ALESTLE VIEW: Teachers, thoughtless group projects need to stop

Lazy peers, indecision, impossible coordination, an unwelcome time commitment and a classroom full of groaning students. Tack on a deadline and you’ve got yourself a group project. It’s no secret that many students hate being forced to work in a group.

One of the most common problems faced in group projects is the concept of social loafing—the idea that people put forth less effort when working in a group due to a lesser sense of responsibility than working individually. This can lead to some students who might normally be hard workers to put less effort in, forcing others to pick up the slack.

Add this to the fact that it can even take as long as a week for group members to figure out when they are all available to meet up. When they do meet up, the first meeting is often filled with back and forth as to what they even want the project to be or how they should start.

This isn’t to say group projects can’t be valuable nor that they should be taken out of classrooms completely. However, they should be well thought out and serve a particular purpose when assigned. Oftentimes, it seems an instructor assigns a group project because they heard group projects are beneficial to students but don’t put enough thought into why they are assigning it.

A student is used to being responsible for their own work and their own grade. The GPA system is in place to represent a student on their individual academic merits. In group projects, there are often a select few who take the lead and do the majority of the work. If one grade is shared for the whole group, then this is bound to frustrate the students who had to pick up the slack and make up for the lack of their peers' effort.

A simple way for instructors to track individual efforts is by delegating roles to each member: leader, organizer, documenter, etc. This gives each person a role that can be graded on it’s own virtues, but still requires teamwork to complete the task, simulating a workplace environment. But, if every role is dependent on one another, the same issue of certain students not holding up their end of the bargain can still occur. This is why instructors should have a system in place where students can notify them if a group member isn’t contributing.

If a group project is assigned, there needs to not only be class time for students to work on it, but instructors also need to keep the course moving, which can be difficult to manage for instructors and students alike. Instructors have to make the group project the sole focus of the class for the time allotted to complete it, set mini deadlines if there are other assignments during the same time or simply not assign one at all.

The bottom line is group projects should never be assigned just to have a group project in a course. They should only be given if they have a specific and relevant purpose to the class, as well as having been thought through well enough to address common problems within the nature of group projects.

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