Nurturing Cultural Diversity through group work

Nurturing Cultural Diversity through group work
2020-11-09

Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor company once said, “Coming together is a Beginning, staying together is Progress, and working together is Success 

Cheryl Dowie, a Lecturer in Business and Management Studies at the University of Aberdeen Business School, shares her experience on the benefits of working in groups. She discusses how cooperative and collaborative learning can help groups work effectively to solve problems and promote synergy to successfully complete group assessments.

Group-based learning in higher education

Working with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds is not always easy. However, this is an inevitable requirement in today’s international business arena, whatever job you take on. In higher education, international students who travel to the UK may be exposed to certain cultural learning scripts (cultural approaches to pedagogy) and as a result, may not be familiar with the teaching and learning styles in the UK. Along with this, they possess different strengths and weaknesses, different personalities, and communication styles. While these are important attributes for students to experience with one another before they prepare for a career in the real-world, individual proclivities often lead to group dissonance.

Teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students in the UK over the last 6 years, helped me realise and understand that group work is an important feature of University education and an effective way to learn from one another, without adopting a ‘sage on the stage’ approach to pedagogy. With this approach in mind, I always set time aside to assign students to small groups of 5 to 7. This of course depends on the strength of the class, the scope and scale of the task they would need to complete and always requires more time and effort to organise. I explain the benefits of group work to students and help them understand that I have their best interests in mind. Through co-operation and collaboration with one another, we all try to achieve the learning objectives for the course productively.

Benefits of working in a group

My experience initially as an international student in the UK and presently as an academic, has shown and taught me that the advantages of group work outweigh the disadvantages. Additionally, it helped me corroborate the view that diverse groups tend to outperform homogenous groups. I share some reasons for this view as follows:

  • Diversity in student groups can lead to greater innovation and creativity.
  • Students learn how to manage group conflict better and are more sensitive while making group decisions.
  • Through interaction and learning, students can gain a better understanding of themselves, and it also helps them reflect on their strengths and weaknesses.
  • It fosters cultural awareness and minimises cultural stereotyping.
  • Students gain the soft skills and valuable qualities that can help them become more employable.
  • It provides an opportunity to develop useful social/learning networks.

Conclusion and Implications

Though common challenges exist in group work, for both students and the educator, this effective pedagogical mode teaches students teaches students how to cooperate with one another (working in a group, and with the tutor) and collaborate with one another (working as a group). These are both important and necessary approaches to accomplishing the group task. A combination of the group’s effort, their competencies, their enthusiasm to solve problems, their ability to critically analyse and reflect on the task at hand, can empower them with knowledge and encourage them to help one another, thereby sharing the responsibility for the outcome of the group task. While the contribution may vary among the members of the group, it still facilitates and enhances learning among and between students and the educator, which is invaluable and the essence of sharing human knowledge.

Cheryl Dowie joined the University of Aberdeen Business School as an academic in 2018, after completing her Masters and PhD from Manchester Business School, UK. She is interested in incorporating interdisciplinary perspectives in her research, which centres on negotiation/conflict management, group decision-making and cross-cultural management. Prior to pursuing a career in academia, Cheryl was part of the mobilisation team for Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Accenture, working on finance-based projects for leading clients in the US and the UK.

Published by StaffNet, University of Aberdeen

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