Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Effective Team-working in a Group Project (Level 4 Undergraduate)
Originator Martyn Stewart

School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, UK
(Present address: Learning and Development Team, Liverpool John Moores University, 2 Maryland Street, Liverpool, L1 9DE, UK)

Tel. +44 (0)151 231 3690

As part of the MGeol Geology undergraduate programme at Southampton, level 4 students undertake a unit that requires them to work in small teams (between three and six members) with the aim of designing and conducting a single fieldwork-based group project. By this stage in their degree, the students have already completed a level 3 mapping project and a level 4 individual research project, so it is felt that this group-project needed to offer a new dimension. On top of the geological research conducted during this project, transferable skills such as team-working methodology, and organising and running meetings are developed. The supervisor acts simply as a guide to keep the project on track, allowing the students freedom to decide on what and where the subject will be based.

Structure of the Group Project:

The unit lasts one semester (Easter).

  1. A proposal is presented (week 4) as a written report and as a group oral presentation. This comprises a plan for the project, a project title and a concise literary review. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the course. Each individual needs to have a clearly defined subject area in which to study. These individual subject elements must then tie together to make a single coherent project. Logistics of field-work are set out in the proposal.
  2. Field work (10 days). Even after an extensive literature review, at least two days in the field are needed to find the most suitable locations - locations where there is sufficient detail to keep each of the students active. To date, each project has been based at three or four localities.
  3. Final report (Total 15 000 words), where each member contributes a chapter detailing their own study, but with the greater emphasis on the final interpretation and discussion chapters written collectively as a group.


Additional Challenges Faced by this Type of Group Project:

  1. Deciding how the group will be organised and managed: will one student act as a manager or will the team develop a mechanism to allow decisions to be made collectively?
  2. Deciding on a project that contains enough depth to allow each member to have their own clearly defined subject area, whilst remaining a single, cohesive project with a clearly defined aim.
  3. Deciding on a field area.
  4. Defining a time-plan.
  5. Considering back-up plans in case the proposed field localities prove to be insufficient to meet the aims of the project
  6. Planning and organising the logistics of the study.
  7. Deciding how they are to write collectively the final interpretation and discussion chapters that tie the three individually-written components together.

Breakdown of Assessment:

Effective Team Working:

When this project ran for the first time in 1999 (with four students), management of the project was left essentially to the students with the supervisor informally checking progress every week. This proved largely a success: a good quality project report was submitted, and the students felt that they had learned a lot about project management. However, the supervisor felt that the project lacked cohesiveness and structure, and that more could have been drawn from the students' performance.

For the second year (2000), the project was made potentially more complex in that there were more students (six), with two SOCRATES students newly joined. To add a more structured framework, the supervisor followed the BP-Amoco team-working plan, and this worked very well. During the initial phases of the project, where the most difficult decisions needed to be made and the team structure defined, the team(s) met informally to discuss the project in their own time. Also, once a week there was a more formal student-led meeting where the supervisor was present as an observer to provide direction if needed. Here the groups' progress was reflected upon via a 'learning log', where the students were encouraged to express their individual feelings upon the progress of not only the project, but the team and themselves. These meetings were treated formally, with the students taking it in turns to chair the meeting and record action minutes.

The reason this proved successful as a learning experience is that the students recognised and appreciated the need for these structured, formal progress meetings, and recognised that they were learning a practical skill that could be applied wherever their future career lay. This is important for the student approaching the end of their level 4 course as there is often the 'I've-done-it-all-before' attitude amongst those who are less positive.


Group work
Project management

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Page updated 4 September 2000
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