When you assign group projects, what goals do you have in mind? Collaboration? Improved communication? A shared sense of discovery? An experience that prepares students for the team projects that await them in their future careers? Whatever your objectives, you certainly hope that students will embrace the process and make the most of it.
Thankfully, many students do see the benefits that group work can offer, even as they acknowledge its challenges and difficulties. We recently asked students participating in Cengage Learning’s Student Case Study Program: What are your thoughts in regards to ‘group work’? What do you like about working in groups in class or for out of class projects? How do you think you benefit from this? What would you like your instructors to do differently to help make working in groups more effective?
Below, we’ve shared two of their comments. Review their perspectives on the positive and negative aspects of group work, and let us know: What types of group activities, projects, and assignments have had the greatest success in your courses? What hasn’t worked in your classroom? How do you encourage students to embrace the process of working in groups? Share your responses in the comments.
Students’ thoughts on group work
I personally find group work gratifying and beneficial in most instances. When you have a group of people that are similarly motivated to create a project that will produce a good grade, group work can be of great use to all involved. Many times, I find that my comprehension of a subject is different from someone else in my group. For example, physics problems can have five to six different equations to solve a single problem. There are occasions where I may have a portion of the answer, and someone else in my group may know the remainder of the equations necessary to solve the problem. I like to hear the different thought processes that are involved in solving a problem or planning a project. I am very good at listening and coordinating people’s ideas in a way that motivates others to work in a cohesive manner.
Similarly, there have been occasions where group work has not had a positive outcome. I have been assigned to groups of people that are lazy. These are the types that love to sit back and wait for me to do all the work. I’m OCD when it comes to my grades and schoolwork, and always have been. I want to properly research a topic and start a project soon after it is assigned. Unfortunately for me, some of the lackadaisical students notice my drive and take advantage of my motivation.
I think the best way for instructors to make group work more effective would be to split a project into sections that made students accountable (grade wise) for their assigned section. There should be a group portion, but also an individual portion to a project. If this were the case, a neglectful student would not be able to ride the coat tails of a hard working student. This places accountability on every student involved in the project. The benefit of idea sharing that goes with group work would remain intact while encouraging individual inclination towards project completion.
—Joy Springfield, Student, Trident Technical College
Throughout my college career I have experienced many situations that require some type of group work. Some classes I took required a large group project or presentation at the end of the class while others only used small group work in discussion sections. In both of these cases, I truly enjoyed doing work like this as I see it as very beneficial. This first scenario I mentioned of a long group project has both its strengths and weaknesses. Usually the professor will let you choose the group you work in so this is helpful in terms of the comfort level of the project. Working with people you know also holds accountability on all ends as you must hold up your end of the work because you feel more obligated to not let them down. Another strength of the quarter long group project is the ability to learn from each other. Most of the time if you are stuck on a particular subject, one of your partners will hopefully know the answer and you can go to them instead of feeling pressured into attending office hours. A weakness from these group projects come from the same idea in that if everyone in your group is lost in a particular subject, the professor might not be as lenient to help find the solution. This happened to me on one occasion where my group was stuck and the professor wanted us to research and think as a group instead of using them as a helpful resource. Besides this one case, I think working in groups is more benefit than harm. While some other students complain that it is unnecessary and redundant work, I think the work is worth it when it comes to learning the material in a way that you will actually remember it.
—Zachary Kucera, Student, Northwestern University