There’s No ‘I’ in Team

In many instances, group projects do far more harm than good.

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illustration by Kristen Kinzler

Group projects often lead to unequal amount of work among members.

Kristen Kinzler, Co-Editor-in-Chief

You’re sitting in class when your teacher announces that you’ll be starting a new project. Before he or she can even begin to discuss the rubric or instructions, they mention that it will be a group assignment. Immediately, some kids in the class excitedly look at their friends across the room, already making their plans. Just as quickly, other students sigh with disappointment. Whether you love them or you hate them, group projects, it seems, are controversial. 

I’ve always been in the latter category. I can count on one hand the few group projects that, over the course of my entire academic career, have been even moderately enjoyable. I like doing school work independently, and I take pride in turning in something that I know I’m entirely responsible for. Even if my best friend is in the class, I’d rather work alone on most assignments. 

It has nothing to do with being anti-social. It’s because I like being in control of my own work, and, most of the time, what is supposed to be a practice in collaboration and teamwork ends up causing a massive disparity between hardworking students and those who take advantage of the opportunity to slack off. 

Typically, a few lazy group members procrastinate or don’t do the work at all, leaving one or two anxious, motivated students to do it all at the last minute. There’s even a psychological phenomenon, social loafing, that states that humans have the tendency to put forth less effort in group settings. Worst of all,  every group member usually receives the same grade. From a student perspective, it’s completely unfair.

The argument for group projects usually relates to some kind of preparation for the real world. And while I know that, in my future career, I probably will have to work with a variety of different people, it’s not the same as in an educational environment.

Wherever I end up working, I hope that I’ll be surrounded by much more like-minded people. In high school, on the other hand, everyone is at different maturity levels and has different priorities. It’s unreasonable to expect comparable levels of productivity, and that’s not the students’ fault. Additionally, in the workplace, everyone has a similar incentive to, at the very least, keep their job. In high school, kids can easily blow off a few assignments and still get a passing grade in the class. They have less of a reason to care. 

Not to mention, there are a multitude of career options for people who like to work alone. If working in a group setting is truly not their preference, they’ll have the opportunity to pursue professional avenues where reliance on the performance of others is minimal or entirely absent. 

What is supposed to be a practice in collaboration and teamwork ends up causing a massive disparity between hardworking students and those who take advantage of the opportunity to slack off. ”

I recognize some of the skills needed in group projects can be helpful and even beneficial, and that’s why I’m all for group discussions, small group classwork, and general collaboration among classmates. Those are valuable. It’s when teachers say that a long-term, graded assignment must be completed in groups that it gets messy. Collaboration needs to be encouraged under the right conditions. 

If the group project is absolutely necessary, students should be given the option to choose their own groups. Hopefully, this will decrease the chances of one very motivated student being stuck with partners who are less inclined to do the work.

Establishing a peer evaluation system also helps. If teachers give students the opportunity to anonymously grade their group members’ work and effort, more students could be persuaded to actually pull their weight.

However, the bottom line is still that there really isn’t a need for most mandatory group projects. Though they aim to encourage communication and teamwork, I would argue that my generation doesn’t need a lot more practice with those skills. When we’re in groups of our own making, we’re almost always able to delegate the workload, discuss the task, and reach a desired outcome. We’re used to cooperating with others, but when the project is compulsory, it’s practically inevitable that a lack of individual accountability will complicate matters.

And so, as a self-proclaimed perfectionist and overthinker — the traits that often end up leading to someone caring the most in a group project — I’m begging for teachers to reevaluate how many they assign. They are unnecessarily stressful, often counterproductive, and, most importantly, unfair.

If we really want to prepare students for their futures, maybe we should give them more freedom, rather than just making them worry about whether their group members will hold up their end of the bargain by the due date.