Group Projects Must Rebuild Accountability and Inclusion

Vy Nguyen, Opinion Editor

Being left on “read.” Promises are like Cinderella’s slippers, shattering after an 11:59 p.m. deadline. Unrelenting spouts of “he said, she said.” 

While the mere thought of some of these experiences can unearth long-buried memories of a turbulent break-up or friendship, they also signify one of the many nightmares students lose sleep over: group projects. 

Freshmen collaborating on a history project. Photo by Vy Nguyen.

From high school AP class presentations to kindergarten kickball games, the concept of group work is ubiquitous in America’s education system, touting principles of collaboration. However, today’s students are familiar with only a perversion of cooperative learning — a version devoid of active communication and unity. 

The purpose of group projects has sadly become skewed. They are no longer environments suited for innovation, but they have morphed into vicious every-student-for-him/herself battles, with each person working independently within group settings.

At the center of this is the lack of accountability for all members. Each project, especially ones with assigned groups, splits into two factions: those who efficiently complete their tasks and those who do not. Subsequently, for the sake of the grade, students who are more willing to contribute, begrudgingly assume the responsibilities of their less-motivated peers, furthering resentment and strife between groupmates. 

One teammate should never view another as his or her burden. While teachers belabor the notion that unfair group dynamics model a workforce students must accept, this enables entitlement from some members, leaving others no choice but to contend with a lack of effort. Less-motivated students, unfortunately, leverage this and seize the opportunity to ride on the proverbial coattails of their diligent-yet-frustrated counterparts. As such, group projects do not reflect the reality of the workforce, which rewards initiative through promotions and bonuses.

Infographic by Vy Nguyen.

To rectify this, some teachers have implemented group-member ranking systems that are often viewed as snitching or tattling. Even though this mollifies the cynics and penalizes the less-motivated, it still neglects and destroys the intended purpose of group projects: collaboration. 

Instead, group work should serve as a melting pot for students with different skills to create one successful product. According to a research study conducted by Stanford University, students are more inspired to brainstorm when working alongside others, thus increasing “intrinsic motivation,” which measures the willingness to participate in activities. Therefore, if students continue to work in their own private spheres, they will deprive themselves of the opportunity to share their ideas with others. 

Certain grading systems, as well as dividing and conquering, motivate students to work by themselves and for themselves, which is the antithesis of teamwork. Assigning questions by odds and evens fails to incorporate the ideas of others and merely consolidates an activity for efficiency’s sake. 

Ultimately, the ideal group project lessens the emphasis on strictly divided tasks, and, instead, fosters organic dialogues between group members and teachers. Students will no longer be inclined to work alone because they have established trust with their teammates. Texts are responded to. Promises are kept. The blame game is obsolete.