Group work

Aug. 8th, 2017 03:18 pm
liv: Cartoon of a smiling woman with a long plait, teaching about p53 (teacher)
[personal profile] liv
I'm on a mission to redeem group work in education. I expect this to be controversial among many of my friends. So if I'm right and lots of you have terrible memories / experiences of being made to do bad group work, I invite you to comment here and tell me what was bad about it. Do you think it's just awful, or are there problems that might be fixed? I believe strongly that while it can be dire, it can also be great, or perhaps I might phrase it as, there are things that look like group work superficially but are actually great.

Because I'm on a mission this may turn into a more formal research survey at some point, but in that case I'll pose the question in a formal context with ethics and everything. Right now I'm just trying to gather some opinions and not just rely on my own ideas. Plus I am eye-deep in paperwork and I could do with some distraction, so do rant away.
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(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 02:23 pm (UTC)
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
Three times in four, I ended up doing the bulk of the work.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 02:49 pm (UTC)
antisoppist: (Default)
From: [personal profile] antisoppist
I am in my 40s and never had to do group work at school or university. This isn't very useful for your survey but makes me wonder when it first started happening in UK education. My kids do quite a lot of it at secondary school.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 03:08 pm (UTC)
jenett: Big and Little Dipper constellations on a blue watercolor background (Default)
From: [personal profile] jenett
Most of my group work was unsatisfactory (of the "I ended up doing most of the work and also having to put up with a whole lot of annoying waiting around for people who were not doing their part") but I had one class in my MLIS program that handled it beautifully. (This was in the fall of 2006, so a while ago.)

What he did really well:

1) Expressly discussed the "You need group skills in future jobs in this field, but the way those work in the workplace are different than they are in class. We can fix some of that with some explicit agreements, but we need to recognise that there's an artificial layer of weird here."

Notable differences he brought up being things like that in the workplace if you have persistent issues with someone not doing their share, there are multiple solutions, there are ways to document what you yourself are doing (1:1 with your manager, email trails, etc.) so you don't necessarily get unduly penalised and usually the tasks are more divided by roles so it's more clear what part each person is doing.

2) He split us up into groups, told us we could swap groups after the first round if we wanted. (Almost no one did, because it turns out the other approaches he used work really well)

3) We had *lots* of group projects: I think it worked out to 8 for 12 weeks of class. Most of them were of the form 'make a presentation to the class about X' with supporting materials. (It was a class in collection development: i.e. how libraries select new items for the collection and remove outdated stuff.)

3) The group work grades mattered in the sense that he had to be able to see you were participating - but he cared a lot less about whether something we tried was 'successful' or came off perfectly than that we had a chance to try things out. And told us that, repeatedly.

I don't remember that we had to do the "how much did people participate" thing routinely (though there was a way to signal if someone really wasn't pulling their part as an optional question) but he did ask for brief reflection on what we'd tried that was new for us this time, and how we thought the presentation went, and what we'd try doing differently in future for something like that.

We sort of started at a default B for this (on the standard US system where a B is perfectly competent but not brilliant) but taking risks even if they didn't work out (but we thought about them after, applied what we'd learned in future weeks, etc.) got us better grades.

He told us that he did this expressly so we could try out different approaches of doing the group work, and take some risks on presentation styles. He let us know after each presentation how we'd done (in plenty of time to adjust for the next one.)

The core of our total grade was based on other individual work: you would damage your grade if you ignored the group work, but not if you gave it a fair shot even if it wasn't successful on an absolute level.

4) He also let us divide tasks up as suited the group - if that was uneven, but everyone was okay with it, that was fine (this is much more normal for job things).

If people wanted to do the same tasks week to week, that was fine as long as it was fine with the group. If people wanted to swap up and try a new skill, that was fine. (He encouraged us to try swapping up occasionally, because it was a low-risk time to try something.)

In other words, he gave us the kind of week to week control you'd get at work in many places. My group definitely had a few rounds of "Next week is really lousy for me at work, can I do X which I find easier for this next presentation?" and we were all fine with it, because those people pulled their weight at other times, or would go "Hey, I don't mind doing this annoying task I can fit into other things, in exchange."

My group settled into a "I like doing X, anyone else want it this week." pattern pretty comfortably, with occasional "I'd like to practice Y, can I do that this time?" once or twice for each of us.

5) My classes were in a program where most people were working at least part time, and getting together outside of class was very difficult (most of us were only on campus for our classes). He gave us enough time in class to coordinate what we were doing so we could do the rest of it online.

We'd meet for 30 minutes (or whatever) at the tail end of class with the time he gave us, divide up tasks, and meet for 30-45 minutes before class to pull it all together, with email and online file sharing in between. But that meant usually one person did the slides, etc.

This was huge - recognising the other stuff going on in our lives that meant we weren't going to go to campus to meet up, or were not going to all be free at the same time except for the actual class time we'd agreed on. This is a thing I think a lot of other group work has failed at for me. It meant people could work at their own pace and in their own best way, with a little time for coordinating provided in class. It took out a lot of the frustration of group work for me, because I wasn't waiting around for people to read things, or process through them.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 03:38 pm (UTC)
lilysea: Serious (Default)
From: [personal profile] lilysea
I *****hated***** group work.

My last university group project (in which we were stuck in lecturer-allocated groups, without any say in who was in what group) involved:

- people being snippy, passive aggressive, snide etc (and several worse things)

- people being contemptuous to other group members

- people being verbally abusive to other group members

- a male member of the group making sexist remarks to female group members

- people just not turning up to meetings that we had scheduled/agreed on as a group, without telling the group in advance that they weren't turning up

- people literally saying to the rest of the group "lets just do a half arsed project and get a C-, rather than work hard and get an A+". 50% of our group agreed with this statement, 50% didn't. Friction ensued.

- me doing 98% of the work, and not being thanked by anyone for doing it.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 04:00 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
My problem was being told that the purpose of groupwork was something other than what it was. "You have to produce this project" was infuriating when That Was What I'd Be Judged On and It Had To Be Good Enough Or Consequences and I was the only person doing work; being told that it was actually about skill development and management and so on, more usefully, rather than "you'll be judged on the finished product", would... have helped me [as an autistic abused child] Rather A Lot. I mean I'd still have hated it because I'd still have been being put in groups with people who bullied me and there was no safe way for me to say I wasn't okay with this and I was terrified of what would happen if the project wasn't "good enough" and entirely willing to believe people would sabotage it to get me into trouble, but...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 04:04 pm (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
I've found group work in a homogenous group fine and even fun -- homogenous with regard to enthusiasm and intellect, and perhaps there are other vectors I can think of. (These are obviously not commonly found in secondary or even tertiary education settings; I have had great results in grad school, though.)

(no subject)

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.
Edited Date: 2017-08-08 04:28 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 04:40 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Aaaaiiiee people!!! Says the introvert.

I never really had any group projects, but I can point at a potentially interesting example. Each year the US Navy's Naval Postgraduate School has a group project for the people on the Total Ship Systems Engineering course: they are presented with a set of requirements and then they have to design a warship to meet them, and on occasion they then have to present that ship design to the professional heads of the USN.

The project reports through 2006 are available here: They can be densely technical, and there's not that much on the group dynamics, but even with commissioned naval officers on a postgraduate course, there's occasional griping that teams they were cooperating with didn't pull their weight.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 05:11 pm (UTC)
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
From: [personal profile] hilarita
Oh you need to be so careful here!
I'm one of the set of people that loathed, detested, hated group work at school; however, I've had very little problem working in teams at work. It may be possible to arrange group work in a way that makes it more like work and less like school; unless you can manage that, I'd really steer clear.
For people with social and academic anxiety (this isn't a complete list of people hit hard by group work), it's very hard to construct group work in a way that doesn't either tank their grade or unnecessarily escalate their anxiety. Others have pointed out that it's hard to construct group work in a way that respects that people may have different ways of using their out of class time (drinking, travelling home, gaming, sleeping...), noting also that this may end up hitting traditionally excluded groups harder.
One interesting model is taken from - the second year computer science course in Cambridge. Reports of it are actually surprisingly positive about it. I think one thing that helps is that it's basically part of the practical assessment, which is only pass/fail - there's none of the tension between the people who want to aim for top marks, and the people who are just scraping by. (The 'ticks' mentioned in the document go onto your practical record, and provided you've acquired all the ticks, you're OK. It's meant to be that you should pretty much always pass the practical assessment.) It's designed to look as much like a real professional project as possible. It also includes a (short) code of conduct.
I also had a piece of 'group work' with the Open University. It was for the User Experience and Design course, where we had to sketch a UI for a thing, and send it off to another student to review (I got a similar piece to review), and then we had to rework (or not) our design based on the review, and explain our design choices. This worked quite well, because these formed parts of three assignments, so there was a strong incentive for you to do the review for the other person, because it was part of your own grade. Because this went to your tutor first via the VLE, if any of the criticisms were inappropriate, there was presumably the opportunity to remove the offending items. You were also reviewing against a checklist from the course notes, so the comments weren't too likely to stray off-piste, and you didn't know whose work you were reviewing, so you were less likely to get some kinds of bullying behaviour.
One place in school where group work often worked right was Drama. I suspect this was because the Drama teacher had in fact done a lot of work on learning about group dynamics and facilitation, to the extent that I could even cope with working with people who bullied me outside class. However, this involved a lot of time doing work with the teacher in the room with us, so that there was a smaller chance of bullying and slacking happening.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 06:25 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
My memories of group work in school:
-I didn't have great social skills so was often "last pick" when we chose our own groups
-I was perceived as smart and often ended up doing the bulk of the work, especially for projects I found easy
-I was never taught how to negotiate division of labour
-mission creep
-Other students sometimes mostly wanted to goof off instead of learning
-there would be several small groups in the same classroom, which meant a lot of noise, which made everything else harder to navigate
-sometimes in group presentations people would add their own opinions whilst presenting, this weakening the argument we were trying to make
-sometimes it was assumed we would get in touch with our group to work on things together outside of class time. For kids with no independent means of transport this wasn't always possible, and my extra-curricular schedule made it difficult too.
-in some groups the other kids conspired to trick or tease me, and when I got upset about this I was penalised for "not getting along with the group".

In general, the smaller the group the more pleasant I found group work; working with one other person was usually OK as long as the noise wasn't too bad. Working with two other people could kindof work in the right context, but wasn't exactly fun. More than that got really unpleasant.

That said:
I really enjoy chamber music, and I suspect that group work with appropriate boundaries and good division of labour can be positive and enjoyable in a similar way.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 06:27 pm (UTC)
mathemagicalschema: A blonde-haired boy asleep on an asteroid next to a flower. (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathemagicalschema
I've had variable experiences with group work. On the one hand, I've often had the problem of being much more invested than my teammates and taking on the lion's share of the work. On the other hand, I actively enjoy using my managerial and leadership skills to try to get teammates with different levels of motivation or skill to contribute a fair share. I've had much better experiences when I've taken on a role of manager first and contributor second, focusing on allocating work, checking in with people, and joining the pieces of the project into a cohesive whole. When I've taken that tack, my teammates have usually done their best on the portions of work they were assigned, even though the quality of our work might be rather variable.

On the gripping hand, taking on the full share of management-work in addition to an at least equal share of the content is just a different way of doing most of the work that I find more agreeable - and not every student, or even every motivated high-ability student is going to have that managerial skillset.

One thing I feel about schoolwork in general but group work in particular is that we should be doing a lot more practical projects that have value outside of the classroom. When your work isn't actually valuable for anything except getting a grade, that puts a huge damper on motivation. I think that's even more true for students who haven't really got an academically-valued set of abilities. I can make presentations that people actually enjoy and remember, and that gives me some intrinsic motivation for those projects. For a student who knows they give lackluster presentations, it's hard for them to want to put their fingerprints on a group project like that. Projects with more concrete results that offer students a greater variety of ways to contribute may have fewer problems with disparate levels of motivation.
Edited Date: 2017-08-08 06:30 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 07:11 pm (UTC)
ambyr: a dark-winged man standing in a doorway over water; his reflection has white wings (watercolor by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law) (Default)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
As a sometimes-non-traditional student, I've struggled with group work expectations that I'll be available to meet with fellow group members at times convenient to them: on campus at midnight (no; sleeping), in the middle of the day on a weekday (no; working full-time), or similar. This isn't an issue for work-work projects because obviously we are all *working* together and can meet *at work*. To avoid putting this burden on students who commute to campus from a distance, have jobs, have childcare responsibilities, etc., I really don't see a solution other than for the professor to arrange for students to have time for all necessary in-person group meetings *during class*. Otherwise, coordinating the schedules between more than two or three people puts an incredible amount of stress on non-full-time, non-live-in students.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 07:33 pm (UTC)
azurelunatic: A glittery black pin badge with a blue holographic star in the middle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
In addition to some of the other points of hellishness that others have mentioned (last picked, problems allocating tasks) I was working against ADD and without the coping skills that I have now learned. So I was having significant trouble trying to break my task down into chunks and get it done, with or without coordination with the other members of the group.

I can also see an assumption that we all have the same technology access as something to double-check. For reasons of budget and other such things, I've sometimes been the person who doesn't have a machine capable of doing Skype video chats, even if it can do the text bits. Fortunately that's never hit me for a work or school group work thing, but it was often a problem in friends groups.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 07:34 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I was a person who didn't hate groupwork, but 90% of the time found it pointless and annoying. (I sort of managed to glide through most of grade school on an untouchable sense of superiority that meant I honestly didn't give a crap what other students thought of me and also honestly didn't care if I ended up doing all the work.) 10% of the time it was my favorite thing we did all semester.

I would say the four most important elements of good groupwork, in my experience, are:

1. Keep logistics in mind. The student who has to commute on three buses to get to school and has to print from the shared computer lab and burn metered data to get online from home is already at a disadvantage; said disadvantage is multiplied several times each time they have to go to an extra group meeting + the social capital burned with the rest of the group over dealing with it. And that's just the obvious case; even if it's just rich kids having to fit it in around frat parties or get their parents to drive them places, or introverts or neurodivergent people who need all the recharge time they can get, logistics are a massive hassle. I would say any teacher who wants to do a good job with group assignments has to make sure all groupwork is done during times the group members were already scheduled to be in the same place, and using school-provided resources as much as possible.

(p.s. if my employer said we had to have committee meetings after work hours on our own time we would revolt en masse.)

2. Make sure there's a reason it needs to be done as a group. I think when I was in elementary school we had some kind of mandate for a certain amount of groupwork every week, which meant that inevitably we would be told to "work together" on the same worksheets or reading exercises we would otherwise do individually, and it was obvious to everyone involved that the work would be done faster and better if we were doing it individually. Even as we got older and into college, 90% of the groupwork assignments were things where it would be faster and more effective to just work on our own.

Basically, if you can visualize a scenario where one person volunteers to do the whole thing by themself and it gets the same result as if it had been done as a group, and with less total time put in, then you need to come up with a better groupwork assignment. (I frequently ended up doing the whole thing not because the rest of the group was losers but because I looked at it and went "...I can knock this out in half the time if y'all don't care if you get any input, deal? Done.")

If the only reason it couldn't be done by one person was that there was a lot of it, we would have one meeting to split it up, work individually, and then compile it awkwardly together 5 minutes before the deadline, which taught some groupwork skills I guess, but not really enough to make it seem like the groupwork part had a point.

The groupwork that did work as groupwork was stuff where it really couldn't have all been done just as well by one person (like putting on a skit), or where there was something involved that meant we were all actually invested in it (like designing a study plan or assignment that we would have to do later).

3. Teach groupwork, don't just assign it. I think the sum total of what I was explicitly taught in grade school about how to work in a group was that first thing you should pick a leader and a note-taker. That was it. Even an assignment that didn't need to be groupwork might work if you were explicitly teaching groupwork skills and making it clear that learning the groupwork skills was more important than the result of the assignment. (You would have to have a teacher who could actually do that and make the students care, though.)

4. Groupwork only works if the social setting is already functional. A class where there is active bullying going on, or where the teacher can barely get the kids to settle to individual work on a good day, is not a class setting where groupwork is going to benefit anyone in any way. If you have a group that is already capable of working together in simple ways and a teacher who can lead them well and keep a supervisory eye on dynamics inside the groups, then you can start teaching groupwork.
Edited Date: 2017-08-08 07:55 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 08:16 pm (UTC)
elf: Magic rock with glasses reading a book, from the MMORPG Glitch. (Glitch - Magic Rock)
From: [personal profile] elf
Groupwork needs a purpose. In business, this is usually a combination of (1) needing diverse skillsets and (2) limited time.

RFPs get assigned to groups so that the finance people and the HR people can both submit pieces. Legal briefs get assigned to groups because the whole thing has to be written in a week.

Neither of these applies in most classrooms - while there are diverse skillsets and perspectives, schools don't teach those, especially not in a single class. (Not that they don't teach different things, but the point of most formal education is to raise everyone's skills to the same level, not to accentuate their differences.)

If you're in a history class, you are presumed to start at roughly the same level of ignorance (in regards to the class scope), and be developing roughly the same set of skills. Any differences are perceived as detriments - if one student is good at writing outlines and another is good at putting together charts, the goal is for those students to eventually acquire each other's skills, not for each of them to just get better at what they're good at now.

And in school, time allotted is supposed to match time it takes to do the project. Given the different rates people learn and work at, there is no useful way to set up "this project would take one person a month, but I'm going to give it to teams of 4 and they'll only have a week."

I don't disagree that learning work-together skills is important; it's just that the school options are so artificial and disconnected from real-world reasons for group projects that it's hard to figure out where to start. Peer teamwork is rare in the business world - there's almost always an authority figure directing the project, available to ask questions about scope and focus.

What is it that groupwork is supposed to teach? Project management; using someone else's research to write a report; social coordination; team and multimedia presentation skills? Something else? Figure out what the specific goals are before setting up tasks.

(I have few school memories of group projects. I loved the ones in speech class - but I was taking that class with three or four friends, and we teamed up and had great fun together. I hated every project where I was assigned a "partner" that was some stranger with whom I shared no interests and no study habits, yet we were supposed to collaborate on a production that neither of us cared about.)

I'd suggest that, if you want to teach teamwork, make sure that's the goal. Let students assign themselves into groups, for the most part; maybe allow different-sized groups; make sure the grading isn't arranged to penalize the shy kids, or worse, the ones disliked by their teammates.

Let them choose the topics. Maybe give a range to choose from - but if so, make it very clear that you're open to other suggestions. I have a daughter who spent about a month of clenched-gut white-knuckle panic every time she got assigned to a project group, because the group would invariably pick something she had no interest in, or worse, a topic where she disagreed with the group.

Strongly support the suggestion of giving class time to group projects, and not counting on students having time or resources in other parts of their lives for that. There's a difference between "assign homework" and "assign social coordination and tech resource use at home."

Other thought: Find some examples of teamwork in movies & TV, and show them off. "I want you to be able to work together like NCIS/ Leverage/ Sense8/ etc." would give them a way to think of group work as a useful skill in itself. (Note that I have no idea what media shows appropriate teamwork for 12-year-olds. Sense8 is definitely not it.)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 08:30 pm (UTC)
hellkitty: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hellkitty
I never assign involuntary for-grade group tasks. I use groupwork in class, for no more than a half-hour-long activity, where I assign each group a question, or a poem, or some other small task to study, and then report back to the class. If students don't do the job, they may take a hit on class participation, and get a little embarrassed when I call on them and they got....nothing. Also, I'm constantly circulating among the groups, poking people to get to work, etc.

In these contexts, with the right questions, you can hear GREAT discussions in the groups. Like 'did X make the right decision in the story?'. It also lets the students who want to shine really shine, take charge, etc, and the slackers can still slack, but they're on notice and given direction what to do better.

I do have another class where students are given a major assignment (a critical discourse analysis of a conversation), and students can choose to work with a partner, or not. Somehow the slacker students never get asked to partner up! HMMMMM.

My own experience with groupwork as a student was this: freshman year of college our math prof gave us a list of simple geometry questions and assigned us to groups to go over them. I suppose his thinking was our group would enable us to make friends, etc, but I did all the questions before the meeting, and spent our meeting arguing with the group, who hadn't even looked at them, that I was actually right (I was right). I couldn't deal with that amount of frustration, and I actually ended up dropping the class.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 11:18 pm (UTC)
independence1776: Drawing of Maglor with a harp on right, words "sing of honor lost" and "Noldolantë" on the left and bottom, respectively (Default)
From: [personal profile] independence1776
Lurker coming out of lurkerdom.

I'm introverted and was very grade-oriented in school. So my memories of groupwork tend to be along the lines of "I get most of the work done because no one else cares." It was to the point in one of my college classes where the professor was going to split us up in groups of one or two that when he called on me first I bluntly asked if I could work by myself. He let me.

The only good groupwork projects I remember were the sugar babies my senior year in high school (we had to pretend to be fake-married for a week with a baby made of an unopened sugar bag and a styrofoam head) and I ended up with two husbands because there weren't enough girls in my class (Catholic high school; same sex anything was, well, you can imagine). And I got two husbands because the teacher knew I could handle the work. But it was a fun project: actually making the baby, wedding planning, etc. ETA: Just remembered that ALL the groupwork was done in class. Literally the only thing we had to do as a group outside of class was hand the baby over to the other person and that was always done during the schoolday. (I'm sure there were "couples" who arranged to do so outside of school times, but I'd be shocked if they were the majority.)

The second was in college. It was a religion course and we were divided by the professor into small groups. I went to his office hours between the time he announced the project and assigning groups in order to make sure I wasn't in the group with the man who had a crush on a friend of mine and tried to follow her places. (It was both pathetic-- he had no friends so it was clear he was lonely-- and a little creepy, especially because he didn't realize he was being creepy.) I was not assigned to his group. The other thing the professor did was a "how did everyone handle groupwork/equal division of work/etc." thing. It was my first time ever encountering one and I thought it was a genius idea.

The only reason I mention that it was a religion course is because the project involved going to five houses of worship in the city. The course itself was about ritual in worship, so the visits were a compare/contrast thing that we had to do a presentation on afterward. So it was a meet up outside of class project, but we all carpooled or walked together and were able to find the time to meet. We had an advantage in that my college required all students to live on campus unless they were living with local family (it still has that requirement), so coordinating wasn't problem. But it very easily could have been.

And though this isn't the norm for group projects, it did literally change my life. I was already on the verge of leaving Christianity and my group went to both synagogues in town. I walked in and felt at home. Eleven years later, I converted.

Largely, I'm not in favor of groupwork. I could usually get the work done by myself at a better quality.
Edited Date: 2017-08-09 11:52 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 12:44 am (UTC)
nicki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nicki

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 02:46 am (UTC)
alasse_irena: Photo of the back of my head, hair elaborately braided (Default)
From: [personal profile] alasse_irena
Okay, this is going to be long.

In my experience what we all hated about group work wasn't actually the assignments themselves, or the need to work with other people, it was just the fact that your mark at the end was partly dependent on someone else, and in contexts where marks are Really Important, the idea of someone else having a hand in how well you do is Very Stressful.

And it's not even that you don't trust your classmates not to let you down. It's just that different students have different priorities. Like one person wants to do really well in this subject, they need to impress this professor because if they do an honours thesis they want her as their supervisor, or whatever; and another one is just trying to struggle through this subject because it's compulsory, and it's not important that they excel, just that they pass and never have to see it again, and they'd rather spend their energy on some other area that they're more invested in. So it's not even as though the person who's not putting as much effort into the group project as you are is being lazy, or shitty: they've just got other things that are more important to them and this isn't really their passion.

Another thing that makes groupwork stressful is just different people having different work processes. Some people prefer to stew over their project internally for a while, and then do all the work in one go once they've finished thinking, and others like to work on things little by little, gradually. So you end up with group situations where people feel like they're being made to start working before they've got any idea what they want to be doing, or people feel like they'd like to get started as soon as possible, please, and their team isn't ready yet.

Sometimes to try and ensure that everyone pulls their weight on the project, there's a peer evaluation component to the final mark, so you're also marked on how your group members rate the experience of working with you. But student solidarity is a strong force so I can think of no time where a group I was in didn't just sit down together and go, "So we'll all just give each other five out of five for every category?" "Nah, put down a four for communication skills or something, so it looks convincing."

I mostly had pretty good experiences of groupwork, in that we quickly established systems that meant that groupwork wasn't really groupwork at all. Like we'd meet as a group when we got the assignment, divvy up the tasks among the members so that everyone was assigned an equal share, then everyone would work on their bit independently and we'd meet at the end to combine it all. Which made it seem a bit pointless, given that other than a quick meeting to delegate tasks, we never actually did any group work at all.

That issue can probably be resolved by reconsidering the *kinds* of tasks that are given as groupwork, so that the most efficient way to do it is actually to work in a group. As for the issue of having to rely on other people to ensure your mark is good - I don't know how you can take the stress out of that without entirely restructuring the education system.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 04:35 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
I have never had a good experience with group work, though fortunately it became less and less prevalent as I went through high school and university. Except once, I did at least 90% of the work because otherwise nobody would have done it and we would have got a bad mark. It's extraordinarily frustrating because there was never a mechanism to make sure that the work was done evenly, the point of group work was totally opaque and mostly seemed aimed at keeping us busy, and it only got worse in university when I couldn't actually physically corner participants and make them sit down and do something. In university, I would check out course syllabi before signing up to make sure there was no group work assigned, and if there was, I would choose a different subject.

In third year English at university, there was one project that was a bit better, because it was not really group work. It was easily divided into 5 almost entirely separate projects, because the tutor disliked group work and considered that it was usually poorly and unfairly run, and there was no reason to actually do this project in groups. So we could all work on different parts of an analysis and then have one (three-hour) class to put them together. The group discussion at the end was actually good because four out of the five people in my group had done their work by the time it was due and we had something to talk about, plus the one slacker wasn't dragging everyone else down: we could safely ignore him.

I would be very interested to see how group work could possibly be useful and still be group work rather than projects in parallel.
Edited (used opposite word, whoops!) Date: 2017-08-09 04:35 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 04:49 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
But why? What do you find so compelling about the idea of group work as a pedagogical approach that you think it's worth redeeming?

My experiences with group educational experiences span the gamut (both figuratively and literally, being as I am an early musician).

Worst case scenarios have included:

• The time in grad school I was assigned to work with two other students, and the topic we were assigned turned out to be one they were raging bigots about. Because they were bigots, they resisted doing the assigned reading, which was substantially about "prejudices you might not know you have about this population", for which they were poster children. They got slightly better after finally doing the reading.

• The time in grad school I was assigned to work with three other students – who were all lovely, hardworking people – and we were collectively assigned to work on a topic that was at the intersection of impossible and irrelevant. By "impossible and irrelevant", I mean I volunteered to do the "Epidemiology" chunk, and then discovered it was something now so vanishingly rare the CDC had just stopped compiling statistics on it all together a half century ago. Thanks, prof! What a great use of our time!

• The various times in high school or earlier when I was the high-performing counterweight to a low-performing student in a small group with two normals; basically, I was exploited as free teaching labor and got nothing educationally out of the experience, and just by proximity got to make other people feel bad by effortlessly understanding more than they did about the assignment.

• One very, very, very special example, which may be also under "best case scenarios": the encounter group we ran as a collective project in my graduate class on Group Dynamics and Group Therapy. Our textbook for the class was the great classic, Yalom's Group Therapy, which observes that in all his team's research, they consistently found that 16% of members in a group therapy group wind up with iatrogenic results. On the second-to-last day of class, one of the students lost his shit at the group and the professor for making us have the group, and stormed out of the room. One of the other students said, "Huh. That must be our 16%."

Best case scenarios:

• In grad school, in my Theory class, the prof did something somewhat weird that worked out well for me. At the second class session, he asked who had done the homework reading already (not due until the third class, IIRC?), which was Chapter 1 of Corsini and Wedding's Current Psychotherapies, which was, naturally, Freudian Psychoanalysis. It was a class of 16, and eight of us put up our hands. Oh, said the prof, well, I was going to have those of you who had already done the reading do the first presentation next week, but there seem to be a lot of you - by any chance, have any of you read the second chapter? Four of us put our hands up. And that was how I wound up assigned to do a report on Jungian Analytical Psychology with the three other smartest, fastest-reading, and most avid students in the class. Best sorting mechanism ever.

• When I was 12, I was in a class on making stained glass windows and decorations. I was the oldest student. In addition to our individual projects, the teachers proposed we do a group project. I wound up taking over the running of the group project, and broke it into assignments based on student's strengths, so everyone was working in their Zone of Proximal Development at whatever they were best at. I'm under the impression that that went very well and everyone had a good time and learned stuff. (The final project was sold at auction as a fundraiser for the program for $75, in 1980s dollars.)

• In grad school, I did basically the same thing in my Projective Testing class, for the team I was on. All the other teams coalesced of almost all, as my mother once put of another situation, "tow-headed aryans", and I was with the seven students left over: four people of color, two Jews, and the guy. "Hey! Let's do our presentation on the cross-cultural applicability of Projective Testing!" I exclaimed, and it was immediately and somewhat gleefully adopted by general acclaim. I did a dive into the lit, and then emailed everyone a big pile of relevant studies which hit most continents, from which they could pick their favorite to report on. I did the group bibliography and wrote up the agenda for our talk, and had the copies made. Everybody learned something of interest to themselves, and it came out great.

• Man, that Group Dynamics and Group Therapy class encounter group was wonderful, from a sheer, "Please continue your petty bickering; I find it fascinating" stand point. Not sure this is at all applicable to your project.

• In grad school in Psychopathology, I wound up in a group with a woman who basically was willing to do all the work for our team; I years later found out that she had a stalker and didn't feel safe to sleep, like, at all, which is why she was emailing us at 3am asking if we minded if she did more chunks of the assignment than were strictly hers.

• And, of course, I've been in lots of music classes, which insofar as they are about ensemble performance are about group projects – but rarely are they constituted in ways in which the students themselves organize the division labor, though sometimes are put in positions of authority over other students (section leaders, e.g.).

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 11:08 am (UTC)
purplecthulhu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] purplecthulhu
What's your definition of group work?

If it's just two people then I can tell you the story of my lab partner who fudged results in an experiment using some hideously unreadable code, and got an A while I didn it honestly and got a B.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 04:32 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
Most of my group work experiences are of the "arbitrary group selection, produce a final item, all persons collectively graded" variety, and they mostly were bad because of the lack of motivation among others and the differing desires about grading and the anxiety of having your marks determined by others.

There was one good exercise, as a part of the beginning coursework for library school - the school solicited community partners with information needs that could reasonably be handled by first year graduate students, and then offered them as projects with recommended group sizes for tackling, so that people who were interested in a thing could all join up. A deliverable was expected, but even if you couldn't get to it, the process of determining information needs and figuring out what would work best with those needs was the actual point. It's the best group work experience I've had, because it's essentially the only time something like actual work environments was put into play.

Actual group work in a workplace is much more about delegation and responsibility checking and having a group of people you trust to do the work around you.

(And, hopefully, you have a group and a manager who aren't actively trying to sabotage you, get you fired, or pass off as much work as possible to others. Because that will, y'know, essentially kill any sort of cooperative spirit you have for a very long time.)
Edited Date: 2017-08-09 04:33 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 09:13 pm (UTC)
angelofthenorth: Sooffocles with me in background (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
Group work for me was about going to Bible Study and development group and being told constantly how bad I was at it - I'd usually done far more of the reading than anyone else, and wanted to share, but got told off for dominating the group.

I think there's a place for group-work for teaching certain skills, but for actually getting a piece of work done no.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 10:35 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
I can only remember three examples:

Primary school probably what's now year 4. A project on... Vikings? The reason I remember it was that there was a draw to see who got the results (which had been done by everyone) and I didn't get it. There must have been more, but I can't remember it.

Undergraduate lab time: done in pairs, worked well for the one I was in.

Uni Cert in Health Promotion: one of the three bits of coursework (with no exams, this was a significant chunk of the final mark) was a presentation done in pairs. I did all the work (to be fair, it was on something I knew loads about and he knew almost nothing), marks shared. I was ok with that because he'd at least acted as a guinea pig to try some of it out on. Looking at it just now, I'm very pleased with how good it is :)
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