Teachers, professors and even bosses love to claim that collaborative group projects are beneficial to all parties involved. Ideally, everyone brings their strong points to the table so tasks can get accomplished quicker and problems can be solved with ease.
Sounds good in theory, but we’ve all experienced (or heard horror stories about) group members who didn’t pull their weight yet still took credit for the final results. Even so, group projects are most likely here to stay. Learn how to survive group work in college—you’ll be a much happier person.
If you want to graduate from college, group projects are most likely unavoidable. Some people angrily assume that professors only assign group projects so they have fewer things to grade, but that’s probably not the case. The projects may be required by the college or the head of the department.
We all learn differently and have our own unique talents. If things run smoothly, collaborating with other students can help you come up with ideas that you never would have thought of on your own. When more than one person is working on a project, it should also be easier to perform research, check facts and catch mistakes before it’s too late.
Cascadia Community College in Bothell, WA mentions that cooperative learning helps students “create, integrate and evaluate ideas across a range of contexts, cultures and areas of knowledge” as well as “examine [their] own attitudes, values and assumptions.” School group projects should also help prepare you for “the real world.” When you have a job, you’ll have to interact with others whether you like it or not.
Many people hate group projects due to bad past experiences, such as group members who don’t show up for scheduled meetings or never finish things that they promised to do. Personality conflicts can cause issues, too. Some groups have problems because no one takes charge. Other groups fail when the members resent a self-appointed dictator-like leader. A lot of people simply despise working with others.
A study performed at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute even found that small-group dynamics can actually alter the IQ in some people. “We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ,” Read Montague, who led the study, told The Washington Post. “Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect.”
The study could be describing Robert Murphy, an online marketing representative profiled in The Wall Street Journal. Although he was beyond prepared for a business meeting earlier this year and even brought research and notes to share, he clammed up when the time came. “I just sat there like a lump, fixated on the fact that I was quiet,” the 31-year-old explained. In short, people may become temporarily dumber if they assume others in their group are smarter.
Despite the research at Virginia Tech, school group projects continue to thrive. Group work in college is different than it is in high school, or even in the workplace, because you may not see your group members every day. Most college classes meet two or three times per week while high school classes meet daily and most people go to work five days a week.
Here are some tips to help you survive:
If possible, choose your own group members. You might wind up in a group of strangers, but some professors allow students to choose their own teammates. If possible, pair up with people you already know or people who show up for class regularly.
Understand the assignment. Once your group is formed, make sure everyone understands the task at hand. Review the assignment to make sure everyone is on the same page. Consult the professor if there is any bit of confusion—if you do things wrong from the beginning, you might have to start from scratch.
Create a schedule. Calculate how much time you will have to finish the group project. Figure out what needs to be finished when, and keep track of these milestone due dates. Staying on track from the start will help the group avoid last-minute rushing.
Assign duties. Assigning specific tasks can help avoid confusion down the line. “But I thought he was supposed to do that!” is an excuse you don’t want to hear when someone doesn’t pull their weight. Ask everyone their strengths and weaknesses at the start and assign duties based on the replies. (Someone who is not good at math probably shouldn’t be creating graphs.)
Keep track of things in writing. Use Google Docs or a similar platform to keep track of all group members and their contact information, due dates, assignments, research, notes, questions, and the like. If possible, share the document with your professor so he or she can gauge your progress. If problems arise, you may also be able to use the documents as proof that a certain person failed to participate.
Meet regularly. Even if you are granted class time to work on your project, meet outside of class, too. Pick a neutral place as opposed to someone’s dorm. Meet somewhere that you’ll actually get work accomplished—the library is probably a better choice than a restaurant.
Don’t procrastinate. It can be tempting to reschedule group meetings or let things slide “just this once,” but procrastination can be deadly to your group’s grade. Stay on top of things and try to stay positive. The project will be over before you know it!
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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