Like many have posted, I too have had many bad experiences with group projects. Apart from lazy group members, egos, poor communication, and waring visions for the project outcomes, something I hadn’t thought about until reading through everyone’s posts was the fact that often times I simply don’t like the project assigned. If I’m not relatively interested in a project that I have to work on for a few weeks with other classmates, it’s like pulling teeth to get me motivated to complete the work. Will it get done? Absolutely. I’m not going to let my grades slip because I’m not entertained by an assignment. But, when you’re working in groups, there is generally some kind of collaborative work that requires you to think outside of the box. It’s not the sort of independent book work that you might have each week. As a result, I think groups start off on the wrong foot because they don’t want to honestly invest extra time organizing, communicating, delegating work, or coming to a consensus on the project’s direction. By assigning projects that have no real world connections, a boring problem to solve, and tedious write ups, professors set up extra obstacles for groups before the real work has begun.
Without completely projecting the challenges of group work on professors, another problem that I’ve encountered within the realm of communication, is members not being open about what they’re able to commit to projects. Many students work during the school year, participate and volunteer in a variety of organizations, take more than 12 hours of classes, have other group projects, or have things going on in their personal lives that make group projects a special challenge for them. If members are not honest about how they can adequately complete they’re portion of the project, others can be hasty about making hasty judgments about someone’s participation or investment in the project. I know when I’ve worked during school, I was not able to meet with my groups after class in the early evening, because I was cocktailing. But, when everyone knew that I had these other obligations, it was easier to make appropriate adjustments with the group, complete my part of the project, and keep up with everyone’s progress. Even though I didn’t know anyone too well, being honest about what I could and couldn’t do helped to disarm the awkward initial feelings that brew when random students are grouped together.
The last challenge that comes to mind for me is working with unapproachable or overly sensitive people. Like I mentioned above, group projects are generally designed for collaborative work. So students end up putting themselves out there when making recommendations or criticisms about an idea for the project. But, if everyone stays focused on the purpose and direction of the project when there is a clash of ideas, I think the differences can be talked out and resolved efficiently so long as everyone is being respectful of the others’ ideas. If there is a particularly hard headed member who won’t let anyone question there ideas or if someone is especially sensitive to their ideas being dissected, then progress slows down exponentially to resolve challenges unrelated to the work everyone is trying to complete. I know I haven’t always practiced this myself, but it’s something I try to remind myself of when collaborating with others. There are a lot of great ideas that come from brainstorming with other students especially from different backgrounds and majors because they all solve and see problems differently. If groups can comfortably share ideas and take a handful of different solutions to solve problems from angles that are not typically considered when doing independent work, I think that group work can effectively build everyone’s critical thinking skills.
My current group started off a little shaky during the first week, but I think that we’re smoothing out some of the challenges we were having. Group projects always have an adjustment period where everyone is not quite acclimated to working with each other or adjusting their routines. It’s easy for some tension or concerns to rise if some members start to make headway on the project and others aren’t initiating or inquiring about what needs to be done. I felt this way about my group at first. I’m taking a lot of hours and have a lot of other projects that I’m working on in addition to this one, so I can’t really afford to not be on schedule with this project. Most of my time is already allocated for other projects I’m working on, so the time I’ve adjusted for this project needs to be used well. I think that my attempts at quickly organizing the group and making prompts for everyone to contribute could give the impression that I doubted their ability to do different parts of the project, but honestly I just wanted this group project to start off better than others have in the past–I wanted it to be different. I wanted to make it easy for everyone to communicate, collaborate, and contribute to the project. By no means do I want to do this entire project by myself. I know what it’s like to be excluded from projects when people reject the notion of group work and blaze through it by themselves–leaving zero opportunities for others to contribute. I just thought the project would be easier to build on after something was set up to work on versus every component starting from blank.