Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Big Thirsty from Belinda in Boston.

I never get this group.
From the Daily Nebraskan:

Many students despise group projects, professors should take note

When is somebody going to tell teachers that group projects are not such a great idea?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in learning to construct ideas and make them a reality together, the whole “two heads are better than one” mantra. But how many of us really enjoy being held responsible for any head but our own?

The Rest.

Q: What do you think about using group projects? 


  1. As a student, I hated (HATED) group work... There'd always be 2 of us doing the work and the rest (2-3 others) were slackers. I was in a group one time where my other actually-working group member laid into the "others"... and it was mean... and the "others" looked blankly and kept on doing not-too-much.

    As a PhD student, I did a side study on groups and group work and saw is effective... in motivated and homogeneous groups. O.M.G. We all have those, don't we?

    Yes, yes... folks have to work in groups in real life and get along with people, blah, blah, blah. However, that's when folks have more at stake than a grade (like their job) and people can be, ummmm, removed from the island.

    A way around this is to have within-group evaluations and scoring. That tends to scare the do-do out of folks (since it will impact the grade they receive). Besides asking for comments, group members are given 100 points on several criteria BUT (a) they give each person (and themselves) a share of that 100 and (b) they fill it out at home and send it in. [While there is some collaborating, the top 2 or 3 will be honest.]

  2. I think that effective collaboration is a skill they'll need in so many life situations that there's no benefit to eliminating it. In fact, having read the article (whose thesis seems to be "I don't like it, so it's bad") I wonder if we oughtn't have a course (or portion thereof) in effective strategies for managing group work.

    The end of the article:

    "The small group assignment or discussion should not be so common – especially in courses that aren’t major specific. Teachers should instead encourage open class discussion where we dig into what’s confusing us while we still have at least one person who “gets it.” As students, we need to be more vocal about what we’re confused about, and what we’re intrigued by. From there, we can find others who are excited about the same line of thinking and explore it further together. When the answer actually matters, real learning can take root. Maybe if we can get to a place where we actually care, group work won’t suck as much."

    No, see, life won't hand you only group work that you "actually care" about, or place you in a group who are all "excited about the same line of thinking". Your job is to find a way to care about it (what, getting a good grade or a paycheck isn't motivation enough?). Your job is to make it not suck. Maybe, if everybody in the group were to adopt that approach, they'd all find each other to be effective colleagues.

    The only way to demonstrate that you've mastered those skills is for you to actually do the damn work. As a group. Practice makes somewhat less imperfect, et cetera. Your future employers won't want your first experience with group work to be on their dime. Suck it up and do it.

  3. Allowing students to give feedback about their teammates helps. Although they work in groups, I give each member of the team a task that that student alone is to complete. That allows me to judge the quality of each individual student's work. With an individual grade and peer evaluations, I can do a better job of assigning accurate grades for group work.

  4. I also hated group work as a student, but I did see value in it. I still see value in group work. When you explain a problem or a solution to other people you are learning the material better. The best way to learn something, for me at least, it to have to teach it to someone else.

    And open class discussion only works if students actually discuss things. Usually only one or two students ever speak and then there is a avalanche of emails!

    I still remember joining a group of snowflakes for a group project in my senior capstone course. They all said, "I just want to get my C and graduate." I pretty much told them, "Hell no! We will get an A!"

    1. What? That meant they might have had to *work* for that grade! ;-)

  5. I only have any success with group work if I sit right in each group in turn. When I see the folks who aren't involved I just ask them a direct question. Once they get going I move along. But they have to feel responsible for the work and many won't do it unless their hand is forced.

    1. Me, too. I just zero in on the guy (it's always a guy) with his arms crossed. I sit next to him in the group, ask him direct questions. I've occasionally sat so close that our shoulders touch. I love it when they squirm. I only leave once he's said something.

  6. I hated-hated-HATED group work, from elementary school through college. As the smartest kid in the class in elementary school, group work meant to me either: (1) I would do all the work, or (2) I would get a lower grade than I could have had, since some we'd have listened to some bonehead who was wrong. Intercourse group work!

    1. The insistence on group work in school and university is merely conditioning the students for the workplace.

      Most employers insist on "team" work, and it doesn't matter if the task can be best accomplished by someone off on their own, or so I understood from interviews I had in recent years.

      The purpose of that isn't to achieve a better or quicker result. It's to ensure that the employer does not become dependent upon an individual worker, lest that he or she some day turns out to be persona non grata and has to be made redundant.

  7. One of the biggest problems is simply working with 5 different schedules to set up a meeting for the group that works for everyone. That may seem trivial, but it's a huge challenge even for working adults, in an office in which everyone works 9-5. It's even harder with student class and work schedules.

    I have often been told it's preparation for the workplace, but few workplaces are true democracies. Typically there is a chain of command, even with team work, there's still a manager somewhere. You don't get to pull stunts like agree to do one task by next week, then the following week, tell the group that you changed your mind and decided to do a different task that someone else was to do, because it was more interesting than your original task, leaving the initial task undone.

    Then again, most workplace "teams" are typically composed of dead wood and those who pick up the slack for the dead wood, and everyone in between. The same principle applies: a handful of people, unwilling to see the project fail or the group's grade suffer, will pick up the slack left by the dead wood, who are secure in the knowledge that Superkeener Sally will do whatever it takes to ensure she does not get a bad grade for the group work or is not perceived as a terrible worker for the team project.

    Group projects are terrific for slackers if there is at least one non-slacker in the group. It's basically a free pass, they get to do nothing at all.

  8. I generally disliked group work as a student, for many of the reasons already mentioned, and I tend to avoid it as an instructor.

    I understand that it can help to prepare people for a life where they will have to cooperate and collaborate with others, and I don't want to discount the very practical value it might have, but I also refuse to see myself as simply another step in turning my students into good corporate workers.

    What we do in my classes is intellectual work, and it is skills like close reading, analysis, synthesis, and argumentation, along with writing skills, that I want my students to get from the work we do. If group work helps with those thing, I'll use it, but if it doesn't, then I don't feel compelled to use it just to help turn out a group of team players.

    In cases where group work is used, as others have noted, there MUST be a mechanism for holding all students accountable, or else the whole exercise is unfair. On a commuter campus like mine, the scheduling issue, raised above by Programming Patty, is also a concern.

    I have occasionally, on my course evaluations, had some students ask why they can't have more group work. Those are also, however, often the same students who complain about how hard my grading is, or how much reading they have to do, so I often suspect that they see group work as a way to leave the real effort to others, and to ride on their coat-tails.

  9. My experience with group work lines right up with Frod's. I wouldn't count on students ratting out the slackers in their midst; they would rather let it go and not have any conflict. ("Snitches get stitches," as they put it.) There's research that shows that slackers in college-level work groups are both really common and wildly underreported. I just don't do graded group work anymore.

  10. I have timetabled class sessions for group work but they still can't manage to all make the meetings.

    Mind you, I'm on committees with people like that too... sadly the real world IS full of group work and slackers, even in academe...

  11. I assign it, with all the safeguards mentioned above (including allowing class time to at least get started, and virtual space for continuing) mostly because it allows students to work with a larger pool of data than any one of them could collect on their own. Also (and I hate to admit this, but it's a reality), it's a way of assigning more experience with research and writing without increasing my grading load quite as much as individual assignments do (I do have particular contributions to the group project for which students are individually responsible, but I grade those on a complete/in on time vs. incomplete and/or late basis).

  12. Dear Students -
    Group work happens in the real world of work. Get use to it now and learn how to cope with the various personalities in a group. Because this will be your life for the next 50 years after you graduate.
    If you complain to your boss that you don't like working in groups, you'll probably find yourself out the door and on the unemployment line.
    Your Professor


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