Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Group projects aren’t working.

Students have preconceptions or misconceptions about group work.

Many students have had prior experiences with group work that left them with the impression that group projects are lightweight and will require very little of them, or that one or two members invariably end up doing all of the work. They may also have had experiences of conflict or division within groups that left them with a negative perception of group processes. Previous group work experiences, whether negative or misleading, will affect the way students approach group work in your course.


Address student’s concerns.

Structure the assignment to avoid common problems.

Address student’s concerns.

To ascertain whether students indeed have negative preconceptions about group work, take a quick poll or survey of your students’ previous group work experiences, asking them what they found effective and ineffective in the past, and what they learned from the experience. If the survey reveals negative expectations about group work, address these attitudes head-on. Explain why you have assigned group work and what skills working in teams can provide students with that individual work cannot. Acknowledge the potential pitfalls of group projects and reassure students that you have structured your assignments to minimize potential problems and maximize the collaborative potential of groups. Suggest strategies for dealing with common problems, e.g., a grievance process for addressing conflicts within groups, strategies (such as coordinating on-line calendars) to solve scheduling issues.

One way to air and address student concerns about group work is to ask students (in groups) to (a) list the positive and negative aspects of working in groups, based on their previous experiences, and (b) identify strategies for addressing the potential problems and enhancing the positive aspects.

Structure the assignment to avoid common problems.

Consult the sections here on building individual accountability and interdependence into group assignments to avoid the free-rider problem and to maximize the benefits of collaboration.

This site supplements our 1-on-1 teaching consultations.
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