As the semester grinds along, thoughts of many students turn to upcoming midterms, reports and other projects that inevitably punctuate the spring months. The greatest fear among many students is that one of them will become a group project, which is probably the thing most-hated by students since cafeteria food.
Group projects will give students a chance to meet their peers, professors say, and they help develop small-group communication skills, encourage teamwork, simulate a real-life work environment and lighten our workload. But remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so good luck not getting randomly grouped with the teenager who only enrolled to meet women or the elderly woman who inevitably will become lost halfway through the semester when she can’t figure out how to use Blackboard.
While professors’ intentions may be good, the results are not. First off, UAA is a commuter campus. To lump everyone together in a classroom and call them peers is a stretch by any standard. In any given classroom, there is an age range of anything from 16 to 60. No one comes to college hoping they will be working with people their parents’ or children’s age. While teenage students are overwhelmed with budding social lives, middle-age nontraditional students are juggling families or struggling with technology. Not exactly a cohesive group of peers.
Meeting outside of class may not be a big deal to a freshman taking 12 credits who is living in the dorms with no job or real responsibilities, but to anyone with a real life it just isn’t feasible. After bending over backwards to juggle work, school and a pathetic social life, the last thing students need is to plug another scheduled activity into the equation. Meeting with a group from class often comes at the expense of time spent on homework, studying or with family, and with many students commuting from out of town, it’s rarely possible to find a convenient time and place to meet.
Most people do not come to the same conclusions about what a group’s choice of topic will be. Usually one person blurts out something they are interested in and the less passionate quietly agree, knowing that discussion only means more time taken away from more important things.
In many groups, the people who reveal themselves as the leaders are the ones who choose the topics. This allows the softer-spoken members to slink into the background and allow the outspoken to champion the workload or delegate it as they see fit.
All the while, everyone in the group understands that because it is a temporary situation, it really doesn’t matter how you treat those “peers,” because you will be ditching them at the end of the semester. How is that for loyalty?
So, does this represent a real work environment? In a real work environment, people who don’t pull their weight are fired. In a real work environment, applicants understand the time restraints of their schedules and apply for a position accordingly. In a real work environment, people ideally plan to stick around longer than a couple months. In a real work environment, workers are loyal to their co-workers and passionate about their projects because they are related to the occupational field.
Group projects in college do not promote learning. If anything, they allow professors to sort through a fraction of the work the students should be learning and doing on their own.