TIPS: Study Skills and Strategies
How to Work in Groups
How do you prepare for group presentations and projects? Group presentations play a large role in many classes at Skidmore; therefore it has become increasingly important to know how to work with other students on a shared project. In MB 107, for example, the end-of-term "Executive Presentations" count as 25% of your grade. These groups are often assigned by your professor, so chances are that you won't be working with the team of your choice. And, remember, you are working as a team, so the team grade is your grade, too.
Control What You Can
Yourself. Do what you need to do: read, go to class, take good notes, ask questions, pass the tests and quizzes, begin working on your papers early; do all the right stuff. You can control all the non-group work—your own work—at least! Your motive for doing this is twofold: 1) you want to perform well in the class and 2) you want to make a significant contribution to your team.
Class presentations involve other people, and you won't be able to do other people's work for them, or wake them up in time for class or your meetings, or prevent every potential conflict. But if you are ready, if you are prepared, if you are calm, you will be able to address any problems with confidence and ease. Professor Harper, who coordinates the presentations for MB 107, says that "preparation is key, and can [even] overcome shyness." Make suggestions, be flexible, and remain determined to do all that you can to do well as a group.
Personalities and the First Steps
Professor Harper suggests you begin by getting together early (and informally) as soon as you know the names of the other students in your group. He notes that "each team member is crucial," but so is the group identity: "In order to have social identity and cohesion as a group, you must have a bond other than the task itself." Form that bond; "take the initiative" and set up a meeting time right away, a time when everyone can stay for at least an hour—this is part of the task. Professor Harper notes that you should "break up the work according to the group members' strengths and weaknesses" and "make sure your team knows what you can do." Find out what everyone is good at by asking questions: who takes good notes, who knows PowerPoint, who likes research, who writes well, who loves to talk, who is creative? Patterns of behavior will set quickly, so stay with the group and be sure to try to include everyone. Conversely, if you are shy, this is the time to be courageous and stay "inside" the group; you don't want to be excluded. The rule is to avoid "only" getting or giving all the directions. Professor Harper argues that it is wise to appoint someone as a devil's advocate; his or her job is to critique the group's ideas as they arise, so that there is one "objective" voice instead of a chorus. This will facilitate interesting and stimulating team discussions that are likely to produce high-quality ideas and outcomes; sometimes, simple things, such as sitting in a circle as you talk, help a lot. One thing you all have in common is this class; return to that as your base whenever you go off track. Start a tentative plan. Create a schedule of meetings that runs all the way to the presentation date. As a guideline, Professor Harper recommends eight to 10 dry runs for MB 107 presentations (after all your preliminary work is done).
Research and Props
Once you have meetings set up and you are beginning to talk about the assigned presentation, figure out all the steps that will be needed, divide them as evenly as possible, and begin asking for volunteers. It's probably fair to assume that everyone should do the same amount of research and the same amount of "talking" during the presentation. But maybe the artsy person can do a poster, or the history major can be the one who presents the "overview." Continue to be part of the discussion as the presentation is refined. "It is very obvious" to your audience, says Professor Harper, "when you have excluded yourself." Practice with your props so you know what to point to, how to hold posters, when to click the mouse to the next page. If you are using technical equipment, be sure it works.
"Hit Your Mark and Say Your Lines"
(At least, that's what Spencer Tracy, a classic film actor, said—it's all you need to know). Before the presentation, say your lines to a willing friend in a "safe space"—more than once. Time yourself. Note where words may be hard to remember or pronounce and practice until they are easy. During the presentation, expect the unexpected: classmates may ask you questions, your professor may ask for clarification. Just remain focused. "Go beyond the average," says Professor Harper, and if you have done good work leading up to the presentation, that will show.
Outcomes of Working in Teams
Interpersonal skill development
Improved communication and decision-making skills
Improved conflict-handling skills
Increased understanding of "different" others
Facilitates socialization into the Skidmore academic and social cultures
Want tips for practicing your public speaking? Make an appointment to see a staff member in Student Academic Services (Skidmore extension 8150).