Enhancing students’ communication and collaboration skills Faculty Spark - View, reflect and apply

Last updated on 28/08/2019

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Description

A key skill set that graduates are required to develop and evidence upon entering the workforce is to communicate and collaborate effectively in diverse teams. These skills can be enhanced through osmosis, curriculum planning and academic efficacy.

Challenge

Background and issue
Graduate attributes articulate the key transferable skills that are integral competencies for graduate employment. In particular, communication and collaboration skills are vital for graduate’s success. These skills can be developed and enhanced through group work activities in which students are required to work in diverse teams. Problematically, group work activities are often left unframed, with students having to navigate the varying facets of group work processes without clear direction or explicit instruction.

Research framework and preliminary results
Student perceptions of the purpose and value of group work remains to be a contested issue. In refining a group work assessment item, the team conducted an initial study in which we explored: 1) the challenges students faced when dealing with group work and 2) students perceptions of the skills attained during group work activities.

Results indicated that students had a basic understanding of the overarching goals and benefits of participating in group work tasks. However, students evidenced little, if any, knowledge of how to use the requisite transferable skills that they had developed. These results were further problematised by students attributing difficulties experienced to factors outside of their control, for example lecture efficacy. Students felt that if group work assessment was required in multiple courses, the propensity for negative outcomes was exponentially greater.

Other concerns raised by students concerned the process involved for group formation. Students perceived that group formation was a task greater suited to students rather than academics. In spite of this, students appreciated assistance from academics in mediating conflicts, outlining the process of group work and allocation of specified tasks across the teaching period.

Approach

Course selection

Based on the results from the initial study, the team created a number of interventions to support the group formation process and ongoing dynamics in a third year marketing course. This course was delivered via dual mode (both on-campus and online students) and incorporated approximately 100 students. The academic team choose this course specifically for the following reasons:

  • As a third year course, the students were considered to have a wealth of experience in group work tasks for them to compare and contrast to;
  • The team would be able to contrast the experiences of both on-campus and online students.

What we did

The team implemented a number of refinements to enhance students outcomes in the group work assessment, these incorporated group selection, supporting documentation, communication methods and assessment types.

Group selection

Students self-selected their groups. A group formation discussion button was inserted in the contents list of the course website. This consisted of Nathan, Gold Coast and Online forums for students to 'search' for other compatible members. Twenty-five groups were formed through the Blackboard Group function located in the User and Groups section.

Supporting documentation

The team introduced a PMI Chart which was required to be completed by all students to ensure transparency in the topic selection process. One student’s individual project (completed as the first assessment item for the course) was then selected from the three / four group members involved. Support was then provided to those groups who became ‘stuck’ in the process in order to mediate a solution.

Communication methods

Students were invited to participate in group discussions via an online discussion forum which the team established. This ensured that students were provided with the opportunity to join a group in the location of their choice.

Assessment Types

The team ensured that assessment items were scaffolded, with direct links made between each assessment item. This provided students with the opportunity to build upon their knowledge and skill sets.

Students were also required to keep a logbook of their contributions (and other team members) and submit an individual reflection. The team developed a structured questionnaire to guide student reflections and incorporated components such as describing a positive or negative incident that occurred during the project. Whilst the reflection was not marked, submission of this reflection was required in order to receive a mark for the project.

Outcomes

Students have responded positively to the group work assessment activity through evaluations of teaching. In particular, students expressed positive sentiment to the availability of the teaching team; the course materials provided and; the development of key skills such as communication. An illustrative comment made by a student included;

“This group assignment has set high expectations for future group work and has shown me how to effectively communicate and delegate tasks…. I’ve learned the importance of listening to all group members’ opinions and creating goals from these views.”

Implement

To implement this approach within your curricula, we would recommend:

  • Using a tool that provides a framework for students to negotiate their group topic (as the PMI Chart allows).
  • Limiting the amount of background information you provide to students in relation to the skills that the assessment seeks to develop (in this circumstance communication, negotiation, time management and conflict management). For example, providing a 100 page document may be counter-productive to students learning.
  • Weighing up the benefits of working with students initially to provide some basis of group dynamics, verses the level of conflict which might arise if/when student groups 'fall apart.'
  • Ensuring that there are open communication channels with the course website for students to communicate. For example, a simple discussion board will suffice.

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Preferred Citation

Wright, O., Main, K., and Learning Futures (2019). Enhancing students’ communication and collaboration skills. Retrieved from https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/exlnt/entry/4565/view