Encouraging Collaboration in Group Projects

This week, my writing fellows class focused on their final group projects. They needed to choose an issue then work with their groups to research, write about, and present the issue to the class. This assignment is largely about time management and collaboration. For many first-semester students, this makes the project complex because multiple components need to be completed within a short window of time and as a collective effort.

During class, the students got into their groups (there are 3 groups total) to work on their projects. Within each group, there was at least one leader. However, I noticed that in 2 of the 3 groups, the leader(s) seemed to take a little too much control and some of the others often didn’t get the chance to speak up or state their opinions.

As an observer, I wanted to hear more from the ones that weren’t talking as much, so I tried to ask guiding questions that addressed the entire group but required individual responses. Even then, the leaders would speak on behalf of the group. Ultimately, I called on each member to talk about her/his role in the project. In one group, this really got some students to open up more. However, in a later out-of-class session, one group leader seemed to dislike my questions because it appeared to disrupt the presentation’s already established plan.

During this session, I asked the group to explain their topic and one student named Tiffany* immediately took the lead. She discussed the group’s presentation and stated everyone’s roles. At the end of her explanation, she said something along the lines of: “So the conclusion will be my solution to the problem.”

I chimed in: “You mean your group’s solution.”

Later on, I learned that they had decided to start from the essay component of the project and work their way back, leaving their presentation for last. When I let the group know that the essay was to be an extension of the presentation and not a summary, Tiffany immediately chose the essay topic and assigned everyone a role. While I understand that leadership is necessary when working in groups to ensure things get done, Tiffany’s form of leadership missed the collaborative aspect of this project, particularly when it came to making decisions.

Additionally, throughout the session, Tiffany’s body language indicated that she did not like my input. She avoided eye contact and would only address her group members (turning away from me) when I asked questions. She clearly and openly wanted to express her authority as the leader of this group and this project. In situations like these, I prefer to take an observant approach. I continued to take notes, listen, and ask questions.

In this scenario, I realize that being a writing fellow has its benefits and its drawbacks. The benefit is that I had the chance to observe the session as a fellow peer, so the students felt a little more open with me. The drawback is that since I am a peer and not a professor, Tiffany seemed to view my questions as intrusive. While my goal was not to disrupt the flow of the group, I am a proponent of hearing what each person has to say. It is great that Tiffany took on the leadership position, but there is a lesson in here for her, too: as a group project, their presentation and subsequent paper should reflect their efforts as a group and not one person’s interests alone.

*Student's name changed to protect privacy.


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