The study form at AAU is project-organised and problem-based and on a daily basis, we refer to this study form as PBL. PBL gives you the opportunity to work with relevant, realistic and interdisciplinary problems with a group of fellow students.
Why study this way?
One of the main benefits of this study form is the fact that it improves your qualifications significantly - you learn to formulate, analyse and solve various authentic problems. You learn to work in a result oriented manner, with an analytical view on problems and in teams. In the meantime, you learn to present your project work, to form collaborations with companies and to be a central player in the evolution of your own learning.
You must not fear saying or doing the wrong thing, because then, you will never do the right thing
Johannes Møllehave, Danish priest and author
Get the most out of your cooperation
At most study programmes at AAU, each semester consists of courses through which students gain basic knowledge of specific themes, supporting the learning goals of their education. These are often basic courses, and the knowledge acquired through them may not be applicable until future semesters. Each specific theme makes up the context in which project proposals and problem statements are constructed, and then solved in groups.
As a new student, you may doubt whether group work is for you. You may not have much experience with group work from upper secondary school, and the set of study skills you have acquired may not correspond with the form of study present at AAU. Read more about the transition from upper secondary school to university.
Group work at AAU may be very different from the group work you have experienced at upper secondary school. There, you most likely only had a responsibility for yourself. At AAU, however, you have a responsibility for your entire group and vice versa.
You may experience a very different drive for studying than the one you met in upper secondary school. Your fellow students have, like you, chosen a study programme that they are passionate about. This motivates them to do their best to reach their goals. Therefore, you will meet students who have the same passion for studying as you have, and who also wish to contribute to your projects. By having you choose a subject within the theme of the semester, we give you and your group the freedom to work with what you find interesting and motivating - and motivation is fuel for your group!
It may still require quite a bit of readjustment to become part of a group of 2-6 students. At the beginning, you may feel unsure and anxious of what awaits you, and your head may be full of thoughts such as:
- Will I get a good group?
- Will I be able to cooperate with my new group members?
- Will my group members think I’m good enough?
These thoughts are normal, and you are most likely not the only one with these thoughts within the group.
Advantages of group work
It is important to remember that you are not alone with your thoughts and worries. The form of study at AAU will be new to most of your fellow students, and it may take time to get acquainted with it. Allow yourself to be unsure at first, and remember that this form of study will soon feel natural to you.
There are multiple advantages to working in groups:
- You get more eyes on the project
- If you are in doubt, you always have someone to talk things through with
- You get a great network at your study
- Teamwork is a central part of the labour market
In a group work setting, it is important that all group members contribute, as this will allow you to solve complex and large issues in a rewarding and efficient manner. There will be different opinions in your group, and you must be ready to compromise. Ultimately, this will increase both the quality of your product and the satisfaction of your group as a whole.
Project work will inevitably make you spend a lot of time with your group members. For this reason, we recommend that you try to get to know them early on.
You have to plan the project work, the work periods and your spare time. Thus, planning your time can give you a realistic view of how to keep track of time and deadlines. There are many different ways to plan your time - for example by using a Gantt chart, which is a simple system for scheduling time and tasks. Another way is to use shared calendars in Outlook.
It is also important that you remember to have fun in your spare time. Whether your study programme is placed in Aalborg, Esbjerg or Copenhagen, the city will have an array of cultural options for you to explore. See the offers in your student city.
If you feel that you do not have enough time delegated for spare time, you should consider talking with your group about it. You can use the exercise “Expectations for use of time” to find out if you have set reasonable demands for yourself and each other.
Breaks, breaks, breaks
It is important that you make time for breaks to rest your head. It is proven that people's results improve when they take breaks regularly.
You may feel frustation in regard to your project. Instead of being irritated about the problems, take a walk, listen to some music, or do whatever you feel will give you a little break from your work. By taking breaks, you move the problem you are dealing with from one half of the brain to the other, making space for new ideas and thoughts that potentially could solve the problem.
Find time for recharging your energy in your everyday life by completing the exercise "What gives you energy in your life?".
In new groups, roles are often shaped at random. Some group members tend to conquer the leader role, while the rest willingly take on the roles which come easily to them, or the roles which the other members do not want. The members who do not freely take on roles will get roles appointed to them. It is quite important that roles are revised after some time, as roles may change during the project period.
It is also important for groups to be dynamic. Being too fixed can damage the dynamic of a group and limit group work. It is important, however, that all members of a group take on a role, in order to sustain the social interplay of the group. With roles, it becomes easier to find your place in the group and react to others in a constructive manner. It is important that all group members are conscious of their role and preferred function in the group.
Difference is a ressource
It can, at times, be difficult to understand other people’s roles. Remember, though, that difference is a great resource for a group, as it often entails different skills. It is equally important to remember that you are not your role. The role you have taken on, or has been assigned, is not identical to your personality. Your role in a group is simply a facet of your personality. People can have different roles in different groups and situations.
A good team is characterised by having a good balance in relation to each other in the group - having similar opinions, norms, values and a will to function as a group.
Belbin's concept of team roles has been developed through studies that deduce a set of central connections to the understanding of how individuals cooperate. By talking about your different roles, strengths and weaknesses, you help to ensure quality and efficiency in your project group. Complete the exercise "Roles in a Project Group" and find out whether your group has a good division of roles.
Matching your expectations can have a big positive effect on your collaborative process. A match of expectations means that all members of a group clarifies their expectations to each other, preferably before commencing the actual work. The intention is to become aware of each other's expectations - not to evaluate or set goals. You can write or tell each other what you expect from yourself and each other and then discuss and match these expectations.
Content in matching your expectations
There are no rules or procedures to be followed when matching expectations. However, you may consider:
- What you expect to achieve both professionally and personally
- What your ambition level is
- What success and failure means to you
- What motivates you
It may be important for your cooperation that you have talked about motivation and how you can motivate each other in case one or more of you lose your motivation along the way. It is very common to lose motivation at some point during a semester, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Matching your expectations can form the basis for a cooperation agreement, which in turn can serve as a strong foundation for your group work. Through a cooperation agreement, you and your group members will learn about each other's opinions, ambitions and points of view. It also gives you an agreement to return to, if any problems should arise in the group. With time, you may feel like revising your agreement, as your group work is a constant work in progress - preconditions and relations change continuously. For this reason, a good cooperation agreement is also characterised by being dynamic.
Experience shows that it can be difficult to renegotiate cooperation agreements, which is why we recommend that you agree on how and when you will revise your agreement from the very beginning. Remember that improving your cooperation agreement is likely to also improve your cooperation.
Content of a cooperation agreement
There are no rules for what a cooperation agreement must contain, but it may contain your thoughts on how you would like to work in the future, for example:
- That you need to have a common goal - which expectations and goals are important to the project work?
- That the group must delegate work reasonably
- That you should support and help each other
It is also a good idea to talk about...
- How often should your group meet up? What if you don’t show up or are late?
- How and where should your group communicate with each other?
- What should be prepared for supervisor meetings?
- How do you organise meetings? Should there be a reporter, a mediator, do you take minutes of your meetings?
- How much work do you need to do as a group and how much is individual work?
It is not crucial that everyone in your group is alike, and that there is a common “group spirit”. The most important thing is that the members of your group can utilise and accommodate the individual skills you each possess. We all have personal and academic skills, and we should learn how to use these strengths when we are working with others.
Consult our code of conduct for teamwork at AAU for great inspiration that will help your group succeed.
Sometimes, the abovementioned preconditions cannot be sustained, and group members agree that further cooperation is not possible. In such situations, it is always a good idea to talk it through with your supervisor.
“You must not fear saying or doing the wrong thing, because then, you will never do the right thing” - Johannes Møllehave, Danish priest and author
If you are walking around with negative thoughts on your role in the group or work process, try speaking with your group members. It can be difficult and anxiety provoking to expose yourself in this way to strangers, but maybe they have a different opinion on what your role in the group is than you do.
Moreover, it may be that someone else shares your thoughts and feelings. That is why it is important not to be afraid to express your feelings out loud. When different people have to agree on certain things, it is natural that conflicts may arise. They may be caused by confusion in relation to what is expected of each other, or in relation to how the project work should be structured. In these situations, it is important to remember that you are cooperating to create a product, and you all have a common goal of making it properly. That is why it is important to aim your criticism towards your project and not towards any specific people. Remember that conflicts can serve as opportunities for learning how to avoid or deal with similar situations in the future.
Conflicts do not need to be negative. In fact, they can help create energy, improve group dynamics, evolve the project, and strengthen cooperation.
Handle conflicts early on
Conflicts cannot be avoided in groups where you work as intensively together as you do in your project group. It is important to talk about the conflicts. If a bad mood arises, set aside time for talking to each other about the wellbeing of the group.
Talking about your wellbeing can be a point in the contract, and you can set time off for it every month or every other month. However, it is recommended to nip arising conflicts in the bud and not wait too long before addressing them. In groups where conflicts are ignored, they often break loose at the final stages of the project phase, where group members are so stressed that the problems overshadow the project and become insolvable.
Remember that conflicts do not arise around a single individual, but between people. If a group member is repeatedly late or in some other way does not uphold your agreements, it is important not to make that person a scapegoat. Perhaps it is the interplay of the group which has gone wrong, and in such cases the problem needs solving.
It is also important to remember that the way in which you talk to a person signals to them how you perceive him or her. That is why it is extremely important to be thoughtful of your tone and body language when speaking with your group members - especially regarding conflicts.
Different conflict types
Conflicts are likely to trigger reactions among every member of your group. This happens because we each have a conflict type. Most of us do not like conflicts, as we often do not know what to do when they arise.
There are many different ways of dealing with conflicts. Perhaps it is a good idea to explore the different conflict types present in your group.
One conflict type cannot be said to be better than another. All conflict types have both strengths and weaknesses, depending on the situation. Finding and paying attention to your conflict types does not necessarily mean fewer conflicts - but it gives you a good opportunity to utilise your disagreements in a more constructive manner.
At a basic level, we may define five conflict types:
- The competing type - you fight your case
- The collaborative type - you examine all aspects of a case
- The compromising type - you negotiate and are ready to meet your group members halfway
- The evasive type - you escape and do not take a proper position
- The adaptive type - you agree with your group members without a fight
Consider how you respond when you encounter conflicts or disagreements.
In situations where a conflict has arisen, it is important to manage it is as soon as possible, or it might escalate. Therefore, the first thing you should do is to bring the group together and have a meeting, where everbody has their say. If the atmosphere in the group is intense, it may prove beneficial to choose a moderator, so as to make sure you keep a good tone and a fair distribution of speaking time among group members. Alternatively, a third party outside the group may act as moderator, if it does not work with a group member. It is important that all group members show up at the meeting with an attitude that the conflict should be resolved, as this will allow you to have a constructive discussion.
When it is impossible to solve conflicts internally in your group, you have to involve your supervisor, who will assess what should be done. It varies from study programme to study programme how conflicts are handled and when groups can be split up. In this regard, it is important to say that it rarely is a good solution to split up a group. This is because you should regard your group work as a taste of life on the job market, where you will work with loads of different people. Because of this it is very important that you learn to resolve conflicts, so that you can draw on your experiences later.
If you are in doubt about how to handle a conflict, you are always welcome to contact the General Student Guidance, were they will do their best to help you resolve your conflict.
Group sessions for project groups on campus Copenhagen
The healthy group work is educational and developing. However, at times group work can also be challenging and demanding. Thus, the general Student Guidance on campus Copenhagen is offering groups to participate in 2-3 group sessions where a conversation about expectations, group dynamics, boundaries and communication is facilitated. Your group can either seek to improve your collaboration skills or resolve ongoing conflicts.
You can book your first session by writing to:
Are you and your group looking for test subjects?
If you and your group need test subjects for your project, but you do not know where to find them, then check out the Facebook group AAU: Søg, find og bliv testperson, which translates to AAU: Search, find and become test subject.