I spent four years studying history at Carleton University, where it was incredibly rare to pair off with another student for an assignment. Instead, I got incredibly used to handling independent work. Most of my big projects revolved around the old art of bury myself alive inside the library, pulling out whatever book I thought might have the solution to life.
It isn’t any secret that I prefer independent work. Group work, to me, was an uncomfortable memory of high school English where we’d be set into groups to modernize Hamlet while keeping the original dialogue. (A difficult and impossible task.)
Group work has massive benefits, though. For the longest time, I thought teachers enjoyed watching the struggle to effectively unite over discussion questions, but now I get it. While independent work allows students to work through topics on their own as well as practicing self-control and anti-procrastination methods, group work and activities push for collaboration and active listening skills. By sharing knowledge and tools, the endgame of a project can radically change.
In college, I had my share of great and not-so-great group projects. However, on the occasions where I felt like an expert on a subject, I would suddenly find myself as a vital component to a group of strangers.
This, by the way, felt amazing.
Here are my group project tips for college that will help you survive, and even thrive, as part of a group… even if you would rather be doing literally ANYTHING else.
Step 1: Communicate.
Communication is the key to success in a group project. It isn’t just about establishing a group chat and loosely creating a deadline (which, don’t get me wrong – very good beginning steps). Instead, it’s about communicating what you want the end project to look like. You’re responsible for your project, and it is only natural to want to submit the very best finished product possible.
For instance, if you’re working on a slide show presentation, tossing in some detailed graphs and visual resources can help elevate the entire presentation. For a final paper, it’s never too late to start collaborating over the sources you think will bring the best results.
It’s good to start considering which elements you want to include well ahead of time. If you communicate these ideas early with your group members, you’re setting yourself up for success.
Step 2: Productivity is key.
Sometimes, you will be given the gift of selecting your own group members.
It never occurred often in my college program, but when this rarity did happen, it brought on deep contemplation. It’s incredibly easy to pair off with friends, but that can sometimes be a disservice to yourself. Whenever you go apartment hunting, everyone (and their cousin) reminds you of the perils of living with your friends.
This can also be directed to group projects.
With the stress of a final grade, friendships aren’t always the best tool to tackling an assignment. Consider how often your friend submits close to the deadline. Consider your own self in comparison. Sometimes, it can be for the best to expand and work with different people in your class, even if you aren’t close with them.
Step 3: Divide and conquer.
If you’re like me, it can be easy to just want to do the entire project yourself. However, that tends to result in 3 AM stress breakdowns, bad relations with group mates, and also a final project that is lacking in diverse thoughts and voices. Your final results will fail to encompass other members, and because of that, they won’t achieve the desired results.
I always find it best to establish a breakdown of the assignment and to break off to tackle individual components. That way, I am able to work individually while incorporating the work of other classmates. To me, this is the best sort of compromise one can have during a group assignment.
Kicking an assignment off as a group allows everyone to communicate their thoughts and ideas, but sometimes it can just be easier to break off, with a clear idea of what everyone is responsible for contributing.
Step 4: Find your fit.
Alongside tip number 3, it’s important to find the right fit when selecting the work you’re going to complete.
When participating in group projects in college, we won’t always have the chance to pick our group members, but we will most likely have the freedom to set our own expectations and roles. Throughout the course of the project, it’s important to find the fit that allows us to propel our group forward.
For instance, maybe you love the research portion of a project and have amazing Google skills. Or maybe you prefer to create the overall design of a presentation.
We all have our strengths, and if you can find an area where you can use yours? You’ve found the sweet spot.
Step 5: Don’t be afraid to confront group members.
There may be a lot of us out there – myself included – that are afraid of stepping on toes. Although we may be sparing people’s feelings, withholding our opinions or concerns can eventually put the group at a disadvantage.
If you feel that you have something worthwhile to share, jump in and be honest. Don’t hold back just because you’re worried about what someone else might think.
Starting the initial conversation and letting others know your thoughts will eventually lead to better ideas, more effective collaboration, and happier group members. Don’t be shy — make your voice heard!
Group assignments are rumored to prepare you for a working career. I’m not entirely sure I believe in that idea, but I do know they are often what breaks or makes your college experience.
Have you had any horror stories from group work? Or highlights? Let us know in the comments below!