Nursing studies

When your course schedule says ‘group work’ and you think ‘hard work’

Ways to cope with conflicting study styles and goals in collaborative learning

Ways to cope with individuals’ conflicting study styles and goals in collaborative learning

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Few phrases strike fear into the hearts of students quite like ‘group work’.

Despite being an increasingly common element in the academic landscape, most students I know have a low opinion of group projects. Whether it’s clashing personalities, unmotivated classmates or conflicting schedules, such work comes with a plethora of pitfalls that can make even the simplest topics a headache.

So it’s fair to say that if you don’t enjoy this type of work at university, you are far from alone.

Setting shared goals for a shared project

For the unitiated, group work usually involves a shared project, often a presentation or portfolio. We know that working with people in any environment – whether at school, university or work – can be challenging, but when it comes to graded work, individuals’ different ways of working can become a catalyst for conflict.

How does the student who always aims for an A grade reconcile their ambitions with those of someone who is satisfied as long as they pass? Sharing the burden of work becomes more challenging in these circumstances and a potential area for disagreement.

Enjoyment of group work can be soured if one person ends up doing the lion’s share of the work. Using tools that help you understand each other’s learning styles can make this division of labour less troublesome.

What is your learning style?

One example is Honey and Mumford’s learning styles questionnaire, which allows you to explore your own style of learning and marry this up with the work to be undertaken. Similarly, Belbin’s Team Roles enables you to explore your behaviours and suggests preferred ‘roles’ you could undertake within the team, which would assist when sharing out tasks.

Setting ‘ways of working’ can help you agree how to operate as a group and challenge one another constructively – when a team member isn’t pulling their weight, for example.

Setting intermediary deadlines before the submission date can help prevent a last-minute scramble to put the work together on time, and good facilitation of this – either from lecturers or group members – is key.

‘If a team member is not present or not contributing as much to the work, you should first ask why and look for ways to support them rather than reprimanding them’

Appointing a chair and scribe will help you document and structure group operations, but it is important to approach these roles with your ‘nurse’ hat on, as it is not simply about policing each other.

If a team member is not present or not contributing as much to the work, you should first ask why and look for ways to support them rather than reprimanding them. It is vital that we show the same level of kindness to our colleagues as we do to those in our care.

Seek support

Where solutions are not forthcoming, and you don’t feel comfortable sharing issues with your peers, liaising with your university lecturers can help you find a way forward.

Successful team work generally boils down to good communication, which anyone in nursing knows is far from simple. Regular meetings or social media groups can be used to help ensure good communication between members, but when it comes to group work the biggest roadblocks are often arguments. Groups usually contain a variety of strong views and opinions, meaning members do not always see eye to eye.

Although putting in place ways of working provides a platform to challenge your peers constructively, some group members will still feel hesitant about raising issues for fear of conflict. In these cases, it is important to play the role of a critical friend, raising issues constructively so members can help each other perform at their best.

How to handle peer feedback

Peer assessment offers further complications. One concern is that being graded by your peers could cause disagreements and breed bias. If you are given feedback, aim to take it on board and learn from it. But if you feel that the feedback is unfair, remember that you have the right to an academic appeal.

The truth is that there are no easy answers to successful team work. While you can improve the effectiveness of group work, there is no simple formula for boosting your enjoyment of it – but you can try to make the most of it. It can be difficult sometimes, but when things go well it can be a deeply rewarding experience, producing a body of work that combines your strengths with that of your peers.

With high quality nursing care often reliant on effective teamworking, group work offers the chance to hone skills you will utilise for the rest of your working life.

Grant Byrne is a third-year nursing student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

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