Group work: a way to prepare for the real world

One of the first emails I received from a professor stated that by the end of the first class, we would form small groups to work with for the entire semester. Group work is very popular in Denmark. In fact, three of my four classes have group projects for at least half of the semester. The projects are worth most if not all of the semester’s grade.

I have worked in industry for the last few years, and I am very familiar with the importance of teamwork. I also understand that group work is an important skill and vital for preparing students for the real world. However, I have always been placed on a team after an interview or matching process. As an international student who wasn’t able to attend introduction week, I didn’t know anyone and the idea of forming my own group that would determine my entire semester grade on the very first day was terrifying. I had also been told that Danes keep small groups of close friends and that it is difficult to break into the intricate social circles. My nightmare was that I would walk in and be the only one without a group. I was already nervous about going back to school after long hiatus and whether I would remember how to study or what I had learned in my prerequisites after all this time. Now, I had to get one or two people who share my interest level and work ethic to believe I was worth working with for the entire semester.

I arrived early, and so did most of the rest of the class. Some of the students sat at tables with their friends, but many people were sitting alone. My original impression that everyone would know each other and that I would stick out like a sore thumb was shattered. I chose to sit next to another woman since she seemed the most approachable. At the end of the lecture, we started to form groups. I learned that although though she is Danish, she didn’t know anyone in this class either. That made me feel a lot better. Luckily, she was a good match, and we agreed to work together.

As it turns out, group work has been a great thing for me. I’m only a few weeks in, but I feel much more comfortable talking with my group partner than asking what I feel are stupid questions to the professor or TA. We also work as a sounding board for each other when we need to work through a problem. When we have an issue we can’t figure out together, we give each other the confidence to speak up. It’s also much less daunting to write a large paper together even if we have the entire semester. Having one or two more people makes it a lot less work. I look forward to working on our group project, and now that I’ve gone through it before, I’m not scared of forming groups later in the semester for my other classes. Although it seemed daunting at first, group work is another thing that makes DTU really special.

 Jennifer, MSc in Computer Science and Engineering, USA