In university we were given a group assignment and one essay was about personal reflections on this assignment. Below is what I wrote for it:
When we were all asked about our feelings on working on a group assignment I said that I think it would be really interesting as I’d never done a group assignment before. An image formed in my head of my group in the library all around a computer, with a large amount of coffee, collectively writing a piece of work as a group together. This was my image of this in my head. I don’t know if this was along the lines of what the university was also expecting of us or whether this image of mine was highly idealised.
As someone on the autistic spectrum I’ve been interested in group dynamics and behaviour for quite a few years now. Reading about them and psychology has helped as a lens in which to understand human behaviour as the spectrum can feel disconnecting when reading people. In groups there are spoken and unspoken forces that change the dynamic over time. In my mind this was meant to be group work. I quickly realised by intuition and acts in reality that the group had little interest in working collectively from the very start. This was never openly said of course. Everyone wanted to work as individuals and stick everything together in order at the end.
We had many meetings but rather than discuss the work extensively, most of the discussions centred around carving up the work and assigning who would do each part of the marking criteria. In doing this we severely limited ourselves to our own pieces in both scope of expression and in word count restrictions. We all had very different writing styles and ways of working. I accepted that this was unlikely to change so I proposed that we all write our pieces and then meet to collectively write parts that would help ‘glue’ our pieces together in a number of ways to help enhance a common voice. This suggestion was met with silence. In my experience, the main work we did collectively was to decide how individual we were going to be. In our feedback from our presentation assessment it was obvious that our work was recognised as individual pieces put together and not collectively done. Yet everyone stayed entrenched in their own ways of working.
I think that giving students group assignments is a very important exercise for the real working world. It should be a completely different way of working and challenging to normal individualised study. There are certainly some challenges in setting, monitoring and marking such assignments. Here are a few suggestions:
The emphasis on group work should be made very clear and working as a group be vital in the marking criteria.
The process of the work should be documented by students and collectively agreed on at multiple points e.g. a journal, audio/video recordings etc. Lecturers should actually see groups working together at certain set points and see if the work done at these points is developed and included in the final essays. Evidence of all this should also be submitted along with assignments
More information on past student experiences of group working, benefits, pitfalls, challenges etc.
The more people there are in a group, the higher the overall word count should be.
As I said in the introduction, I had an idea in my head on what group work entailed. Perhaps this was the wrong idea or was unrealistic. I will leave this up for other people to decide. I hope to find out myself in the future. I also fully acknowledge that I was not experienced in group work. Maybe the way we worked was expected by the university and was fine.
I hope the university continues to set more group work but it has to be very aware on how students may work within group dynamics. When we work in groups we take on the schedules, thoughts, interests, thought structures, insecurities etc. of other human beings. This is really the true challenge. As we have all gotten this far in academia it’s fair to say that we all feel comfortable working and writing individually. However it’s important to challenge one’s boundaries for the purpose of growth. We all need to be more mindful of our reluctance to expand out of these boundaries and question why.
In the end the work was produced. Perhaps this is all that matters. I’m glad we managed to find a common voice and message in the report. Everyone coexisted in a cordial and pleasant manner in meetings. I felt that our numerous student meetings was to provide the mental illusion that we were a collective. Work-wise the meetings were unproductive in my opinion and served as a tranquilliser for individual insecurities about the assignment. The lack of actual work being done in them dented my motivation. As far as I’m aware not a single sentence was written as a group and research was done individually. For me the presentation assignment was invaluable and when I think back at it now that assignment laid a great deal of groundwork for the report. I think this group-working experience has overall has turned out quite well. I think I was just a bit naive.