the Engineering department, it has the most number of group works particularly laboratory works and oral presentations. A laboratory group consists of two to three members. A laboratory group of two to three members are provided with a maximum of three hours to solve a specific problem. Most of these groups are relatively small because most of the laboratory works are needed to be finished within three hours and by having a bigger group could make it more difficult to communicate with other members of the group. While most of the members of the laboratory group solve problems related to engineering, one member from the group writes the results to efficiently manage time. By the end of the three hours, the laboratory report is printed out and handed to the teaching assistant. Then, preparation for the presentation is the next step. Prior to the presentation the groups are provided with a week to work together to prepare and generate a slide presentation. During the presentation, three to five group members are present. This number is larger than the normal quantity of members in a group. Moreover, little importance is given to the presentation. Even though the slide presentation is a group effort, every member of the group is required to present in front of the class. The process of grading these presentations is usually based on the quality of the group laboratory report but individual presentations are also taken into consideration. Most of the time, the presentations made by students from the Engineering department have an average length of ten to fifteen minutes per group. These presentations are intended to be short in order to accommodate all the students in the Engineering department which has a relatively larger student population compared to other departments.
Meanwhile, in the Health Science department, most of the group work consists of presentations and report writings. For presentations, the group size ranges from two to three members. The student population in the Health Science department is lesser compared to the number of students in the General Science department that is why the latter has smaller group size. Whereas, compared to the Engineering department, the Health Science department, have longer duration of presentations ranging from twenty to thirty minutes per group. This lengthy time allotment gives opportunity to all group members to speak for a longer period of time and explain their presentation in detail. In terms of report writing, groups are broken down to smaller sizes. Students are required to write their reports only in groups of two. More so, because of the size of the department, working in such a small group is very much possible.
For the Commerce department, presentations and business models are given a significant amount of importance. In presentations, a group consists of two to three members. The duration of the presentations is generally from thirty to forty minutes long. Lengthy presentation is only possible in the Commerce department because most of the classes here have undersized groups. Moreover, because of the small size of the classes, members of the groups have longer time to thoroughly explain their presentation. Moreover, groups dealing with business models have more group members than those groups who are just making presentations. The group size increases to about four to seven per group. Most often than not, the reports made in this department are lengthy with an average report of fifty to sixty pages. More so, a larger group size is very much helpful in this kind of situations because the larger the group, the more the workload can be divided into a number of people in specific amount of time. The more people there are in a group, the more ideas are brought in that helps in the promotion of diversity which is helpful in generating commendable and substantial outputs. The only drawback in having a large group size is the manifestation of conflicts. Numerous members with different personalities and cultural background tend to have arguments and contentions due to varying views. Also, different concepts about work ethics also become a problem when working in larger groups.
On the other hand, most of the group works in the Geography department is concentrated on laboratory works. The group size varies from two to four members per group or four to six members per group depending on the size of the class. All the members work together to accomplish the report in order to meet the deadlines. The report is usually due every week or once a month depending on the course.
Working in groups can be a manageable task if done in the right way and with the right people. Group works test a student's capability to work in a group environment. More so, the competitiveness in every group member is magnified when students work in groups. The group dynamics highlights the distinct qualities present in each member. For example, when a group works on an essay, some group members who excel in editing can make the revisions of the report while the others who are good in brainstorming can create new ideas. In short, a group should take advantage of its heterogeneous characteristic to boost the special qualities of each member in order to competently accomplish the group work. Moreover, as students work in groups, social opportunities are increased. A student can meet a lot of new people and even make new friends through working in groups. Evidently, this is a good way to enhance one's social skills and also to broaden a student’s social circle.
Furthermore, working in groups results to the generation of more ideas. More ideas mean more information thus a more comprehensive group output. By having diverse concepts and opinions, biases and partiality are reduced in which produce more accurate and comprehensive report. Working in groups requires spending more time with group mates. Through this, coordination among members is made possible because instinctively all members will learn how to adjust with their differences in personality and work habits. Affinity is also build up as the members of the group try get to know one another. Because of the presence of bonding within the group, the emergence of conflicts is lessened that would eventually conserve time and effort of all the members in achieving their goal.
However, there are also some disadvantages in working in groups. There will be instances wherein groups will encounter the so-called social loafers who in most cases adversely affect the output of the group. A social loafer is a person who is included in the group but does not contribute to the assignments but enjoys the marks that the group gets. Sometimes in groups of two, when one member does not cooperate, it becomes very difficult to work and the burden of finishing the report falls solely to the other member. As a result, a group can receive an unsatisfactory grade. More so, there are also instances when having different types of members hinder in properly carrying out the group work. Various work habits and background can be detrimental in the group work dynamics. In addition, having different courses and different electives, can challenge the unity of the group. Because of this, convening all members to meet can become a tedious task.
More so, the proximity in terms of location of residences can also become a problem among group members. Conducting late meetings would not be possible if majority of the members live far from each other. Meanwhile, there are some members who work according to their own pace in doing their assigned duties because they can not keep up with the speed of other members, this situation slows down the work processes and causes delay in finishing the report. Another problem arises when some of the group members have a lot of course load compared to other group members. In this circumstance, it becomes difficult for a group member with lesser course load to be on the same pace with members who have more course load simply because of the difference in as the course load.
Despite some drawbacks in working in groups, group work is still deemed a positive experience for most students. When groups meet regularly and accomplish their work in time, these signify that members of the group get along with one another and that they like each other’s company. Meanwhile, groups without any personal conflicts have the tendency to freely discuss issues, both personal and work related, without any hesitation. Moreover, positive criticism is very important in group works which allows members to counter check their performance. Criticisms are helpful tools in making the group output better. More so, when group members make excuses not to attend group meetings, this indicates the lack of interest and commitment of group members which could compromise the progress the group work. In addition, when group members argue with each other and when conflict arises, these two factors produce a tensed environment, which negatively affects the quality of the output. A stressed environment is the last place where constructive work can manifest specifically when a group member becomes a social loafer.
In addition, based on the results of this research and the findings reported by Brown and Actis Davis (1984), group size and composition are highly significant in producing efficient work groups. The most productive group size is between two to five members per group. Moreover, both studies indicate that in a group all members have their own unique skills to contribute to the group to generate a better output. For example, some group members are good with editing while others are good in creating new ideas. Members of the group can be designated according to their specialization to effectively manage the human resources and the time. Also, this research and Brown and Actis Davis’ reports showed that larger groups experienced more difficulty in maintaining cohesiveness within the group.
Furthermore, peer evaluation has also affected working group dynamics. Both the study of Brown and Actis Davis and this research have concluded that peer evaluations are crucial in determining the grades of the group and its members. The peer evaluation uses the ten-point grading scale wherein ten is the highest while one is the lowest as the means of evaluating their group mates. The data taken from this evaluation aid the professor in assessing the contributions of each member in delivering the requirements needed in the group work. More so, the quality of the report is greatly taken into consideration by the professor as one of the basis for grading the performance and output of the group members. Usually, the professor gives a mark for the entire group but when one member of the group gives a bad peer evaluation mark to another group member, the grade of that particular group member who received a negative evaluation will decrease. This shows that a good group output does not ensure a high mark for every member in the group. Because of peer evaluation, only those deserving of a high grade will receive or be given a high mark.
In order for a group work to be successfully accomplished by students, professors should also have sufficient knowledge about the subject matter so that they can confidently teach their students. Also, professors should be highly-organized about the schedule of the class and class assignments. According to the results of this research and the study made by Brown and Actis Davis (1984), most of the professors and lecturers of McMaster University are well prepared before they enter their class or conduct lectures. Every professor has a different and a unique way of teaching. Some like to provide lecture notes to their students while others like to focus more on the textbook. It is through their teaching techniques that their students improve academically and personally as well.
Overall, this research proves that group work is an integral part of the educational system. Because of the immense role of group work in the cultivation of knowledge and the development of social skills, every student should think of ways on how to make working in groups a productive experience. First, the right number and proper type of members are the key elements in forming an effective group. Quantity of members should be limited to an average number of two to five members to efficiently delegate the group assignments. More so, the quality of the members should also be looked into to ensure a high-quality output. Students who have the tendency to become “social loafers” should be avoided to minimize delays and conflicts within the group. Though working in groups does not give any assurance that everything will run smoothly, students should make the most out of this experience in order for them to grow as a student and also as an individual. Also, mistakes made or encountered in these group activities should be deemed as learning experiences. This would help in the process of making oneself a better person and social being.
More so, group learning is generally perceived as an opportunity to grow and evolve not only in the academic setting but also in the professional world. According to market trends, nowadays, business strategies are drafted in groups which are an evident departure from the usual one-central figure making the decisions in the corporate environment. This transformation was made possible because the end results showed that most professional management teams have improved in terms of performance. Because of this, corporations are gearing towards adapting more participative management styles to enforce the growth of the employees as well as the business itself. Since the corporate world is very challenging and intimidating, the individual performance of employees have in a way affected their productivity resulting to mediocre outputs. With this reality, group works serve as the training ground for students to prepare for their entry to the professional world. Group learning familiarizes students with real-world experiences that psychologically, emotionally and socially equip them when they face the real world.
Furthermore, experiences formed, whether positive or negative, during group works are priceless moments that make the collegiate life memorable and notable. It is a fact that going through four years or even more in college is not an easy task. A student can not survive without interacting with other students. Through working in groups, a plain and ordinary life of a student can turn into something great because of the opportunities of exposing oneself to different cultures and environment. More so, it serves as a venue for self-discovery and a chance to explore new things. In addition, it is because of group experiences make students stronger psychologically, emotionally and socially because these trainings help them to have high-level skills in solving problems, to be more decisive, to be more tolerant to criticisms, and to handle effectively stress and pressures of scholarly life which are all essential qualities needed in order to survive in the real world.
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