Collaboration is something everyone must deal with in their life: during their school years, but also later in life for work. Employers rate collaboration skills as one of the most essential soft skills in today’s society. Then how come almost everyone can name a time when they had to work on a group project, but it did not go as planned? Either someone is slacking or bossy, or the assignment gets divided into pieces without any coherency.
We put out a survey and asked students and teachers about their experiences with team assignments. We incorporated this helpful feedback into the website that we made. The website features a quiz and worksheets. We designed the latter to be in a modular format so that students can start with just one worksheet. The worksheet includes questions about the skills and goals of the group, your personal skills and goals and some assignment related questions. By discussing the answers with your teammates, our goal is to make students think more consciously about collaboration and give room to improve their collaboration skills.
If you have ever experienced some trouble during a group assignment, the Collaboration Toolbox is what you need!
When successful, collaboration for a group project can help students dive into the subject deeply, learn from their fellow students’ experiences and insights, and build new friendships. Unfortunately, we personally all encountered group projects with free riders, awkward silences, and even conflicts. A survey we conducted among VU and UVA students confirms these stories (see next slide). We received stories about differences in expectations and working styles, unclear group roles and allocation of tasks, lack of communication, and the list unfortunately goes on. And that is a shame, because we also hear stories how group projects can provide a way to “meet new people, be inspired from others and just having fun.”
Students hope to get prepared for a successful start in the job market in their time at university, so why is there so little emphasis on teamwork skills? And indeed, we all have numerous group projects, but when in our trajectory at university, do we actually learn how to collaborate? Moreover, our teachers are not trained to facilitate collaboration properly and the institutions do not provide space and time for more focus on collaboration. We thus found a clear need for a platform to facilitate these needs.
Our redesign consists of a website, that features a quiz and worksheets. Unfortunately, we were not able to make a working quiz by ourselves that could feature on the website. Our solution is to show you the type of questions and format of the quiz in these slides. You can visit the website here. This is the platform where students can take the quiz and download the worksheets. Additionally, please click here to access the slides of the quiz.
Part of the redesign are our worksheets. The first one is called ‘The Starting Questions’, and the purpose of this worksheet is to be aware of your good traits and your bad traits concerning collaboration. There is also room for self-reflection.
The goal is that all team members fill out the worksheet and then discuss the ‘results’ with each other. Person A can be indecisive sometimes, so let’s all look out for this and acknowledge it when it happens. This way we can learn from each other.
The first worksheet focuses on the following aspects: group skills & goals, personal skills & goals and assignment related questions. Ideally, there would be more worksheets for each phase of the group assignment (before, during, after). The first worksheet can be downloaded from the website, and is also accessible by clicking here.
Our justification can be broken down into three key sections: Pedagogical Justification, Developmental Justification, and Design Justification.
The first two sections relate to why a student should use our tool, while the third section presents a more ‘meta’ level justification of how our tool is designed.
Each of these shall be explored further on the following pages with supporting theory to illustrate and explain the decisions we have made within the redesign.
Before moving forward however, we should note that the following justifications have been written in student-friendly language, because at the end of the day this is a tool made for students to use (Vilceanu, 2015). Thus we have avoided using overly technical terms or very specific jargon.
The first thing to consider is that this is an educational tool, thus its usefulness must be reflected, in some sense, in terms of pedagogical benefits, and this leads us to the question of the usefulness of collaboration.
There has been extensive research to show that effective collaboration results in many pedagogical benefits. First of all it provides an active form of learning (Johnson & Johnson, 2008; Bentley & Warwick , 2013). This is in the sense that within-group assignments students are provided with the opportunity to actively engage with the course material. Thus as they are active rather than passive within their learning there tends to be increased motivation and engagement (Johnson & Johnson, 2008; Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Williams et al, 1991).
In fact it has also been shown that just cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Which is to say that the social element of group work results in student feeling more interested in the tasks, having greater enjoyment of the tasks, and having better performance on the tasks (Carr & Walton, 2014).
What all of this means is that students are likely to have greater retention of the material they learn during these projects as they are more involved with them (Colbeck et al, 2000; Thom, 2020).
Furthermore group work provides an opportunity for use of peer-strength and co-learning. What these terms mean is that students are able to rely upon each other in order to compensate for certain strengths and weaknesses (Williams et al, 1991; Bentley & Warwick, 2013; Köppe, 2012; Colbeck et al, 2000). It also allows for them to reduce their individual workloads as they are able to divide tasks amongst each other (Köppe, 2012; de Cortie et al, 2013).
Having said all of this, these benefits are only possible with effective collaboration and as we found during the survey and additional research, this is seldom the experience of university students (Johnson & Johnson, 2008; Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Köppe, 2012; de Cortie et al, 2013; Colbeck et al, 2000; Williams et al, 1991). Thus we hope that through creating a tool which addresses the key issues we can facilitate more effective collaboration.
One of the key issues we identified was differences in expectations and working styles (Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Bentley & Warwick ; LaBeouf, 2016; Köppe, 2012; de Cortie et al, 2013) and thus in order to minimise these we have included questions pertaining to these (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9) within the ‘The Starting Questions’ worksheet in order that students are able to identify and address these differences prior to starting the assignment.
Likewise we found that unclear group roles and allocation of tasks can result in many problems arising during the course of the assignment, such as redundancy in regards to particular tasks or roles (Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Thom, 2020; LaBeouf, 2016; Köppe, 2012; de Cortie et al, 2013 ). Thus questions relating to this (Question 4 and Question 5) have been included within ‘The Starting Questions’.
Another issue we identified is lack of communication (Köppe, 2012). We have not explicitly tackled this as we think it best that students make this decision for themselves, but we hope that in organising a meeting prior to the assignment we provide the space for this decision to be made.
And very simply we found that students don’t know what type of a group worker they are (Colbeck et al, 2000), thus we have created a quiz to provide some guidance here. This quiz is based on consultation theory (Moussa, 2021) and we believe it to be especially useful as collaboration is thought to be rooted in consultation (Goulet et al, 2003).
However it is still important to keep in mind that although this is an educational tool, it can have benefits outside of pedagogy. These are what we class as developmental justifications. In that it develops general skills which can be applicable outside of an academic context.
First of all the practice of doing group work, and specifically effective group work, allows a student to learn and apply a vast variety of different soft skills which are useful in their general life but also are in demand within the labour market (Deming, 2017, Williams et al, 1991). These are including but not limited to collaboration skills, communication skills, decision making skills, conflict resolution skills, critical thinking skills, leadership skills, project management skills, and group processing skills (Williams et al, 1991, Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Bentley & Warwick , 2013; Thom, 2020). In addition to this group work exposes students to a pluralistic perspective and helps them learn to reconcile and deal with multiple differing viewpoints (Williams et al, 199; Bentley & Warwick ).
Furthermore in addition to these soft skills, by using self-reflection as a mechanism to foster effective group work we hope to improve students’ academic self awareness and self esteem (Oostenbach, 2022). But taking this a step forward we hope to highlight to them the usefulness of self reflection outside of academia and thus to provide them with a tool with which they are able to make more sustainable and authentic choices moving forwards (Oostenbach, 2022).
The very first thing we would like to address in terms of the design of this project is its scope. The project we made is a minimum viable product whose primary audience is university students. This decision to make a minimum viable product was informed on the one hand by time constraints, and on the other hand it was informed by the allowance of this model to receive much feedback early in the design process (Ries, 2009). Additionally the decision to focus on students is informed by the fact that at the end of the day, students are responsible for their own learning, this means that even without support from teachers or institutions, which has been noted to be more reluctant to change, they are able to make the most of group work (Colbeck et al, 2000; Köppe, 2012; de Cortie et al, 2013).
In keeping this focus on students in mind we made the decision to use student friendly language as much as possible; this is in order to ensure that it is easily understandable and not confusing or off-putting to students (Vilceanu, 2015). In a similar light we tried ensure that our tools were practical rather than overly theoretical such that they can immediately be used without having to have a deep knowledge of theoretical background, which may seem irrelevant or unnecessary to students. For example rather than having students learn about the colour theory from consulting (Moussa, 2021) we provide a quiz which distils the theory to only the relevant information. Additionally in ‘The Starting Questions’ worksheet where questions may seem broad or ambiguous we provide examples to help guide students.
An additional consideration we made was that perhaps students would not want to use all parts of our redesign, that’s why we have incorporated a modular structure which allows students to use the different elements of the redesign to the extent they deem relevant (Sadiq & Zamir, 2014). This is reflected in the worksheets being separate [albeit that the later worksheets have not yet been made], clear and distinct questions within the worksheets which indicate in what manner they are relevant [through the icons in the corner of each question], a separation between the quiz and the worksheet, and clearly separate sections for students, teachers, and institutions on the website.
To put it succinctly we have attempted to maximise the perceived usefulness and ease of use of our redesign.
Another consideration which should be made is the use of technology within our redesign. This is in the sense of the use of a website as the means through which to deliver our redesign. This decision was made in order to made in order to make the redesign as accessible as possible while also being easily shareable. There is the issue that the use of technology might seem overly technical and thus to minimise this we followed the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis et al, 1989). This is to say that we focused on the ‘perceived usefulness’, by making immediately clear the relevance of our project on the website, and the ‘perceived ease of use’, by creating distinct easily accessible sections.
We also made the decision to make the active group part of our project, ‘The Starting Questions’ worksheet, non-technological [a decision which shall follow for the other worksheets]. This is informed by research which shows that technology can be potentially distracting in classrooms (Goundar, 2014) and thus to avoid this and encourage active discussion and reflection we choose to make the reflection phase non-technological.