Learning to Collaborate

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We’ve all been in that situation when it’s your first class of the semester and your professor is going on and on about the syllabus and, suddenly, the words “group project” leaves their lips. It’s like you’ve been punched in the gut! All of these horrible memories of past group projects flood your mind and you remember all of the nameless slackers who left you high and dry to do the project yourself, taking half the credit and the undeserved A that you slaved over to get. Now, I get it. This is probably the last thing you want to read, and I’m not conceited enough to think I can change your negative opinions about group projects. But, I want you to know that there is hope. There are guidelines that you can lay down early on in the process when you first meet your group mates that can insure success.

These guidelines come straight from Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. Chapter 5, “Assembling Your Technologies and Your Team”, thoroughly describes how to effectively collaborate using certain guidelines. These paraphrased guidelines are as follows:

  • If possible, limit the size of your group. More members means more voices which means the possibility of trouble when coming to decisions and coordinating schedules.
  • If you have the chance to choose your teammates, try to choose members who bring a diverse set of skills and perspectives.
  • Exchange contact information with your teammates, so you can keep up with them and their progress.
  • Create a group contract that explains group expectations, member roles, communication procedures, meetings, and problem-solving tactics.
  • Contribute by coming to class or meetings, being prepared with materials and ideas, participate, and, especially, pull your own weight.
  • Listen to the ideas of others. Don’t just shut them down immediately.
  • Learn to compromise.
  • If there is conflict, let your teammates talk it out by explaining their own perspectives and suggestions for solving the issue. If it’s a serious conflict, speak with your professor who will help the team get back on track.

Some of these guidelines may seem obvious and self-explanatory, but, believe me, some people may need to hear the obvious. The problems that usually occur within groups stem from the fact that rules weren’t set and agreed upon at the first meeting. If this happens, then your group members can be held accountable for breaking them. Inevitably, there may be a bad egg in your group that just refuses to follow the status quo. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to go to your professor and tell them what’s going on. Your professor will be able to handle the situation better than you just chewing them out at the next meeting. I hope these guidelines help the next time you’re forced to work with others for an assignment or project. If not, then at least you tried.

-Rose Street

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