1. Characteristics of a group

1.11 Aims

Aims are implicit in most, if not all, groups though they are not often thought about and even less often discussed. These aims may be intrinsic in nature: "to discuss environmental pollution", or they may be extrinsic: "to make decisions about the course" or "to prepare for an examination". Aims also have social and task dimensions. Social aims include "to develop group loyalty and a sense of belonging" while task aims refer to qualities like judging ideas and checking progress. They are complementary. If the social dimension is not given due regard, students may feel cool about the group and have no sense of commitment. If the task dimension is missing they may become dissatisfied and feel frustrated at not achieving anything worthwhile. The social dimension has an additional educational scope. It includes qualities like self-awareness, the ability to work independently yet cooperatively in a team-all important aspects of the students' personal development.

Members of any group are likely to have their own personal and, sometimes, hidden aims and these may have little to do with the aims of the group as a whole, where these are known. Sometimes these personal aims, for example, impressing the tutor, scoring off another student, wanting approval of the group, capitalising on other students' ideas, may undermine the intended aims of the tutor. It is the tutor's job to somehow accommodate or mobilise the personal aims within the overall aims; and there is usually no better way to do this than through as open discussion as possible of all the aims arising from the group.

Questions about aims include:

  • What were the aims of the group?
  • Were they clear to the students?
  • Were they acceptable to the students
  • To what extent did everyone inside (and outside) the group share the aims?
  • What separate aims did the students have?
  • Was the method/technique/interaction appropriate to the aims? What was the evidence?
  • What unintended outcomes were there?
  • Did the group evaluate its progress during and at the end of the meeting/series of meetings?

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