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Pros and Cons of Group Work and Presentations

Pros of group work and presentations

Over and above the general benefits outlined above, group working is claimed to have some quite specific benefits to HE students. These include:

  • Development of employability skills – for example, employers are said to value team working and collaborative skills. The Vice Chancellor of one large UK University describes this as: “Employers are not only interested in degree classifications and subject knowledge, but also graduates’ ability to communicate, problem-solve, work in teams, present or pitch and so on. If we are to prepare students for this, we need to offer opportunities for them to develop those skills.” (Guardian 2019).
  • Academic skills – research
  • Sharing perspectives and experiences
  • Encouraging deeper learning – for example about what is required from a task or assignment.
  • Active learning
  • Collaborative learning
  • Teaching transferable skills
  • Personalising the experience of students in large student cohorts – group working breaks them into smaller groups where collaborative learning can take place
  • Building friendships – enables students to work with new people who they might not otherwise been drawn to
  • Building peer learning – learn new skills, knowledge and study methods from peers
  • Academic achievement: According to a meta-analysis of 168 studies of undergraduate students (Johnson et al, 2014) identified benefits in individual achievement included “knowledge acquisition, retention of material, and higher-order problem solving and reasoning abilities”.  

So, there are many good reasons for learners to participate in group work at University.

Pause for thought

Should group activity and presentations be considered a core competency? The debate about whether group working and presentations should be a core element of study in Higher Education will continue and the extent to which this is a core requirement should be considered in the context of the course content and what it seeks to achieve.

Some of the general concerns and issues with presentations

Students may face difficulties in presentation situations in a number of ways including:

  • Presentation anxiety
  • Fear of failure
  • Lack of confidence in their ability to speak clearly
  • Lack of confidence in their ability to answer questions “on the hoof”
  • Fear of attaining a low grade due to poor presentation skills
  • Anxiety about presenting to peers who know them
  • Anxiety about presenting to a large group
  • Barriers to them following their own materials
  • A one size fits all methodology – assumptions made about how a presentation should be given
  • Past experience of negative feedback concerning eye contact and personal presentations
  • Not being able to accurately read the audiences reaction
  • Lack of clarity about whether it is the planning and content, or the actual presentation skills that are being assessed.

These are just examples and students may have many other reasons for facing challenges with group work or presentations. More detailed information on the particular challenges some students may find with group work and presentations can be found in Case Studies 1-5.

Some of the general concerns and issues with group work

Students may face difficulties in group working situations in a number of ways:

  • In terms of set group work, clarity about what the task is
    • Has the task been communicated clearly?
    • Is sufficient time given to ensure that all students are able to fully understand and prepare for the task?
  • With informal groups some students may face challenges in accessing these groups or feeling that they are welcome
  • Individual students’ ability to empathise with others in group tasks
  • Students needing to balance their own goals with those of others
  • Accessible spaces within which to engage in group task
    • Physical space
    • Sensory space
      • can everyone hear what is being said?
      • are there challenges of sensory overload?
    • Online environment
      • Can everyone access this? Have they got the right equipment or technical know-how?
      • Are people comfortable engaging in group discussion online
  • Attitudes of some students to others
  • Some students may have concern about their ability to fully participate in face to face elements and whether this will mean they will be seen as “free riders” Challenges in face to face group work might include:
    • Communicating their ideas
    • Confidence in making coherent arguments
    • Anxiety about social interaction and working with strangers
    • Anxiety about how they will be perceived
  • Their ability to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues from other group members
  • Relating to other group members and their particular perspectives and issues.
  • Some students may have particular challenges with regard to:
    • Rigidity of thought and behaviour.
    • Issues with sensory processing
    • Intolerance of uncertainty theory.
    • Special interests that could take them off task/topic.
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