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Surviving the dreaded group project without losing your hair

What are the keys to group project success? They're a little different for everyone.
What are the keys to group project success? They're a little different for everyone.

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

As we all know, group projects are the bane of the college student's existence. Whether you're paired up with the kid who doesn't know how to spell "teamwork" or you're just plain anti-social, team-based assignments are perhaps the only classroom challenge where many students might actually prefer a test or essay. All this being said, there are a few things that can be done, by students and professors alike, to help alleviate the headaches that group projects cause.

To start, the formation of the right team is key in any successful group endeavor. Whenever professors let you choose your group, try to seek out people that you know to be excellent workers and that will take the class seriously. They do not necessarily have to be your friends. In fact, many times it is almost disadvantageous to pair up with friends as your more intimate understanding of each other is counteracted by the temptation to goof off and not get work done.

This is all under the assumption that the professor does not randomly assign groups. If that is the case, all we can say is to hope for the best. Maybe if the college gods are shining down on you, you'll get put with that cute, quiet girl/guy that sits in the corner. Maybe.

In any case, once the group is formed you'll have to get down to business. Most people who enter into group projects are going to be shy about making connections and brainstorming ideas. To make things easier on yourself and others, try to step up and lead your team by initiating the generation of ideas and asking people's opinions on how to tackle the assignment.

It's important not to be bossy, but if you can show your teammates that you have everything under control, everyone will work much more confidently and productively. Or, at the very least, fake it 'til you make it.

One of the most frustrating situations in a group project is when one person is stuck with either all or the majority of the work. In order to avoid this situation, start delegating who will do what early on in the process. If you are the one in charge, this should be easy. Even if you are not, though, make sure to speak up and make your opinion heard about how the group should divvy up work. It's more than likely that people will appreciate a clearer and fairer approach to finishing the assignment.

If worst comes to worst, there is always the option of talking to the professor. However, as the purpose of group projects is to let students see what working together with people in the professional world will be like - a world where there isn't always someone to complain to - this option should be a last resort. Besides, no one likes a tattletale.

Furthermore, it is now widely accepted that one of the best tools to use when starting a group project is Google Docs. We are all for making life easier, but it is important to understand that simply typing words onto a communal document severely decreases the real human interaction that most projects usually require. Again, in the real world this may not necessarily be an option.

You should tread lightly when using such tools, as the full experience of being able to communicate in person with different types of people is still an experience worth having, even in today's increasingly digital world.

Finally, if the project is long term, start it immediately. Procrastination is a problem for many in college, but this problem is compounded when you have multiple people all expecting someone else to get everything started. The last thing that anyone wants is to not be able to go to 90s Night Uptown because your group succumbed to the Bystander Effect and didn't begin research until the night before.

However, we don't just call upon students to ease the burden of cooperative assignments. It is important that professors heed certain guidelines when creating such collaborations.

We understand that group projects are sometimes necessary due to time constraints. For example, having the class watch just a few group presentations instead of dozens of individual presentations is a much better reason to assign group projects than simply wanting less to grade. This is a tradeoff everyone can understand.

We believe allowing students to anonymously grade each other after turning in the assignment is a great way to hold students accountable for their work within the group and ensure that students have an incentive to contribute. Responsibility is key in any cooperation.

And for the love of God, please only assign tasks that can easily be collaborated on. PowerPoints? Fine. Group essays, where every person has a different writing style? Perhaps not so much.

In the end, patience, tolerance and understanding all emerge as exponentially important virtues when a group project assignment rears its ugly head. Practice these enough, and the next time you have to work in a team, hopefully you won't be tearing your hair out, one follicle at a time.