Essential College Skills: Teamwork: Learning and Collaborating with Your Classmates

Love them or loathe them, group assignments are common in college classrooms. It's important for students to learn how to collaborate with other students in a beneficial, respectful way. A good grade depends on how well the team completes the assignment. But, more importantly, students learn how to integrate ideas, assign duties, and follow through with responsibilities, which is good preparation for real-world workplaces.

Mention "group assignment" to a classroom of students and you'll likely hear a chorus of groans. Students taking classes online may be used to working alone, but even online courses are increasingly offering – sometimes requiring – real-time collaborative learning opportunities.  Students may recall bad group experiences: hard-headed leaders, lack of peer follow-through, poor quality of work from others, and more. By doing your best work and respecting others' input, group projects can be fun and rewarding. Remember, your future boss will require collaboration with colleagues, whether you like it or not.

Follow these tips for college group work success:

  1. Communicate clearly when assigning duties and due dates: Once the group has been formed, make sure everyone understands the project and deadline. Discuss your individual strengths to assign duties and negotiate expectations. Use this time to create a schedule, noting times, dates, and locations for when and where the group will meet.
  2. Share contact information: Swap email addresses or cell phone numbers so group members can continue to communicate outside of class. Develop a summary of project duties and suggest that the group leader circulate it.
  3. Value your group members:  Respect their opinions and perspectives, just as you hope they respect yours. You won't always agree, but you should remain open to hearing new ideas. If you aren't respectful, they'll gradually tune you out.
  4. Don't wait until the last minute: Procrastination can lead to rushed work and mistakes. Meet regularly before the deadline so that everyone is reminded of his or her duties and held accountable. When more than one person is working on an assignment, it should be easier to complete. Continue to communicate with one another, especially if someone is having difficulty completing his or her part and needs assistance.
  5. Share ideas clearly: It can be easy to misinterpret tone, such as humor or sarcasm, when utilizing digital discussion (i.e., email, online discussion boards, or texts). Share your ideas clearly to avoid any confusion.
  6. Be willing to learn something new: Each group member will bring his or her life experiences and voice to the project. Be open to others' input.

To paraphrase one of history's great educators, John Dewey: Gaining knowledge is not the point of learning. The point of learning is to share knowledge and experience.

Group work may be tough to manage at times, but it is valuable preparation for life after graduating from college. Be open to others' perspectives and take the opportunity to lead when you can.