Editorial | Two minds are better than one: ups and downs of group projects
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 01:09
There are two ways to approach an upcoming group project: delegate or drown in work. Teamwork cannot be taught through a textbook. Effectively allocating work is not possible without trial and error.
Prior experience with group projects can leave any student loathing their next team assignment, but there is much more to be said about the experience we gain while working and collaborating with our peers.
The editorial board of The Miami Student recognizes group projects can be a nuisance. Students view these assignments two ways: “great, I get to do all the work” or “great, I can slide by the next few weeks.” Though sometimes we’d rather avoid group work altogether, there are major lessons to be learned by working with our peers and keeping an open mind when required to collaborate.
Referred to as “hard skills,” reading, writing and arithmetic are the “three R’s” we’ve all been taught K-12. “Soft skills,” on the other hand, refer to the ability to think critically, creatively and collaboratively. According to a joint survey conducted by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management, which surveyed 25,000 professionals worldwide, “while the ‘three R’s’ are still fundamental to any new workforce entrant’s ability to do the job, employers emphasize that applied skills like teamwork/collaboration and critical thinking are “very important” to success at work.”
Misconceptions about the importance of group work are hindering our ability to see the real benefits of good collaboration. If students increase their ability to allocate work and fulfill their individual responsibilities, we think group projects wouldn’t be so bad after all.
When we look at it, there are so many resources nowadays that make teamwork so simple and convenient. Take GoogleDrive for example. Never has a team research paper been so easy to write, merge and edit. Even email and instant messaging has made it possible for teams to work together from separate computers. Though nothing beats face-to-face meetings, sometimes it is difficult to match busy schedules and find just an hour or two to meet weekly. For this reason, technology has really enabled group members to get things done in a quick and convenient way.
Grading of group work is also a big factor that influences the way we work with others. Typically, there are two ways instructors grade group work: individually or as a team. Though there is a trend toward a more hybrid approach—peer evaluations—there is still some discrepancy in how to fairly grade the single product of multiple people.
The editorial board was split on this issue. Some of us strongly believe that every member of a group should receive the same grade. Their reasoning: the whole point is to be able to make it work in the end, your boss sees the final product and that is what really matters; what happens up to that point is irrelevant and up to group members to resolve. The other half thought group members often contribute more or less due to external factors or pure laziness and it is unreasonable to give each person the same grade when some deserve higher or lower scores than others.
In the end, we simply must recognize that there is a lot to learn from each other. We may think we have a complete understanding of the material, but until we get together to combine thoughts and ideas about class concepts, we risk allowing blind spots in our work.
The biggest challenge with group projects shouldn’t be finding a time to meet or worrying how you’ll be graded, but how to encourage others, and yourself, to produce quality work on time and in sync with your group members.