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Studierende auf der Lernfläche des Instituts für Informatik, Foto: Universität Paderborn, Fotografin: Judith Kraft
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Studierende auf der Lernfläche des Instituts für Informatik, Foto: Universität Paderborn, Fotografin: Judith Kraft

Project Groups

1. Definition

In university "Project Groups", a group of usually 8-15 students works together over a period of one year (two semesters) on a research topic determined by the group organizer. The research topics for the new project groups are introduced in a general presentation in which the students can hear the conditions for participating in a project group, and sign up for a project group.

2. Goals

On the one hand, project groups aim to support the personal development of the participants; on the other, the groups also have research issue-related goals.In project groups, participating students gain first-hand practical experience in working in a team and organizing a project; in doing so, they become prepared for daily work in their later professions. The students personally experience how to carry out extensive development processes in a team. Since the tasks are divided among the individual team members, the participating students become skilled in reporting their progress and research findings to the other group members.

Project groups introduce students to current research topics that are usually related to the group organizer’s special area of interest. In this respect, the project groups also actively, but not primarily, contribute to university research. For the participating students, this means that after completing the project they are, in general, predestined to take on a Master’s Thesis in their project group’s research area.

3. Project Group Presentation

Every semester within the last week of lectures the new project groups for the upcoming semester are presented publicly by the project group organizers. After this presentation the students have time to consider the topics with respect to their interests and preferences, and subsequently can apply for one or more of the project groups. Following this step, a collaborative process of distributing students to the proposed project groups is performed. As a result, project groups who were chosen by too many students may have to reject some, or project groups with too few applicants may be cancelled. In general, a satisfying solution is found for all project group organizers and participants.

4. Achieving the Goals

On the one hand, the proposed research topic or issue should reflect current research issues to stimulate the group’s motivation and prepare the participants for possible follow-up research. On the other hand, the research topic should correspond to the amount of work that the participating students can actually dedicate to the project. No matter what field the project group conducts its research in, the participating students learn within a group context which methodical and systematic approach is appropriate for the research topic. If the project group’s main objective is to design software, the students must systematically apply the methods and techniques of software development taught in the Computer Science program.All of the students participating in a project group must prove their interest in the research topic. Project groups depend on motivated participants. If the number of students who want to participate in a particular group exceeds a reasonable group size, those who urgently need to participate in a project group to complete their studies are given preference.The project group itself should determine how the group is organized and what the research entails. This is achieved by 

  • A discussion session with the group organizer at the beginning of the project on which goals were already set and which goals must still be determined;
  • Developing knowledge on the selected systematic approaches, methods and tools relevant to the research topic- usually done in an introductory seminar phase;
  • Logical assigning "jobs" (assigning responsibilities to the individual group members);
  • Discovering and promoting the participants’ special individual talents, which are either already apparent or which can be developed throughout the project - such as through seminar presentations or appropriate job assignments;
  • Setting up a process-oriented personnel structure, similar to the structure of an industrial design team; delegating subtasks to smaller subgroups who report their findings;
  • Regular progress reports made by individuals and subgroups;
  • Writing a highly distributed interim report and final report.

Although self-organization is rather important, in the end, the group organizers assess the participation of each individual student. To perform a fair evaluation, the group organizer considers the following points:

  • All of the group’s participants must be involved in the various tasks that arise (programming, documentation, reporting, work organization);
  • The group must delegate all of the necessary tasks in such a manner that no position is held by too many participants;
  • He/she must control each individual’s overall work performance and compensate for any unequal work distribution;
  • He/she must ensure that as many participants as possible attend the group sessions during both semesters.

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