To meet the demands of the modern workforce, educational institutions recognise the importance of equipping graduates with subject knowledge and essential soft skills, including effective teamwork and communication. Incorporating team-based collaborative assignments throughout the curriculum is a common approach to building students’ teamwork skills. These assignments involve students working in teams on various projects throughout their curriculum. The belief is that providing students with guidelines, exposure to diverse team compositions, and prior collaborative experiences will enhance their proficiency in teamwork and collaboration.
However, a significant challenge arises when assessing these team-based assignments as the grading criteria typically heavily emphasise the content and quality of the final product submitted, with the final grade being predominantly determined by this aspect. In contrast, evaluations of the team collaborations often rely on self-ratings, reflection articles, and portfolios of information such as meeting minutes or proposed task lists. Unfortunately, these evaluations tend to carry minimal weight in the final grade, resulting in students prioritising mainly on the quality of their team’s deliverables while neglecting the critical aspect of evaluating and reflecting on their team’s interactions and dynamics. This imbalance leads students to prioritise the deliverables of their team’s work, neglecting the critical aspect of reflecting on their team’s interactions and dynamics. Some may even choose to ignore present issues (e.g. communication, social loafing, etc.) and “soldier on” to complete their assignment (sometimes alone).
As their primary concern becomes the final product, Students may overlook the significance of effective communication, active listening, conflict resolution, and mutual support— all essential components of successful team dynamics. The lack of reflection by students denies opportunities for self-improvement and identification of meaningful team engagements during the process. This undermines the primary goal of using team-based assignments to develop fluency in teamwork and collaboration. Additionally, the constant changing of team members for different assignments perpetuates this issue, as students replicate their previous team experiences without knowing if they contributed effectively. Consequently, students may achieve high grades but complain about unenjoyable and challenging teamwork experiences, while educators worry about having to intervene in teams when issues arise.
There is a pressing need to rethink the current approach towards implementing and assessing team-based assignments in higher education. Educators should consider assigning more weight towards the evaluation of team interactions and cultivating a culture of feedback and reflection amongst students. By incorporating assessment criteria that explicitly evaluate the effectiveness of teamwork and collaboration skills, students will be encouraged to proactively address team issues, engage in reflective practices, and identify areas for personal and collective growth. Furthermore, fostering open discussions about team dynamics, communication challenges, and individual contributions will deepen students’ understanding of their teammates and workstyles, promoting self-awareness and empathy. Integrating structured reflection activities into the curriculum will allow students to critically analyse their team interactions, strengths, and areas for improvement. By making reflection an integral part of the learning process and curriculum, students will better understand the elements required for effective team collaborations and be better equipped to navigate future collaborative environments. These changes will not only enhance students’ academic endeavours but also develop the essential skills necessary for success in the professional world.
Bryan Tang is a Behavioural Researcher and Psychology tutor at Cardiff University.