BREAKING PERSISTENT WORKING GROUP PARTNERSHIPS: A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

C. Calafate, J. Arlandis, A. Torres

Universitat Politècnica de València (SPAIN)
Recent trends in the labor market have raised new professional challenges for nowadays engineers, which typically require their integration into different working groups. Thus, collaboration on organizational and development issues has become a key component for both business and public administration working environments. Moreover, these environments have a growing need for dynamic teams with the ability to address multidisciplinary projects, which require personal and professional interaction of specialists from different areas, and having different skills.

Considering the aforementioned issues, one of the basic challenges of modern university education in general, and engineering schools in particular, is to prepare students to acquire competences in group work with the aim of being able to get fully involved in their future work environment. This should combine both psychological and technical preparation of the students.

In the literature we can find a plethora of solutions for organizing workgroups depending on the type of task to be addressed. Regarding the composition of these groups, we consider that the criteria used is also relevant since it can have an important, or even critical, impact on the quality of the results.

Specifically, in our academic circle, we have observed a clear trend among students of grouping themselves by friendship affinity; moreover, this behavior seems to become persistent throughout their studies (fact confirmed by the results presented in this paper). This shows a skewed perception of the students about the importance of teamwork and associated interpersonal skills. Also, from a formative perspective, this can be interpreted as a sign that the organization of our academic system does not guarantee that the groupwork competence is properly acquired.
In this paper we present the results of a study where the current trend in terms group partner assignment was broken. Specifically, a group project in the scope of a Computer Engineering Degree course was proposed, and group partners were assigned by the instructor under the criterion of score similarity according to results in prior tests. At the end of the course, a survey about the experience was filled out by the students, which allowed to collect and analyze data about their experiences.

The reported results indicate that, as expected, students have mostly been working with a same partner over and over again. Also, students themselves chose those partners, and they resist to work with different partners. Nevertheless, after the new experience, the students found that project tasks were more evenly distributed within the group members compared to previous experiences, although a significant number of students believe such improvement to be unrelated to either having new partners or to a similar degree of knowledge about the course. Overall, students positively valued this group work experience for their future experiences in the labor market.