Group Projects Unfair to Top Students

Joelle Nelson, Editor in Chief

I recently had to take on extra work due to the lazy, unhelpful partner everyone knows is an inevitable consequence of a group project.

You know what this person does: they don’t show up to arranged meetings for the group, they maintain radio silence in the group chat, and speak up only to grab the easiest task in the assigned project.

For “good” students, group projects are not a welcome respite from individual assignments as the rest of their classmates dump work on them knowing full well that it will get done.

This also happened to a friend of mine recently, who tried to inform the teacher that her “group” had done nothing to complete the required work, leaving it for her to complete. Sadly, her complaint did not affect change.

She had delegate the most basic of tasks to her teammates and remind them frequently just to get them to do the bare minimum.

Even though each person in that particular project was assigned a different role and was graded based on that task, I still don’t believe this actually solves the problem with group projects. For my friend, at least, her role depended on the work of her partners, so if they didn’t do their part, she couldn’t do hers.

Moreover, if you are supposed to be working together, it doesn’t make any sense to divide responsibilities in such a way that collaboration is unnecessary to complete the work.

I’m not just basing this complaint on anecdotal evidence either: there is scientific research that shows group projects, when designed poorly, are prone to mismanagement. According to a University of Oklahoma study on designing group activities, a task “promotes social loafing when it can be completed by 1 member working alone and/or doesn’t require members to reach an agreement,” as was the case with my friend.

Teachers need to rethink the group project.

They need to eliminate paper-heavy group projects, where teachers assign a team to turn in a solitary written report. These are particularly inviting to slackers because writing, as the research paper explained, is a singular person activity and thus not conducive to multiple people working together.

Unfortunately, for my APES class, I’m required to complete a research paper that is approximately 10 pages long, to be divided up at our group’s discretion. Of course, we have to split it up and write a different section for each person, because it wouldn’t be practical for us to sit down and write 10 pages altogether. It’s impossible for the 4 of us to work together on it in a constructive way.

If we put more emphasis on projects that lend themselves to collaboration, perhaps we would have less of a problem with people not doing work in the 1st place.

There also needs to be more accountability, because it is the best way to ensure effective participation from all members. We’re teenagers: if we can take the opportunity to avoid work, I’m quite confident that we will.

Most projects I’ve undertaken with more than 1 person are assigned a group grade, allowing those who may not have contributed equally to receive undeserved credit. I understand that for some teachers, giving out individual grades on participation may seem like more time-consuming grading for them to do. However, to make group projects worth doing, credit must be awarded based on each person’s individual contribution.

Teachers don’t even have to be the ones who give the grades, either. In fact, it would be more helpful for the students who take part in the project to assess their partners on participation as an individual grade separate from the group’s. It would be simple, anonymous, and an accurate way to gauge a student’s involvement as it is based on the evaluation of their peers.

That was my experience in AP US History with Lisa Herzig last year, and it made me feel that everyone was being treated fairly.

Whether by active manipulation or through simple gross neglect, earning undeserved credit from the work of a co-collaborator on a group project is a form of cheating. Students should not let others take credit for the work they have done themselves; they should continue to advocate for better group project design and assessment so that their deadbeat peers are denied credit they do not deserve.