I'm writing a post on student group projects that ended in disaster. I would like to highlight the problems that typically arise and ways that students and teachers can help overcome them.

Please send me any horror stories that you have experienced either as a teacher or student. Thanks.

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I'm an education major at a Texas university and I just was involed in a group project.  We were asigned to do a forty-five minute presentation on assigned topics.  The group of four was given class time to exchange e-mails and divy up the project.  A month went by and I hadn't heard anything.  I really didn't want to take the lead because I have a full time job and a family, but I figured if I don't take the initiative we'll never get anywhere.  I began sending e-mails with no response, and since I work I can barely make to class on time and the only chair open is right up front.  By the time class lets out Everyone including my team members are gone.  As the date approached I still hadn't heard from one member I could only hope she was working on her part.  That weekend the e-mails poured in.  We were in panic mode.  I  had suggested we do a prezi, but when you do a prezi everyone needs to know the path well.  The slides I recieved were not "good".  One member sent me a list of websites; I sent it back asking for finished slides.  Another sent me slides with row after row of text.  Needless to say  I had alot of editing to do.  The finished prezi was at least presentable and we didn't look like total ass's out there.  The moral of the story is your only as good as the weakest link.  How did I resolve it; I called in to work missed my sons first ball game and got very little sleep.
This is very bad and happens a lot!
Wow, sorry to hear that. Sounds too common. Did you all receive the same grade?

We are doing a huge Group Project right now.  My final cumulative project that covers everything.  This is a 15 day project so it takes 3 school weeks.  I call it the "Rap It Up" Project and students create & plan out the summer concert tour of their own fictional rap group.  This includes writing and original song and recording it.  This is my fifth year, and 10th semester doing this project.  I see a lot of different issues arise.

 

* Students who take home a part of the project to finish it at home do not finish what they said they would or simply lose it all together.  Today, a student lost his group's song they spent 2 days writing.  They had to start over.

 

* Some students do not like their work to be critiqued by their classmates.  Each group has to create a logo for their Rap Group.  As a group, they decide on the best one and that is the logo that will stand for their group.  Every period I will have a students say "I like my logo the best but the other 3 like her logo the best!"  Some students just cannot fathom that someone else may do better work than them or simply like someone's design better. \

 

*  When you get into groups of 4 or 5 like we have, there is always the one student in nearly every group that simply doesn't like to work.  I spend at least 10 minutes of every 40 minute class period playing Dr. Phil and trying to keep the groups on task.  Every other period I will hear an argument break out about who is supposed to do what, who isn't doing anything, etc. 

 

*  Parents have emailed me saying the group project wasn't fair because their son or daughter's grade shouldn't depend on other students in a group doing their part.  I always tell them that their child picked the group they wanted to be in and I offer their child the opporitunity to do the work by themselves.  I have never had a parent take me up on that.  They will complain about the group, their child's grade in the group, etc.  However, when I offer them the opporitunity for their child to work alone and do ALL the work by themselves and earn their OWN grade, they back away.

 

*  I have had a parent call me saying the project wasn't fair because her child had a student with special needs in their group.  Again, their child joined the group and is friends with the kid. 

 

*  In my experience, grouping your students by ability tends to have 2 of the students doing all of the work, and 2 of the students continuing to underachieve and allow the others to do all the work.

 

*  Allowing students to pick their own groups will sometimes end up with four under achieving students in the same group.  As my dad always said, "If you hang with 9 broke friends, you are bound to be the 10th."  Some of my students have no idea that their friends struggle in school.  They cannot wait to work together in a group.  Then they realize they have issues when due dates approach and they are behind. 

 

*  Group Work is very very noisy.  You need a device or tool to get the class quiet, quickly.  For example, if you need to say something, ring a bell and make sure the class knows you want them quiet when you ring it.  Otherwise, you will be saying "Listen Up, Be Quiet, Listen To Me" like 3-4 times before everyone hears you. 

 

*  Students will always lose work, which can hurt a group.  Allow the group to have a GROUP FOLDER that you keep in the room for them.  I never let the folder leave the class. 

 

 

Those are a view from my experience! 

 

 

David, that's great feedback! I have definitely seen those issues arise in one way or another, especially the issue of the 'free rider' student. I created http://Enterthegroup.com as a way to help students overcome this problem. It provides a way for them to store files (so no one loses things) and to break down work into tasks using a project outline. The teacher can monitor their work by being a group member. This helps resolve arguments with grades and discrepancies over who didn't do their work.

I'd love to get your feedback on the site. It's totally free. Thanks!

That's good advice. I think some people feel overwhelmed working in groups especially if one or two people try to take over.
Perhaps if we broke our obsession with points and grades we would be more likely and willing to learn from failures. This coming from a now 20 year veteran teacher who was the near 4.0 kid obsessed with gettings As. As a result, I didn't take risks I should have, like not taking physics my senior year, since that class was too tough and I didn't need it to graduate anyway. In retrospect, it probably would have been one of the best things I could have done in high school.

So true Jeff. Harvard Business Review has been running a series of posts on their blog about learning from failure, they're quite good. You should check them out.

The problem is that everyone loves a winner and runs away from losers so we fear being that 'loser' even though the truth is that we've all been there at one point or another.

I have found that now in college that lots of people take it upon them selves to just do the entire project. I am one of these people, I have had way to much trouble depending on others to do their own work and have often been left with the day that the project is done with nothing but my work and the entire group getting a bad grade. I DREAD group work and would rather just be solely responsible for my own work, but I would have to say that when teachers give out group work I do like when they give each student the chance to grade each others work in-put. For example one of my current classes does nothing but group work and i absolutely HATE it, but the fact that we are able to grade our other group members with out them knowing helps a bit because i know i can grade them truly by how they did rather than by how well the project is done. Its easy to put someones name on something but hard to find out who really did the work.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle when working in groups? i.e. why is it so 'dreaded' by students?
I am a college student and I just completed a science project and had a group member that was very uninvolved.  Although I would prefer to work independently, I know it is important to be able to work with other people as a team to complete a goal.  My group was myself and two other girls and one member was very involved with the project.  She answered my emails and text messages in a timely manner and helped schedule a meeting to create a poster for the project.  The other group member answered both mine and the other members email, and then never showed up to work on the poster.  It is frustrating to have an absentee group member and doing the majority of the work and then everyone receiving an equal grade.
Did you guys confront this person? and/or explain what happened to the prof?

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