A diverse student body is typical of a higher education experience.
You must learn to share your perspective with others while being open to and respectful of people who have different perspectives.
Group projects are typical in higher education.
You must learn how to communicate and work collaboratively while owning your own responsibilities in group projects.
Higher learning requires a mind open to new ideas and new people. A closed mind refuses to change—and without change, there can be no growth. Thus a diverse student body and a diversity of ideas are cornerstones of the kind of intellectual and social growth that occurs in the best educational experiences. Being open to and respectful of new people and new ideas makes you a good “citizen of the classroom”—that is, a student who is considerate of their classmates and helps to promote a spirit of inclusivity and welcoming. It also connects you to perspectives outside the scope of your experience and thereby enriches your own perspective. In other words, it makes you a better student and a better person.
Your perspective is the position from which you see the world around you. Your perspective is shaped and informed by things like where you come from, how you were raised, the privileges you’ve had, or the adversity you’ve faced. You are inevitably going to be in class with students who come from a different culture or have different values than you—that is, people who see the world from a different position than you do. Once again, this is a good thing! The classroom is an ideal place to learn with, and learn from, people from all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives. This includes students from different countries, different economic classes, different religious beliefs, different gender identities, different abilities and disabilities, etc.
It’s important for students in diverse classrooms to practice cultural sensitivity. Practicing cultural sensitivity means:
Contributing to class discussion respectfully is a great way to participate in your class and help build a sense of community. But how do you know you are being respectful? First, before expressing your personal opinion about an issue raised in class, make sure it is an appropriate time and venue in which to express it. Your opinion is often welcome, but be mindful of the moment—what the purpose of the assignment or lesson is and how your opinion might impact the focus of the course. Next, take care to express your thoughts in a manner that doesn’t include assumptions or value judgments regarding other cultures and perspectives. Your opinion is valued, but not at the expense of anyone else’s. Even if you don’t intend any disrespect, thoughtless or careless comments can negatively impact your classroom community.
Your coursework will occasionally require collaboration—that is, working together with other students. In a group project, two or more students collaborate to produce one unified piece of work. Group projects can help you develop skills that will be vital to your professional life after school. These skills include communicating effectively, dividing and delegating responsibilities, building consensus, and giving and taking constructive criticism. The majority of situations in the “real” or working world are going to involve collaborating with co-workers. Therefore, group projects in school are not merely an academic exercise, but rather they are some of the more useful elements of your education in preparing you for your future career.
Effective collaboration in group projects begins with establishing active and open communication. Active and open communication entails making sure each member of the group’s voice is heard and their opinion is taken into account. If you communicate well within your group, each member will understand their individual role and responsibility and the group can therefore proceed confidently and efficiently toward its goal. Also, if healthy communication is established within the group, this will help facilitate timely and satisfactory resolution to any conflict that might arise.
Effective collaboration in group projects requires that you fully understand your responsibility within the group and do your best to execute the work you are responsible for. The process of determining individual students’ responsibilities within the project should approximate consensus—that is, the agreement of everyone involved—as much as possible. Some students may naturally gravitate toward leadership roles and others toward secondary roles; this is perfectly acceptable and can result in more effective collaboration, as long as no one’s voice is ignored or overshadowed. Once roles and responsibilities are established, it’s crucial that they are honored and that every member of the group contributes according to plan. Problems arise when students do either more or less than their share of the work.
Any time you are working on a group project, there is the potential for conflict to arise among group members. After all, you are often being evaluated as a group, so each individual member of the team’s performance can affect everyone’s grade. Once again, the best way to avoid conflict is to establish clear and open communication from the start. However, this does not ensure that each individual within the group will follow through on their responsibilities or that any number of unforeseen circumstances will interfere with the success of the collaboration. If a conflict does arise, it’s best to address the problem directly and candidly. If you feel one individual is responsible for the problem, express your concerns to that individual respectfully. Conversely, if a student or students within your group express a concern they have with your work, consider their point of view carefully and try to avoid defensiveness. In any event, do your best to resolve conflict within the group and move forward. Only when resolution of the issue fails despite your best efforts should you contact your instructor or seek help outside of the group.
It is the nature of group projects that not every member of the team will contribute an equal amount of effort and work. So one of the most common issues students have with working in groups is when one or more members of the group are not doing their share. It’s understandable to be frustrated in this situation, as it is indeed not fair that students will share credit equally when their individual contributions are far from equal. So what should you do if you find yourself in a group project doing most of the work yourself? Again, it is important that you communicate your concerns to your group mates. Be polite, but clear and direct. If this doesn’t work, you can inform your instructor of the situation. In some cases, it can be clear to the instructor who is and isn’t doing their work, and they may take that into consideration when evaluating the project. You might also choose not to tell the instructor; to some extent, an imbalance of effort in group projects is inevitable, and this will be true in your life beyond school as well. You can settle for taking pride in your own work.