Group projects are not just like the “real world”
April 6, 2017
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Before we start, let’s get one thing straight: not all group projects are a negative experience.
Working with people, at least with people you like, can be a heck of a lot more fun than chugging along on a project by yourself.
However, there are some flaws that can infect a project like the plague, namely diffusion of responsibility, leaving a group-load of work on one student. Unfortunately as a resident try-hard, that’s often me.
From my very first group project, my teachers have been spouting out the same reasons for giving these assignments. “You need to learn to work with people.” “This is just like work in the real world.”
Now, I get that teachers want us to work together, to develop in a way that promotes inclusion and respect towards others, but I don’t think group work has done that since third grade. We know how to interact with each other.
When I’m mad about a group project it’s not because someone called me a meanie-head or punched me in the face, it’s because someone isn’t pulling their weight. Group projects don’t remedy that.
In fact, when people get a good grade after not doing any of the work, that behavior is more than likely reinforced.
Generally, I think group projects tend to do the opposite of what teachers want. Sometimes group projects just make me hate working in teams.
I find that group projects leave me so frustrated that I would rather have just done the entire thing myself. A project in a class setting, where my individual success is affected by someone else’s effort, just drives me crazy.
I haven’t had too much work experience, summer jobs and a volunteer gig here and there, but what I’ve found is working in groups outside school is not at all like school projects.
Group work in the real world usually doesn’t have the same sort of redundancies that group projects in school have.
In school, everyone working on a project is usually bringing similar skills and background to the project. Outside of that, groups are often made up of people with very different skill sets.
As a result, it’s more likely to be clear who should take the lead on what and who has expertise where, and that’s much more efficient than the typical school project.
And at work, there’s typically someone who’s charge to make decisions and hold people accountable. If someone doesn’t do their fair share, there’s someone to notice. In school, teachers don’t seems to care if everyone works together, singing kumbaya, or if one kid stays up until 3:00 a.m. working on a powerpoint.
Even when a group is fully cooperative, it’s just difficult to organize. I think teachers forget that our lives don’t revolve solely around their class.
We’ve got other classes to study for, plus we’re in school for a third of the day. We’re sleep deprived as it is, we don’t need another thing to stay up worrying about.
Now I pride myself in my time management skills, but there is just enough time in the week for me to go to class, do homework, study, do karate, layout a newspaper, watch The Great British Bake Off, and have relationships with my family and friends.
Add three, four, five others’ schedules to the mix and group meetings become nearly impossible to arrange.
So I’m not saying that we should scrap the group project all together or that we can’t learn and grow from other people, but I think it needs some refinement. Class time can be really helpful, just to give everyone an opportunity to map out what is to be done and how to do it.
Then there’s the issue of the group project free loaders. The grade leeches that plague massive nerds like me.
Just grading separately, making students pick parts of a project to do can help weed out the ones that don’t do the work and hold them accountable for their actions.
And to all of you out there doing your group project sans group, remember, when the Federalist Papers were written, John Jay wrote five, James Madison wrote 29, and Alexander Hamilton wrote 51.
And it took a while, but which one of those people has the most popular musical of the century written about them? Your time will come.