Unis – Can We Please Ditch Group Projects?

Let’s just admit that they’re hell on earth.

The worst part about university – besides the crushing debt – is inevitably the group work. It almost feels like whatever module you take is irrelevant. Somehow, tutors will find a way to force students to have to work together. It’s like they just want to watch us fail.

Yeah, of course there’s supposed to be some benefit to understanding life ‘IN THE REAL WORLD’ but it’s such a painful experience it would be best just to avoid it at all cost. The fact is group work doesn’t work and probably won’t ever work. It might be exciting if you’re in a field full of people who obsess over the same things as you but at uni (and at most jobs), that just isn’t the case. You get people who took the course for different reasons and therefore have different motivations and interests. There’s always the one who probably works too much because someone else isn’t working enough and then drives everyone to despair with their over the top stress. Then there’s the one who wants to work hard but then will spend five hours looking at cat videos. Then there’s the one who is so late that the class is over, and then the worst one of the lot is the one who says everything is fine because they work best under pressure. Hint: you don’t, your work (which is therefore everyone’s work) will end up with lazy typos everywhere. Then the arguments start while all you want is to pass and not get a headache.

It’s pretty unfair to be failed because of everyone else. It’s far more rewarding to be failed on your own merits, or lack thereof. It’s also just a colossal waste of time. Everyone has different interests so for it to work, the concept has to feel utterly useless and boring to at least one person in the group. So why should they spend their time developing skills in an area they have no interest in and which won’t benefit their long term aims?

“It’s far more rewarding to be failed on your own merits, or lack thereof”

In work, it’s slightly better because at least you’re getting paid to work as a team rather than ending up with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt. Money really does make things better. But it’s still complicated. Humans are rarely equipped to get along because it requires each of us to really care about other people and work to put their needs first. When people get bored, lack motivation or feel defensive (which is usually every other day) then the whole thing can quickly fall apart.

Let’s have an end to the chaos. Let people fail all by themselves. It’s what we deserve.

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2 thoughts on “Unis – Can We Please Ditch Group Projects?

  1. *Warning! Long anecdote alert!*

    My university course was accredited by a professional body. Part of its criteria was that some graded coursework element of at least 2/3 of all modules had to be groupwork of some description. Even the department staff thought this was overkill (most other courses only required it to be 1/6 or 1/3 of the modules, depending on how well the subject lent itself to groupwork), but rules were rules and they had to go along with this.

    For the most part, the situation wasn’t too bad. The third-year modules were almost entirely free of groupwork, with the one exception being an assignment where students worked together to prepare but submitted separate work (meaning even someone whose partner never turned up had a reasonable chance of a representative mark). The introductory first-semester groupwork assignments were all classroom-based collaborations, so at least it was known that every member of each group was at least present and how much each had (or hadn’t) contributed. Not bothering to include people who didn’t turn up also meant that their laziness harmed nobody else.

    The really nasty one, however, was in the second semester of first year. My particular degree had a module on computer communication, and the lecturers wanted us to understand why people used it. Note: this is a bricks-and-mortar university with mostly residential students and, in this case, only two commuters in the entire class.

    The choice of how to do this was a group assignment.

    With a single essay, compiled by all group members, about the benefits and downsides of different computer communication methods.

    With randomly-selected students from the entire course roll, including the students who had not set foot in the classroom all year, on account of doing a Dual Honours degree in [Official Subject] and Drunken Studies*. (Thankfully, at least the student who had already transferred into Communication was not on that list – as far as I can tell, everyone on the list was at least *supposed* to be in my class!)

    Where everyone was strictly banned from using non-electronic means to communicate about the module, with academic penalties threatened if anyone was caught. (Do not ask me how this was to be enforced…)

    Which was over a week before add/drop deadline day (though as this was a compulsory module for the degree, this was overlooked…)

    There were, broadly speaking, four approaches to this topic:

    1) transferring to a Dual Honours degree in Business Management, Accountancy or Drunken Studies,

    2) transferring to a university where the requirements were a little more comprehensible,

    3) skip classes, not even try to do the coursework and hope the August resit had less bizarre requirements,

    4) (for people like me) look in bewilderment at what I was meant to do with a group of six that included me, two people who’d transferred course/uni mid-module, two people who’d never been to class and never responded to digital communication, and one other person who was so belaboured by technical issues that they’d given up and started class-skipping.

    I petitioned to be moved groups to one where there were actual other members of the group… …to one where there were a total of 3 of us (all groups started with 6 students). Somehow, we passed with one of the best scores I managed all course. But it was the unanimous decision to accept being docked a few marks to say:

    “Benefits of computer communication for groups in business: There are some?!?”

    The fire-forged group of 14 students that passed the module and were prepared to continue the course had little trouble with the second-year group assignments. However, I am not convinced that assigning group work, especially in the manner I experienced in that particular module, is the optimal way of achieving this…

    * – Drunken Studies being the term that casually tended to be used for people who took understanding the local alcoholic beverage scene as seriously as most people took studying. Despite the name, actually getting drunk was optional – the important thing was to consume as broad an array of drinks as possible and being able to relate the experiences well, distinguishing between subtly different drinks. I don’t know if anyone got hired on the basis of this expertise, but I gather some genuinely made employment connections in this possibly counter-intuitive way.


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