Class group projects usually fail to accomplish intended goals
The Vanguard Vision
October 26, 2009 —
A lot of positive changes in the world began with an individual and happened because of a group. Most people know that the value of teamwork and the collaboration of great minds cannot be underestimated.
It takes the collective decision making of groups to pass legislation and uphold democracy. It takes many minds to find disease cures. It took groups to do everything from improving racial equality to liberating countries to winning Super Bowl championships. And yet the words ďgroup projectĒ in the college classroom often horrify us.
Everyone on the Vanguard editorial staff can recall at least one group project we each contributed to in an SVSU class because we have the therapist session records to prove it. Maybe thatís a bit extreme and not entirely true, but the point is we came to the realization that despite how important we know it is to learn strategies to collaborate in groups, we loathe grade-sharing team projects, where the work is always unevenly distributed, the slack must be picked up for the sandbaggers and teammates are not acquired by choice.
Whine much? We try not to. But we think other students share our perspective in these undesirable situations.
To clarify, weíre not a bunch of elitists who deem the input of our peers unworthy for our ears. Most people have probably been on both sides of the spectrum ó sometimes we feel the need to sit in the captainís chair, other times we think teammate Suzy Student has got this under control, so Iíll be slapping my name right next to hers when this due date is upon us.
One of the biggest problems with the work thatís often designed for in-class groups is that it doesnít really constitute the need for a group. When is the last time a boss asked four employees to each write a different paragraph of a memo? Even writing proposals and research papers is a challenge for a group. A paper authored in one consistent voice but written by several people is an unrealistic expectation.
From our student perspectives, what generally happens in a group project is that five people will divvy up the work as evenly as possible and do the exact opposite of collaborating as a group, which involves working independently and using any word processorís copy and paste function. It might not even be that they donít want to work together, itís just that schedules seldom mesh with the typical studentís busy lineup of classes and work.
And, of course, there is the outcome we all fear: one or two people do the whole project because electing to do otherwise would result in a less than satisfactory grade. And some of us lose sleep at night over this prospect.
The list of cons goes on, but we shouldnít ignore the benefits that do exist. Some groups defy the odds and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This, hopefully, is every professorís intention, but we might be kidding ourselves to think that most of the time this isnít just wishful thinking.
Although we hate these timeconsuming situations, we begrudgingly admit that, yes, we do learn how to work with difficult people ó something thatís useful, because we canít always expect weíll never encounter a difficult coworker. We recognize that we can build communication skills, but at what cost? A lot of us are getting our groupwork jollies outside of the classroom in organizations and real job settings. When we come to class, we support efforts to maximize learning potential, but we want to earn our grades separately.