Group Project Myths: Debunked

“You’ll be working in groups.” It’s like a dagger in the heart for any student in college. The thought of working together with other students that may or may not be in your major, that may or may not want to be there, and worst of all, may or may not take showers will send shivers down anyone’s spine. But is there a method to our professors’ madness? Is group work actually beneficial? Could this possibly help me in my future career? These questions have been bombarding my mind since the first time I was placed in a group and I’m here to debunk them once and for all.

Let’s start off with a little preface. AKA the excuses every student comes up with when comparing group work in college to group work in the real world.

  1. My group members don’t want to be here. In the real world, I would hope that everyone in your group wants to be there. Money talks and if you don’t do the job, you’re fired. So lack of motivation in college seems to be the biggest issue, but that is not that big of a problem in the business realm.
  2. You’ll enjoy the project you’re working on in the real world. I hate to break it to you, but you won’t enjoy every project you are working on in your job. There will be tasks and collaborations that you just won’t feel as jazzed up for as the Instagram Scavenger Hunt you put on last month, it’s okay. You’ll do your best and move on. It’s a part of life.
  3. This project will not help me in the real world. You may be right. It could just be busy work in college, but in the real world, there is no busy work. Your actions hold real weight once you’re “out there” and you have to be ready to face the consequences they create, whether they’re good or bad.

Throughout my entire education career I have basically been performing a case study on my group project collaborations. I have had the privilege of being a part of a plethora of groups, some very good and some VERY bad.

In the best case scenario of group projects, Caruso & Woolley explain that they should “help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world,” (What are the benefits, n.d.). And according to What Matters in College, “positive group experiences, moreover, have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention and overall college success,” (Feldman, 1994). Thinking back to my best group work experience, I can firmly say that all of those potential effects have proven true in my college experience. I was placed in a group for an entire semester with another classmate that was older than I was and had already established herself within the industry. I learned from the way she worked, the resources she used, how she conducted herself, and the way she interacted with others. I took more things from that class from this one particular person, than from my professor.

Maryellen Weimer did a study on group work in college and compiled a list of five things students can learn through group work. These were her findings:

  1. They can learn content, as in master the material.
  2. They can learn content at those deeper levels we equate with understanding.
  3. They can learn how groups function productively.
  4. They can learn why groups make better decisions than individuals.
  5. They can learn how to work with others.
(Weimer, 2013).

She goes on to state that these things don’t just happen magically when you’re in a group. Weimer blames it on college classrooms that are not well designed or well managed. Group work needs to be constructed in a way where teachers can help students manage group dynamic issues and allow the group to reach its full potential (Weimer, 2013).

As I reach the end of my college career in a few short months, I can offer the following advice after 16 years of education for effective group work:

  1. Clearly state the problem and divide up the work.
  2. Make sure everyone knows every part of the project, regardless of if you worked on it or not. They don’t need to be experts on everything, but to get an understanding for the final result, all aspects need to be taken into account.
  3. Hold each other accountable. If someone isn’t doing their part, call them out on it. (Preferably not the night before its due).
  4. Communication is key. As usual, if you’re not communicating with the rest of the group, you’re going to be hated.

I can’t guarantee a perfect turnout or an A, but I can say that your group dynamic and stress level for the group project will be a lot easier to maintain and more fun to be a part of. Try to add some spice to any project you’re doing. If you’re boring yourself doing the project, the final reader or audience you present it to will be bored as well. In the words of the Spice Girls, “SPICE UP YOUR LIFE!”

 

References:

Feldman, K. A.. (1994). [Review of What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited.]. The Journal of Higher Education65(5), 615–622. http://doi.org/10.2307/2943781

Weimer, M. (2013, March 20). Five Things Students Can Learn through Group Work. In Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/five-things-students-can-learn-through-group-work/

What are the benefits of group work? (n.d.). In Carnegie Mellon. Retrieved November 23, 2015, from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/benefits.html

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