Be Prepared To GroupWork Conflicts

Group Work in the College Classroom published by University of Colorado Boulder,July 23, 2011

Group work is essential to develop skills mandatory in programming field. It provides the capacity to complete complex and detailed projects, it exposes students to greater variety of perspectives and increase their ability to break down tasks into sequential stages. One common challenge educators must be prepared for when utilizing the strategy is students’ conflict. I believe that there are two main reasons for many of students’ conflicts, the first is mistrust where some students usually those who prefer to work alone feel that their partners won’t be able to accomplish the given task or role. Second is poor communication when group-members criticize one another in an inappropriate way and thus some personal clashes are likely to occur.

In the early years of teaching, I used to think that my role is limited to typical procedural steps of group work as a teaching strategy which includes careful activity preparation, decide the appropriate group size, assigning group tasks, feedback, and evaluation. There is no doubt that they are essential factors for a better outcome of the group work strategy but they don’t support students’ cohesion nor enhance their communication skills required for successful teamwork.

There are few more steps that I integrate to minimize the number of conflicts between group members. I start by explaining the benefits of group work, it is crucial for students to understand the outcome of group work especially strong students who usually prefer to work alone, I find using examples of previous successful group-work projects is the most effective method but I also use online media that emphasize benefits of group work and provide students with essential guidelines for successful and productive group-work. To help students to build trust, I use trust building activities and icebreakers such as trust-fall. To foster commitment between team members, I ask students pick a name for their group or design a logo. I introduce group work in gradual steps and allow students enough time before engaging them in a long-term group assignment or project, I start with short in-class group activities, it helps to build relation-ships between students, it also gives me the opportunity to vary group composition, and as I monitor them working together in class I can make a better decisions when assigning individual roles in a group so each plays to everyone’s strengths.

To enhance communications skills, students must be aware how to communicate their opinions in a way that respects others, provide constructive feedback or criticism  that focus on work and doesn’t engage in blaming or personal issues. And thus I discuss how appropriate communication should be done among group members and provide a group contract that includes behaviors which will be expected of all group members and procedures to seek a consensus of an opinion (Centre for Teaching Excellence, n.d.).

Though the previous strategies can help avoid students’ conflicts. But I must be prepared to respond to some cases of conflict. I usually push students to try open up and discuss their problems on their own and get back to me only in very extreme situations. In case they turned to me, I present the conflict as evidence that shows a passionate commitment to what they are doing, try to be fair and listen to all sides, and think along with them how to resolve the conflict or reach a compromise (Hanna,2011).

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