Why Group Work in University is a Raw Deal

By Nicholas Kweyu


Group work certainly comes in handy when one is navigating through units in their course. It presents the opportunity to divide a large mass of work into smaller manageable chunks, that can be split among members. It also allows for multiple perspectives when coming up with content because well, two heads are better than one and more of course is best.

However, these are advantages mostly in the best-case scenario- when the group is comprised of proactive members. Lucky students have been in a few groups like this, where the work simply flows between the members. Before they know it, the work is done- quite well.

In other experiences, group work tends to go the other way. This is when the group is comprised of perhaps one or two active members, and a majority of ‘joyriders’.

In such groups, the problems begin right from the beginning when deciding how to go about the work. In some cases, people are reluctant to contribute their ideas and the only responses group leaders get are “I agree” or “that’s a good idea”. In worst case scenarios, there are no responses at all.

There tend to be four types of group members when it comes to working on assigned tasks. The first are those who will do pretty good work and send it in on time (a Godsend for group leaders). The second are those who may send in work on time, but little or no effort is put into the work with blatant copy pasting and disregard to the APA style format.

Then there are those who will send their work after persistent hounding and following up by the group leaders and other members. Finally, those who, try as one might, cannot work on a deadline. Their work, if any, will be sent in way past the set deadline.

With these types of members, more often than not, it takes more time for the rest of the group to try and fix work that was shoddily done, than it would have taken doing the work yourself. Moreover, the time taken chasing after work is again time that could have been used to do the work.

These challenges move from being  minor inconveniences to being potentially damaging as one progresses through their degree. In the earlier years where group work was mostly limited to single papers, such challenges were annoying but manageable. Later, when entire class projects and finals are structured as group work, the challenges become more problematic because a large portions of a student’s final grade are dependent on other people, who simply do not care about their grades the same way.

“You could just remove the names of those who did not participate,” say the lecturers. Easier said than done. How about, students get the luxury of choosing their group members instead? At this point in time, the weight of group work for final projects will push serious students to ignore their friends, and pick members they will actively work with.

Being placed in random groups is something that seems to happen more often now that we have moved to online learning. One could certainly agree that being in such groups prepares one for working with a variety of people in the world outside. However, the goals of students, especially those in their final year, are clearer now more than ever.

All in all, group work is dynamic and experiences vary depending on the type of work and the members of the group. Addressing its negative side helps us all to realize the part we can play in making group work a more efficient, enjoyable experience.

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