Originally published Nov. 20, 2013

Co-written with editorial board

At most universities, including Grand Valley State University, many courses require group work for projects, papers, research and presentations. While on the surface this may seem like great practice for future employment, some students have found group work to be counterproductive and detrimental to their success. Not only do their grades suffer from unreliable partners, but their health takes a hit from the stress of coordinating a project—and often taking responsibility for the entire thing.

Many professors justify group work by noting that all careers require some element of cooperation. But workplace group work is presumably different than college group work, and the skills learned in the classroom probably aren’t the skills needed or desired in the workplace.

For instance, while incompetence exists everywhere, the workplace probably sees a lesser degree of laziness and irresponsibility than the classroom. We’re convinced that the uneven work distribution is amplified in college—becoming one person doing virtually all of the work. This has negative consequences for all involved.

As far as this learning experience goes, how are hard workers supposed to develop delegation or cooperation tactics? Upon entering the workplace, they will probably be accustomed to taking on “group” projects alone, which may inhibit their professional teamwork skills. Perhaps coworkers will frown upon these overeager college graduates, who only wish to accomplish their assigned tasks without being slowed by slackers.

And how does this set-up prepare college leeches for workplace group work? If they come to find that their work is always completed for them or they don’t learn to take responsibility for their assignments, they’ll likely bring this same attitude to their employers. These aren’t the “Lakers for a Lifetime” we want associated with our brood.

While it’s true that group work does help students learn to interact professionally with their peers—that is, if group members bother to show up for meetings—there are better ways group skills could be learned. For instance, instead of a large project that counts for a big portion of the final grade, professors could have in-class activities in groups or with partners that count as part of participation. This way, students have the chance to work with many students in their classes by choosing different peers for each activity, and there is less pressure for hard workers to take over and fewer opportunities for others to slack off.

Perhaps there are other ways to attain cooperation skills. Maybe there are better methods to teach responsibility and accountability that allow for professor monitoring. Until we determine what these alternatives are, we have to discourage classroom group work. As far as we know, it’s not the healthiest for college development.


Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2013/11/the-detriment-of-groups