Groups and the power of teaching ourselves

Photo by Casey Gomez

If you’ve ever been in a group project — and you probably have, since they’re practically inescapable — you might find that you fall into one of the tropes:

The one who does all the work. The one who has no idea what’s going on. The one who offers to help but doesn’t deliver. The one who just doesn’t show up.

Of course, you can modify these tropes more creatively to fit your previous group project experiences, but these are just the basics.

Moreover, group projects are notoriously known for their tendency to drive you just crazy enough to begin passive-aggressively hating your group members. College students across the U.S. have made this  hate viral by posting memes depicting a band of superheroes labeled with of the above tropes, bonding with those who share the same woes and frustrations as they do. The unfortunate reality is that group projects hardly run smoothly, but they are highly beneficial in educating us as students and as human beings prepping for “the real world.” The unfortunate reality is that group projects hardly run smoothly, but they are highly beneficial in educating us as students and as human beings prepping for “the real world.”

As frustrating as group projects can be, there is certainly something to be said in defense of project-based classes. They are helpful in preparing students for life beyond college because they closely resemble the various work environments that students will encounter in their future careers.

Students learn more deeply when they engage in projects in which they can actively participate, regularly receive feedback and build their understanding of the material by conversing with others.

Placing students in a problem-solving mode immediately removes them from the passive environment of instructionist classrooms, where professors bark out formulas and facts at students who probably aren’t listening to them. While this might be a prime time for students to peruse Facebook and catch up on one-minute recipe videos for meals they’ll never make, this isn’t quite the point of higher education. Project-centered curricula can help revive the classroom atmosphere and get students actively involved in understanding both the class material.

Professors need to ensure that their project curricula incorporate characteristics that are key to learning processes. Professors must complement their projects with scaffolding or help tailored to address the students’ current needs. The project must also enforce articulation; by “thinking out loud” with their group members, students actually begin learning communicating the material effectively. By enforcing checkpoints and deliverables, professors can ensure that their students engage in reflection and metacognition, thinking about the process of learning.

Group projects not only instill successful learning processes, but they also teach students how to communicate effectively, how to resolve conflicts, and how to be patient.

To be successful, try to understand how your group members work: Do they prefer to be micromanaged? Maybe  write out every task they need to accomplish. Are they the leader type? Let them lead team meetings. Is their skill set suited toward a small, specific task? Give them a task that is attainable. Don’t overload them by telling them every single future task; focus on what they should complete in the present. If they tend toward a certain group member trope, how can you best delegate tasks to accommodate the workload distribution? You will not be able to avoid group projects, so make the best out of your group project experience, learn something about yourself and your teammates, and give yourself a pat on the back when you make it out.