Measuring Groupwork skills in Higher Education

When Dr Vikki Burns and I started our Birmingham Evaluating Skills (BEST) Project in 2010, we searched the literature for appropriate measures to answer our research question: do groupwork skills developed during a residential outdoor adventure course transfer to University and employment settings? There was no one questionnaire that seemed to be an ideal fit for our purposes – either the items did not capture what we thought was important or the measure lacked evidence to supports its validity and reliability. We therefore decided to take the plunge and develop our own questionnaire, which we called the Groupwork Skills Questionnaire – the GSQ for short.

Developing a psychometrically-sound questionnaire can be a long and arduous process.  In this case, it took about 4 years from the initial stages of item development to publication, with over 1650 participants involved in the research and several other researchers eventually coming on board to help with the analysis and writing: Sam Cooley, Dr Mark Holland, and Dr Charlotte Woodcock.  We also had help from fantastic research assistants, many of whom were students on our BSc Sport and Exercise Sciences degree (Chloe Arnold, Jessica Fawcett, Daniel Kelly, Orie Lawrence, Joseph Marsh, Emily Novakovic and Claire Owen).

We started with 52 items, which had been carefully chosen from existing questionnaires or written based on our understanding of groupwork skills.  These items went through a rigorous process of pilot testing, involving experts in questionnaire development and pedagogical issues as well as the intended users of the questionnaire (i.e., higher education students).  This process helped to confirm that the majority of items captured what we intended to measure, but pointed to where further improvements could be made.

After removing several items and re-writing others, we arrived at a set of 46 items to administer to over several large samples of students.  The data from these participants were analysed using exploratory and then confirmatory factor analyses, enabling us to systematically remove items until we arrived at a 10-item questionnaire measuring:

  • Task groupwork skills: Engaging in behaviors that contribute to the management of the group, including setting goals, strategies and schedules, and establishing roles for group members.
  • Interpersonal groupwork skills: Contributing to the interpersonal dynamics of the group by providing emotional support and being sensitive to the feelings of others.

With further samples, we also checked that the GSQ was both related to other groupwork variables (i.e., attitudes towards groupwork and groupwork self-efficacy), as well as reliable in different ways.  The end result of this work is a research tool that is both valid and reliable, which has enabled us to provide evidence to support the use of outdoor adventure courses for developing transferable skills.  We think that there are many other exciting research questions that can be answered by the GSQ and look forward to seeing it used by other researchers in the years to come.

The GSQ is also a pedagogical tool.  Working in groups is one of the most important transferable skills students can develop as part of their higher education degree.  Not only does it enhance academic achievement and educational experiences, but also sets the stage for improving students’ employability following graduation.

Lecturers will include both formal and informal types of groupwork in their modules, but it is rare for the development of task and interpersonal groupwork skills to be an explicitly stated learning outcome.  We think that including these as learning outcomes would be particularly beneficial for first year students, who tend to be less aware of the benefits of working groups or how to do so effectively (Maiden & Perry, 2011).  The GSQ could be given to students at the start and end of the groupwork task to determine if these learning outcomes have been met, as well as to encourage them to reflect on their contributions in groupwork tasks.

Interested in knowing more about how to use the GSQ for either research or teaching? You can download the full academic paper and manual.

About the author: I am a Chartered Psychologist and a Senior lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Birmingham (UK). The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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