A Tale as Old as Time


The cold hard truth about group projects

One of the inevitable parts of classes is group work. When you don’t have a group project requirement on a syllabus – consider yourself lucky. Here’s the thing – are group projects helpful? Is group work valuable? Based on my own experiences, I’m inclined to say no.

Group work usually results in this situation: you’re put together with three other people you might not be acquainted with. Before the class ends, you’ll rush around finding everyone in your group...you’ll to flag them down before everyone leaves, to get emails or to exchange facebook profiles. Weeks pass and eventually someone in the group realizes that the presentation date is looming. 

Someone must take initiative and start a group chat. You might meet up a couple times, but there’s always one person who doesn’t show up, always with an excuse. See, the thing about group projects is they are just individual projects hastily strung together at the last minute. 

You know I’m right – and I’m sure plenty of professors get that vibe as well. It’s stressful to be in a group project when you know that nobody is thinking about the actual group. It’s every person for themselves, and with so many group projects having only one grade (not individual marks), that mentality is a pretty bad one to have. You meet, awkwardly, with people you barely know, do your part of the presentation (and maybe even someone else’s if you’re unlucky) alone, and the night before one or two members put everything together in hopes that it’ll be a passable final product. During presentation day, having to rely on each other’s differing public speaking skills can be just as stressful as the work that came before it.

Group projects overall just feel like a waste of time. You’re not really learning any teamwork skills because there isn’t much teamwork involved. The final product is usually inconsistent. PowerPoint presentations are particularly botched in group work; I’ve seen group presentations where it looks like four separate presentations loosely stitched together. When presentations are cohesive, it’s usually one person who does that extra work to give the work that final, polished touch. Chances are that it is the same person who got everyone together in that group chat!

The experience of being in a group project is radically different if it involves friends. If you can pick your own groups and you have some friends in the class, group projects will not only be less stressful, but maybe even fun! However, being able to pick your partners in a class where you don’t know people often results in the same situation of professor-organized groups. Often, groups are predetermined, and four total strangers end up with the aforementioned loosely connected PowerPoint presentation. I don’t think that removing group projects from a class would remove anything particularly helpful or necessary. Taking all of this into account, professors should try and incorporate them into classes as little as possible. 

There are certain exceptions to the standard group project outcome. One of the times where I feel like a group project works as intended is when the group is required to do something performance-based. Obviously, this is not the kind of project that applies to all classes... but skits and performances can apply to many different subjects and utilizes the group work requirement properly. Clearly, a group performance requires so much more planning and group participation than a PowerPoint, and to perform at even a mediocre level everyone has to be on the same page. So performance group projects? Absolutely fine. It’s a good way to work on team skills, something that traditional group presentations lack.

Group projects are weird. Everyone thinks that they did, “the most” for their group, and everyone underestimates how much the other group members did. Maybe this huge imbalance of work and payoff is a sign that group work just isn’t worth the fuss. The less group projects in a class the better, as far as I’m concerned!