Does group work actually work?

By Kai Vieira da Rosa

Group work has been a part of the school system for the majority of my life, I now expect it from every class I enroll in. When group work is assigned I wonder if group work really is that beneficial. With so much emphasis being put on the necessity of group work skills in careers, professors don’t realize it does more harm than good.

There is most certainly a time and place for group work, but professors should know when that time and place is.

Group work should be its own class in which the goal is to teach students collaborative skills. That way students can still learn collaborative techniques, while getting the most out of their other classes.

For classes that are based from such as, history, math, and science, let students get the most accurate information the most efficient ways possible. Leave the group work to those who are interested solely on learning how to work in a group.

The use of group work makes students more likely to waste time and spread inaccurate information, while giving teachers a break. School is expensive. If students are going to pay hundreds of dollars per class to get a degree, I think they should get the most accurate information given in the most efficient way possible.

In groups, the work is often times split unevenly. Typically one or two students do the majority of the work while the others sit and watch. When this happens, the production rate of the group drops and time is wasted. Time that students have paid good money in order to learn is lost in group work.

One of the biggest problems with group work doesn’t even involve the students. During collaborative assignments like big projects, often time one grade is given based on output of the group as a whole. Unequal distribution of work within groups leads to an inefficient way of learning plus it is more likely to cause inaccurate grading. This means that some students can do the most miniscule amount of work and still get as good of a grade as the one or two students that did the majority of the work.

According to the work of Lucy Johnson and Lynden Miles on Assessing contributions to group assignments, the link between individual work and group output can be hard to recognize.

“For group assignments, the link between individual inputs and the output is not so clear; a ‘free-rider’, for example, might receive a high grade despite having very little input into an otherwise good group.”

There are ways to try and compensate for slackers like by grading both the group as well as the individual’s work. Even so, a student who has a perfect individual grade is still going to be affected by a negative group grade. This can be frustrating when you are the one who worked extremely hard, only to get docked points because of others not doing their job. The only way a student can ensure they are getting the grade that they deserve is to do the work by themselves.

Inaccurate grading caused by grading the group output isn’t the only negative thing surrounding teachers in group work. According to Timothy Quinn’s education week article on group work, the use of group work is often assigned when a professor doesn’t feel like teaching

“The teacher gives students some questions and instructs them to talk them over in groups. The teacher then sits at his desk checking his email while students have a half-hearted conversation before veering off topic.”

 Making and practicing a lecture takes time and can be frustrating. Group work and discussion is an easy alternative, but it’s not necessarily the best.

Even worse than the chance of inaccurate grading from group work is the chance of learning inaccurate information. Many university level classes (including some at Whatcom) utilize the discussion features on learning systems like Canvas and Moodle. On these platforms, professors can assign online group discussion to students so they can learn a topic without doing extensive research.

This would be a great tool if we lived in a perfect world where everything said was accurate information. Unfortunately we don’t, and often students will submit low quality and inaccurate information to the discussion. Without moderation of a professor, other students looking to find new information are susceptible to learning inaccurate information without even knowing.

I believe the most efficient way to get information is by attending a lecture class. Every day that a student attends a lecture, they receive constant new information within the class’s time period. When students retain the information given, it is much more efficient than working in a group.

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