Rethinking group work – how might it be beneficial for all?

Elizabeth Bouwkamp- Staff Writer

“Group Project” – what reactions do these two words evoke? Opportunities? Collaboration? Eye-rolling? Thoughts of yet another “solo” project endeavor?

Needless to say, these two words are not viewed with positivity. After all, sitting behind a laptop while taking occasional notes from a lecture is easier than committing to a group and actually participating. Right?

Regardless of ease, group work is necessary. Can you count on one hand the number of workplace projects requiring a single person’s effort? All jobs require some amount of dialogue, group decision-making and conflict resolution.

As college students, each major tends to seclude their realm of study to just that: their own realm of study. For example, engineering majors usually work only with engineering-type work, like statics, dynamics, heat transfer and the like. Things like oil painting, composing poetry or memorizing the scientific names of various North American leaves don’t fall under their normal path of study, so they don’t take the time to develop those skills. They are not generally applicable to engineering work.  groupwork

Let’s look at another major: art. Art majors do not spend their time writing code in a lab, balancing chemical ratios, or preparing for a persuasive speech – it is outside their art realm.

Is it a problem to work inside one’s realm of study or field of expertise? After all, specific college majors are picked for a reason; that is, gifts and talents do not all lie in the same discipline. This reasoning is correct, and it sets the stage for the following proposal.

In the workplace, all sectors of an organization – human resources, communications, marketing and creative teams, research and development, IT and legal – must collaborate on some level. While working on the same project, each department brings its field of expertise to carry out the end goal.

With this in mind, could college majors work together like the above workplace departments?

Put differently, what would it look like to use our individual disciplines to help one another?

Every year, Dordt College senior engineering students put together a senior project. They compile hours of calculations, lab work and data into a final research project. Art and sculpture students do the same thing – senior portfolios and art shows. Biology, psychology and communication students participate in senior research as well. If we believe in the importance of each discipline, might we learn from and help students from various academic disciplines by participating in each other’s work?

Could sculpture students work with engineering students? Could the two creative minds produce a model or structure better together than apart? Might the two sides of the brain – left and right –  be working at a greater potential?

Or, what would it look like for a communication student to collaborate with a biology or chemistry student on their research project? Might the communication student take the difficult jargon and graphs of the science project and make it into a clear, concise and understandable presentation for the general population?

Could our business students complete a business plan for a senior engineer design project? Could our marketing majors sell the product? Could our psychology students look into the psychographics of a targeted population to determine who would buy the product?

The list goes on. Corporations and small businesses need collaborative learners. They need learners who see value in each discipline separately, but even more so, who see the value in working together to create an even better outcome. As students at a college that offers a diverse array of majors, we have the opportunity to collaborate across various academic disciplines and grow ourselves in ways we may never have anticipated.

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