What are the nine pitfalls of university discussions?
This is the third and final lesson about Group Discussions. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Remind the reader of the skills needed for group discussions
– Explore nine pitfalls that students should avoid when conducting assessed group discussions
– Provide activities to check understanding and progress
There are many types of assignment at university, and group discussions may be one of the most challenging – particularly for any students that are not confident in public speaking. While Lessons 1 and 2 explored the aspects that make for effective group discussions, in this third and final lesson we next turn our attention to the nine mistakes that students commonly make but should learn to avoid.
Pitfall 1: Not contributing
Because group discussions are commonly assessed on the performance of each individual and the group as a whole, students should make sure that they contribute an equal amount to the discussion wherever possible. Any student that is not speaking confidently and frequently is unlikely to receive high grades as they will not be sufficiently demonstrating topic knowledge or interaction strategies.
Pitfall 2: Contributing too much
Conversely, it can be just as damaging to a student’s grade if they say too much during a group discussion as they will be taking focus and talking time from other students. While every discussion needs a leader of some sort, students should try not to dominate the conversation or lead it in a direction that only suits their knowledge and interests.
Pitfall 3: Unclear contributions
While every member should contribute and no one member should contribute too much, students should also be careful of adding unnecessary or irrelevant information simply because they need to say something. By contributing information that indicates that you do not have sufficient topic knowledge or have not been listening carefully to the other members of the discussion, you will likely be reducing competency and grades in the eyes of your assessor.
Pitfall 4: Not involving others
Because a portion of a student’s grade in a group discussion is usually based on teamwork and group performance, it should be everyone’s responsibility to make sure that everyone else is getting involved. While some roles such as introducing the topic or summarising key points can only be performed by one student in the group at a time, every member of the discussion should do their best to involve everyone else equally and fairly. This means noticing when a student is not contributing and verbally encouraging them to do so.
Pitfall 5: Conveying superiority
One mistake that some students make, particularly confident ones, is in appearing arrogant or superior to the assessor or other team members. While it is certainly a good idea to seem competent and relaxed, if you come across as cocky or as believing that you’re better than others, this will not positively impact your grade or how other members respond to you.
Pitfall 6: Being disrespectful
One way that students can avoid seeming arrogant or superior is by being clearly respectful of each team member in the discussion. Students should remember to be polite at all times and should be careful of any cultural, religious or personally sensitive topics or opinions that may offend. Causing offence in a group discussion is likely to negatively impact the flow and engagement of the debate and may lead to more serious conflict.
Pitfall 7: Creating conflict
Once a number of group members have offended each other, perhaps through the opinions that were provided or how those opinions were delivered, it is quite likely that a debate may become aggressively charged and personal in nature. If this happens, it may be difficult to rescue that discussion unless done quickly. While such conflict is unlikely to occur between all members of the group, once two people have started arguing it can be very hard for the rest of the group members to bring the discussion back to civility, although students should certainly try.
Pitfall 8: Going off topic
One additional mistake that groups might make is when the discussion veers away from the prescribed topic. Students should remember that their assessor will have provided the discussion topic and will be expecting group members to discuss this topic comprehensively, involving background knowledge and source-based ideas. Because assessed group discussions usually have a set time limit, any deviation from the main topic will simply be wasting time that could be spent on the debate.
Pitfall 9: Poor timekeeping
Finally, knowing that group discussions are timed, all group members should pay careful attention to timekeeping and the stages of that discussion. Enough time must be available to introduce a topic, to clarify that everyone understands the question, to debate that topic fully, and to summarise what has been discussed in the debate. Students must also remember to have an equal share of that debate, which is of course only possible with effective timekeeping.
Good work on completing this final lesson in our short course on group discussions. Complete the Lesson 3 activities next to check your understanding, then consider finding out more about other academic assignments by taking another short course.
Lesson 2 explores the topic: Which skills make for effective group discussions? Our Lesson 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button.
Lesson 3 explores the topic: What are the nine pitfalls of university discussions? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button.
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