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Date: 2017-08-08 04:23 pm (UTC)
slashmarks: (Leo)
From: [personal profile] slashmarks
I think it's fine if it's optional, but it needs to be optional, outside very specific settings where the course is meant to prepare students for a specific career that involves group work. In that case there needs to be an effort to put in the same kind of control measures you'd have in a professional group with a good supervisor.

In middle school and high school it frequently turned into other students stealing my things, refusing to speak to me and then claiming to the teacher that I wasn't participating, etc. So, that kind of soured me on the concept. I think this is, bluntly, an unavoidable problem with teenagers; some groups may coincidentally not have it, but there's not much one adult can do to prevent it or to know when it's happening, and because of this reporting mechanisms may just make bullying problems worse.

With college-age adults, you're somewhat more likely to have people who care enough about their grades and the work to focus on getting it done even if they don't like the people they're with very much. But this isn't a guarantee by any means, and there are any number of other problems like half of the group being persistently disorganized.

(My experience last spring: both of the other students in my group agreed to finish their sections of a group presentation by a certain time to let us practice, didn't do it, I had to chase both of them the last week, tell one to find sources other than wikipedia, everyone finished two days before the presentation when we had no time to meet, and then the first one talked through three quarters of our presentation time and the other two of us didn't have enough time to finish. We all got the same bad grade.)

Another problem that happens a lot in college is that teachers assume students will be able to organize outside class time. This assumes a lot about schedules and locations; students who live close to campus or on campus and don't have to work are in a better position than students who commute long distances and work. (I don't know how housing works in the UK, but in the US living on campus is associated with having more money.)

Like, at one point I was in a class where the teacher casually assumed all the students would be able to meet once a week for an hour or two every week outside the scheduled class time; everyone else was free Saturday mornings, I wasn't because of my work schedule. That was fun! A lot of students in my school also commute from the middle of the state, which is an hour or two of driving between home and campus one way. Requiring students to meet outside designated class hours is the same kind of inappropriate boundary crossing as making work dependent on people coming to the bar Friday nights with the office, imo.

I know that the 'prepare for work' explanation gets thrown around a lot, but I don't think it holds up that well. Not all students are going into the same field, you know? Statistically most of us are going into customer service, not office jobs, here. And I don't think the skills involved in presentations - which are almost always what group work means in college - are actually that transferable into work outside of academia anyway.

Besides which, when there's no actual effort to teach group work, nobody learns anything; the students who know how to coordinate groups end up doing what they already know how to do, and the students who don't end up either flailing helplessly or letting other people do all of the work.

Rereading this it comes off as kind of a tract against group work. I want to say that I actually *enjoy* it when things line up well - but that almost never happens, and when it does it's usually because of the stars aligning, not because of things that professors could consistently repeat. So, I'm going to have to repeat that I really don't think it should be mandatory. Even when it goes well, there's usually about five minutes of coordination and the rest of the work is exactly what I'd be doing on my own.

If you *are* going to do mandatory group work, it's my opinion that you need to actually discuss how to coordinate and what expectations are surrounding it (a lot of people just don't realize it's a big deal to not show up to meetings, from what I can tell, for instance - especially eighteen year olds who've never worked); make sure that students have time to meet in class or ample opportunity to figure out who in the class's schedules actually match up with theirs; make sure that relative loners aren't being excluded deliberately from groups; have a reporting mechanism and the time to follow up, maybe break up groups or change assignments, and discuss with students that they're allowed to use it and when; give separate grades; and accept that you may *not* know who did the work without proof, your confidence in your belief to the contrary.

If that seems like too much work, well, that's why I don't like doing it either. Making group work optional avoids a lot of those problems, though; if people can just leave dysfunctional groups the problems will mostly be resolvable without you.

ETA: The other thing is that from the conversations I've had, my impression is that students who *do* like group work often like it specifically because they associate it with relaxing and chatting with their friends while whichever organized person they've snagged does the entire project.

Which, letting people get into those habits is the polar opposite of preparing them for work; it's going to get the ones who don't expect to do work in trouble when they take that approach there, and it conditions the students who do the work into believing reporting mechanisms are useless and this is how it will always be, so it will save time if they just cooperate.
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