Thursday, July 18, 2019

Open Space: Instructors need to rethink group projects

February 20, 2019 by Emily Welch, contributing writer

What do you feel when an instructor says the words “group project”? Almost everyone who reads this will get the image in their head of the pit that starts forming in their stomach, and the fear, irritation, and dismay that follow soon after. All because of group projects.

We all know what happens: whether we pick our group members or not, this is always a huge pain in the ass. Our studying routines, whether diligent or not, are interrupted, our schedules are challenged, and we have to make allowances in our already hugely busy lives for other people who also have busy lives and schedules and make them fit together. 

Students have very different work habits, and there is always one person whose dedication to studying and grades surpasses the other people in the group, and this person inevitably takes charge and picks up a lot of the work, because they are worried about getting their GPA lowered as a result of their more “relaxed about the whole situation” counterparts. This causes huge stress and resentment on all sides: resentment from the person who has picked up most of the work because of their belief that their cohorts will not step up; resentment from the other group members for feeling that the project was swept out from under their feet. They were going to step up and offer help, but everything moved very fast, and it seemed like the group leader wanted to take charge. 

This story originally appeared in our February 20, 2019 issue.

There is also the fact that some students don’t like being forced to talk to other people, let alone spend large amounts of time with them, trying to figure all this stuff out. If you’re at all like me, you don’t even like being told to “chat with the person next you” about whatever topic is being discussed at that moment in class. It’s not that I don’t like my fellow classmates. I do. But I want to decide for myself when I feel comfortable enough to chat with them. However, I understand that getting to know the people around you is important, and can open up your mind to other opinions and situations that you may not have thought of.

But group projects? Unbearably stressful. 

If there were a strategy to assigning group projects, that would be another matter altogether. If each person were assigned a job (by the teacher, because, if not, our problem rears its ugly head again) and each person had to do this job, and then the project were graded accordingly—each person graded on the work that work they did, as well as how the group participated together—that would work.

Most teachers don’t do this. Assign a group project to six groups of five people, and the instructor only has to grade six things. 

There is the odd time it works out. That happened to me last year in a literature class, when I was somehow in a group with five other enthusiastic people who all showed up to our meetings on time, who all participated online with each other, who all offered whatever talent they could, courteously and productively. The experience and the result were wonderful. However, that was one of about 10 group projects in three years.

We get that teaching is often backbreaking work. You instructors do an amazing job. However, it’s time to rethink group projects.

Facebook comments; non-Facebook comments below

Comments are closed.