Date Presented 04/02/2022

The ability to collaborate, a skill learned from group work, remains important after entering the OT workforce. This study examines OT students’ perspectives on group work in graduate school. Suggestions to improve effectiveness included clearer expectations, group evaluations for accountability, and a mix of both assigned and chosen groups. Group work might be more effective if faculty better understood the student perspective.

Primary Author and Speaker: Erin Simpson

Additional Authors and Speakers: Courtney Conway, Emily Erickson, Otto Kramer, Morgan Oberbroeckling, Courtney O’Malley, Halie Ybarra

PURPOSE: Many occupational therapy programs require students to collaborate with their peers to complete coursework. Based on their interactions, students formulate opinions about their experiences working in a group setting. As students matriculate through their programs and emerge as new therapists, group collaboration and teamwork continue to be a common occurrence. Because current literature does not represent occupational therapy, this research aims to highlight the field. This research study examines occupational therapy students’ perspectives of the benefits and challenges of group work in graduate school.

DESIGN: An exploratory research design was conducted using a survey method. Occupational therapy students from entry-level master and entry-level doctoral programs across Illinois universities were recruited via a convenience sample.

METHOD: This study was conducted using an online survey sent to participants via SurveyMonkey. The survey consisted of mixed quantitative and qualitative questions, composed of a questionnaire and open-ended questions. To analyze the data, descriptive statistics were used. The four open ended questions were analyzed by finding common response to categorize into generalized themes.

RESULTS: While students identified sharing new and different ideas/perspectives, collaboration, and communication as benefits of group work, most students reported a preference to work independently. When working in groups, the student preferred group size was three to four students. A majority of students cited feeling comfortable voicing their opinion within the group. 46% of students believed their overall learning remained the same after group work and 36% felt that their overall learning strongly increased. Students cited unequal distribution of work, lack of communication and the inability to properly complete the task as the biggest challenges to group work. Most students agreed that the efforts from group members were distributed unequally. Groups are more often chosen by the instructor. 14/50 students responded that they would rather have their groups assigned to avoid cliques and gain the opportunity to hear more diverse perspectives. Alternatively, 30/50 students responded that they would rather choose their groups. These students noted ensuring more equal distribution of work, utilizing past experience of knowing who they work well with, location/proximity and sharing similar schedules as factors for preferring to choose their own groups. Several potential changes to group work were identified: including expectations set by the professor and students at the beginning of the assignment; frequent check-ins with the professor, having roles assigned at the beginning; and using group evaluations to hold each student accountable.

CONCLUSION: Conclusions from this research suggest that clear guidelines and directions from the instructor at the beginning helped to increase the effectiveness of group work overall. Adding group evaluations for students to keep others accountable, having professors facilitate the learning, and incorporating a mixture of both assigned and chosen groups were suggestions from participants to enhance the experience of group work. To gain a better understanding of group work, it would be beneficial to get the perspective of professors and new practitioners regarding the correlation between group work and its translation to professional experiences in the field. As occupational therapy faculty better understand the student perspective of group work, better activities might be created to promote future group work.


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