By Sam Hayward:
“Guess what, class, time for group projects!” Cue collective sigh. In theory, group projects are an excellent method to bring classmates together, encourage teamwork and distribute workload among students. However, in reality, group projects are frustrating and utterly pointless for the majority of students. It is about time the group project system gets a makeover.
To be clear, teachers and students are equally to blame for the disintegration of the group project. Though group projects are helpful in many different aspects, many teachers do not recognize or properly utilize its benefits. First off, group projects are worthwhile because they provide vital experiences in learning how to work with others to reach a solution. Working together may sound like an outdated concept these days, but teamwork will come in handy in future jobs where students must work with others.
[pullquote]Working together may sound like an outdated concept these days, but teamwork will come in handy in future jobs where students must work with others.[/pullquote]
As a way to make group projects more successful, the teacher needs to play a more active role. Although there are a few arguments for the advantages of a “hands-off” professor who lets the students discover how truly difficult it is to maintain a positive group dynamic, realistically, the teacher has to be there to facilitate and guide students along their way. Students should be given class time to work on projects so the teacher is aware of the efficiency of each group. On top of this, teachers should check in with a group at least once or twice before the project is submitted without the loud classroom environment, preferably in tutorial or during lunch time.
Outlining is key for students. Some teachers use a clearly laid out time line with all upcoming deadlines detailing what stage the project should be in. A teacher may want to devote a class period to discuss each group project in front of the class so other students can give feedback and input on each project.
As for students, there absolutely needs to be peer assessments to evaluate each student on his or her own contributions. One of the biggest problems that arises within the group project is measuring accountability. It’s not fair to assume that the teacher can identify who contributed his or her fair share by looking at the end result of the project.
When working with a group, students can share tasks between them and in theory, be more efficient with their time than if working alone. Delegating specific roles to students allows each person to work on what he or she does best. Students can allocate a specific part of the work to members who are better at certain skills.
A necessary evil that exists in the group project is assigning a leader among the group in order to distribute assignments evenly and to settle the peace when disputes or conflict arise. One way or another, someone has to take charge. Regardless, if the person leading the group abuses the power and dishes out all the demands with incivility and a harsh tone, no one is going to be committed to the team. A leader must be somebody willing to take on more of the responsibility for the assignment without turning tyrant. Suggestion: select someone with sound morals and a passion for the subject.
There are limited excuses students use as to why the group project does not work in the classroom. Often, students complain about group work because of their dislike toward collaborating with certain classmates. Rather, students need to face the fact that the days where people had to communicate face to face to get organized are long gone. There are countless numbers of resources that are at students’ fingertips to use so that conflicting schedules or personal dislike towards one another do not ruin the project experience. Facebook, Google Docs, Skype and instant messaging are all remarkable tools for students to use when coordinating schedules proves difficult. As for students who do not want to work with other people because of his or her level on the social ladder or apparently low grade in the class, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to trust others and learn to cope with people one might disagree with. Trust me, you will survive.