Charles-Darwin.jpgCharles Darwin, the nineteenth century naturalist and biologist who proposed the Theory of Evolution in his book, "On the Origin of Species", famously stated: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptive to change."  We have all had to make a lot of adaptations to change in recent times and it appears that further adaptations will be required as the current restrictions are lifted and the situation evolves.  We do well to remember Darwin's statement, which is still so relevant, today.

Most high-ability students intensely detest doing group work.  This is because most high-ability students were regularly placed in mixed-ability student groups, where they frequently became frustrated that their ideas were not listened to, yet they were often expected to do most of the work assigned while other, less-able students acted as 'free-riders' who benefitted from, and were given marks associated with, the high-ability students' efforts.  Given this regular experience, it is not surprising that most high-ability students usually try to avoid group work.  Yet when these students have an opportunity to work with others who have similar abilities (although possibly with different experiences, strengths, skills and interests); when individual efforts are defined, appreciated, acknowledged and appropriately rewarded; when students are explicitly taught skills associated with collaboration, students are able to adapt. 

Group-work.jpgProfessionals are regularly required to collaborate with colleagues in the workplace, as evidenced in many contexts, especially during the current health crisis; however the skills required to collaborate are different to those utilised in group work. Linda Riebe, Antonia Giradi and Craig Whitsed at Edith Cowan and Murdoch Universities, have defined collaboration as: "a process involving two or more students working toward common goals, through interdependent behaviour with individual accountability."  When collaborating, individuals utilise personal strengths and skills, working autonomously, interdependently, equally towards a shared goal; whereas in group work, students are usually assigned a task but how this is achieved is left up to the group to determine and importantly, the group is assigned a common mark.

Team.jpgResearch conducted by Vanessa Urch Druskat from Case Western Reserve University, together with Christopher Kayes from Butler University, identified that students with collaborative skills performed better at school.   According to Jill Casner-Lotto and Linda Barrington's research, associated with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, there are indications that collaboration skills are highly regarded in the workplace, but employers are frequently disappointed in the collaborative skills of incoming employees. The OECD has emphasised the need to focus on developing collaborative problem-solving skills within the curriculum, but emphasis in some contexts may still need to shift from group work to collaborative endeavours.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: "The only constant in life is change." We have all had to make changes, with many adapting to working collaboratively, whether at home or in relation to assigned academic and work-related tasks.  Our future depends upon the ability of many to adapt, to learn to work collaboratively, in order to achieve critical goals.  

© Michele Juratowitch                     

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Last reviewed 06 May 2020
Last updated 06 May 2020