Group assignment advice
October 17, 2009 11:58 PM   Subscribe

I've to hand in a group assignment tomorrow and the input from one of the members is crap- terrible writing, no references, no clue, nice guy. I want to remain friends but want to dramatically edit his work. How can I break it to him that his work needed treatment? I'm terrible at this sort of thing. btw, this thread doesn't really answer my question as we're handing in tomorrow. Also- he's old buddies with the other group member who I don't know very well.
posted by mattoxic to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
In a study group, you can't allow the social interactions and roles to affect the work product. You each have a responsibility to the group to contribute your best work, on time (meaning in time for group review, editing, and incorporation into the larger work). And, you each have a responsibility to address shortcomings and failures by others to meet agreed goals, deadlines, and quality. So, you have to call him on it. Do it, by specifics; that is, a written e-mail or notification that his contribution is lacking citations, is not organized according to topics, and is so late as to be impossible to fix, unless you want to undertake that, as an emergency task.

If you don't want to do that, you should insist he approach the instructor, and make it clear that he failed his contribution responsibility on this assignment, either alone or with the rest of your group. Many schools doing study group/learning team assignments, have a team rating system, and you should grade him down for this. I think you'll find your instructor will have seen this kind of imbalance in study groups before, and support you in trying to resolve your inter-group issues, if you are positive about the process, without a big hit to your individual grade.

Yet finally, everyone has a personal life, and occasionally, some major event in our personal life can overwhelm our work and scholastic obligations. If that is what has happened, the person overwhelmed has to signal that he won't be meeting his committments to the study group early enough that others can take his load. If nothing else, you need to signal that, if that is what happened, he at least missed giving this signal in timely fashion.
posted by paulsc at 12:24 AM on October 18, 2009


Personally, I would rework it and just tell him that everyone's work - including your own - needed some editing so that your project had an overall uniformity and cohesion when you handed it in. This is par for the course whenever a lot of people submit a piece of an overall project, so he really shouldn't be too bent out of shape about it. In fact, he may be thankful that you're just doing it without handing it back to him asking him to add in the references, etc.
posted by visual mechanic at 12:26 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my experience, btw, having that section of the project undone or lacking in quality and making sure the instructor knows why – that it was the one particular students fault – will not work out well for you or the group. Instructors expect a good finished project despite knowing that someone in the group will not pull their weight. It's the group's responsibility to cover for that weakness and carry on as well as possible.
posted by visual mechanic at 12:29 AM on October 18, 2009


I'd go with "thanks, there's some good stuff here. I'm going to add a couple things and move some stuff around so it fits well with everything else, if you don't mind."
posted by salvia at 12:29 AM on October 18, 2009


Just go ahead and edit it, add the references, clean it up. Do your best to retain any positive or neutral parts of his contribution, even if you might have approached it differently. As far as telling him, just send him a version when you are done with it, highlighting the main changes that were made. Make sure he is ok with it and ask for any last minute input he might have. Avoid belittling his work, suggestions as to how he might do things better in the future, or looking for credit regarding your own contributions to the project. There will be plenty of opportunities for his teachers to tell him how bad his writing is, if that really is the case, it is not your job. Do what you can to contribute to the success of the project as a whole, but be more careful in picking partners, assigning roles, and checking in on your partners' progress in the future if success is important to you. People have different standards when it comes to schoolwork, and as mentioned in the linked thread, people are good at different things. It sounds like you are well versed in the art of prose and the assembling a polished final product, look to leverage these talents in future projects.

On preview: I would recommend against going to the professor personally, handle it internally if at all possible. Part of the reasoning behind assigning group projects in school is learning to work with a difficult team. While any teacher can sympathize with your plight, you will get more out of exercise by handling it yourself.
posted by sophist at 12:31 AM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is why I hated group work in the various stages of my schooling. Remember that your partner probably knows better than to turn in work without references, and he has stuck you with the job. No matter how much of a "good guy" he is, this is a pretty crappy thing to do to someone. So no need to spare his feelings. He didn't really spare yours. However, to answer your question, you should just fix the work, turn it in and give him a copy. Nuff said. Believe me, when he gets a high grade back he will be thrilled because he is not someone who usually gets those kinds of grades. Best of luck.
posted by boots77 at 1:14 AM on October 18, 2009


Yeah cheers all -all great answers. Appreciated
posted by mattoxic at 1:36 AM on October 18, 2009


I'm kind of growing to like group work, and I agree with sophist that working with the team is kind of the point, so I wouldn't go near the professor. Some people do shitty work in groups and better work alone, also, so this might not be his general standard. I imagine anyone assigning group work can see the cracks and the patchiness and the behind-the-scenes drama, even if they don't know who's in each role.

My strategy here would be, "hey, does anyone mind if I give this a quick edit?" I don't mind my parts of group work being changed around and have found that gets a pretty good response when I've used it as a heads up that I was about to change someone else's.
posted by carbide at 2:47 AM on October 18, 2009


I agree with sophist that working with the team is kind of the point

No, it's not.

Using group assignments to shelter mediocre students & allow them to pass has been a hallmark of Australian universities since Dr Nelson wiped his arse all over them; especially by converting them into cash cows for foreign 'students' seeking only permanent residency status, not education. If they start failing, then they stop paying. This is why the level of 'acceptable' copy & paste plagiarism has reached a level of "nine strikes and you're out" in some universities. Your lecturer will be well aware of this. Academics I know have been *directed* to pass students, no matter how terrible they were.

When I was having a whinge to my father one time about somebody like your groupmate, he asked me "so, does this course of yours have any subjects, lectures or materials on *how* to work effectively in a group?"

"hm, no"

"then they cannot logically assess you on it, can they?"

But as to your question: it's good to always volunteer upfront for the role of final compiler & editor. Say that you want to ensure consistency of style & expression. The same line should work at the last minute, too, but next time make it clear earlier.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:26 AM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my experience, btw, having that section of the project undone or lacking in quality and making sure the instructor knows why – that it was the one particular students fault – will not work out well for you or the group. Instructors expect a good finished project despite knowing that someone in the group will not pull their weight. It's the group's responsibility to cover for that weakness and carry on as well as possible.

This. It doesn't matter if he did a terrible job. The professor will not be sympathetic to complaints. Fix it, then send him a copy with feedback on what he did wrong. If you have to work with him on other projects you might want to see if you can tactfully make his deadline earlier so that you have time to review his shoddy work without feeling rushed.

Think of it as excellent training for work, when there will always be at least one dead weight on any team with which you work, probably more.
posted by winna at 4:49 AM on October 18, 2009


The professor will not be sympathetic to complaints.

That's not my experience, although the one time I handed something in with a note that "by the way, sections B, F and G were not my work & were only handed to me last night" those sections had been entirely pasted from the web, and the sources were all findable within five simple google searches.

Your professor will surely know that group assignments are never about "teaching teamwork" - that's just the rhetoric used to facilitate the passing of pathetic students, and to reduce the marking workload that would otherwise come from increased class sizes.

The reason that teamwork is learned on the job & not in universities is blatantly obvious to anybody with even the tiniest inkling of a clue: in a workplace, you have managers who can appoint the team members according to their respective strengths, weight their workloads accordingly, and act as escalation points in cases of nonperformance, eg to counsel the weak link, or change the composition of the team.

In universities, it's only ever a matter of joining up with a bunch of random people and/or friends in your first lecture - no escalation, no (especially financial) risks or penalties for nonperformance. In that sense, the entire concept of a fixed team of students that cannot be changed on-the-go through escalation or independent managerial supervision is completely and utterly opposite to how the real world works, and therefore is next to useless for the purposes of learning how to work in teams.

If an academic doesn't understand that essential difference, and actually believes the bullshit about teaching teamwork, then they're fundamentally unfit to be a teacher, and you should change universities.

(can you detect any cynicism here? it's just my experience of having completed bachelors pre-Nelson & masters post-Nelson. vastly different experiences)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:17 AM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Who the hell is Nelson!
posted by boots77 at 5:34 AM on October 18, 2009


Dr Brendan Nelson, the government minister for education for a while under the previous government. mattoxic's an aussie, and i assume he's studying at an australian uni.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:49 AM on October 18, 2009


The reason that teamwork is learned on the job & not in universities is blatantly obvious to anybody with even the tiniest inkling of a clue: in a workplace, you have managers who can appoint the team members according to their respective strengths, weight their workloads accordingly, and act as escalation points in cases of nonperformance, eg to counsel the weak link, or change the composition of the team.

Hahhah! *wipes away a tear of hilarity*

Ubu, we're wandering from the original point of the question a bit, but this statement makes it plain that Australian workplaces are less dysfunctional than some of ours stateside.

And I should disclose that my experience is with US universities. I actually have been marked down for going to the professor with concerns, because I should have 'worked through it with the team'.
posted by winna at 6:02 AM on October 18, 2009


You don't know that the professor will be sympathetic, so let's pretend that isn't an option at all. Your first priority is to make sure that you receive the best grade possible on this project. So hunker down and make his part of the work acceptable. If he complains about it then offer to show the rest of the group what he turned in to you and see if they would have rather gone with his original contribution.

However this doesn't mean that you shouldn't talk to the professor about it at all. I'll assume that since you're asking this question the professor doesn't have any sort of group member evaluation that you're aware of.

The key here is that you should talk to the professor about the broader idea of group members slacking off and leaving their groups hanging like this and making sure not to complain about your specific situation. There's not really a best time to bring this up to avoid the professor wondering if you're complaining about your grade.

Almost every group project I had in college included a group member evaluation that played into the final project grade somehow. Some were giving a letter grade with an evaluation of the other members. Some were just paragraphs about how the group worked together, while some were each member writing down what everyone in the group did. Suggest to your professor that there be some kind of group evaluation so that this kind of thing can be avoided. But also keep in mind that there's nothing that can totaly prevent this from happening if the group will allow it.

If your school has evaluations of the professor at the end then be sure to bring this up there too. Other people from the department see these as well so it's a chance to have a colleague say it's a good idea rather than just a student.
posted by theichibun at 7:02 AM on October 18, 2009


You guys are lucky. I've never had the opportunity to evaluate my group members, and I am in a group work intensive field.

Your best option is to edit. At least you have the product to look at and to deal with before it is actually due. In my experience group work is nearly always a case of "I always do my work at the last minute and don't revise, why do you want this done early?" Even in my masters and phd programs people did and do not edit; take the opportunity to do so in this situation.
posted by k8lin at 8:30 AM on October 18, 2009


Edit it. The guy will not complain if you get a good grade. He probably was lazy on purpose to stick you with the grunt work, honestly. This is why most people hate group projects.
posted by ishotjr at 9:01 AM on October 18, 2009


>Avoid belittling his work, suggestions as to how he might do things better in the future, or looking for credit regarding your own contributions to the project. There will be plenty of opportunities for his teachers to tell him how bad his writing is, if that really is the case, it is not your job.

Agreed, it's not your job to teach him how to write. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. If he, like I, genuinely does not know better (science major outside his field, non-native, poor high school education, etc.), he'll improve much faster if he were critiqued on every word he wrote. And he'll be grateful for that once the first flush of embarrassment fades. So, yes, if you have a few minutes to spare after editing his work, please do tell him about references and style guides.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:31 AM on October 18, 2009


I gave up setting group work for my students for just this reason.
posted by A189Nut at 9:47 AM on October 18, 2009


Here's your lesson, in addition to whatever the project subject was: When you are in charge, you need to set standards for acceptable work and set deadlines for contributions far enough in advance that you can review the work and return it if it is unsatisfactory. Or have 50% reviews as quality checkpoints so you can be fairly comfortable with what you're going to get.

Don't do it for him. Call him on it. You should call the guy up and tell him you don't think his work is acceptable and that you want him to drop what he's doing and come help you fix it by the deadline. He didn't absolve himself of responsibility when he gave the work to you, it's still his. Sit him down at the computer and direct him over his shoulder. Your concerns need to be pretty objective, i.e. - this part has no citations, where did you get this? and not just "your writing sucks."

If he refuses, well, that's up to you to fix or not fix by yourself. Either way you're not going to let yourself get burned next time.
posted by ctmf at 10:27 AM on October 18, 2009


More to the point - however you ended up being the one who compiled all the work together at the end instead of doing THAT as a group - I think that makes you perfectly within your rights to edit as necessary. If he doesn't like it, tough. He should have involved himself in the whole process, not just his bare-minimum portion.

I usually end up in that kind of situation as well. Some people are just more take-charge, and some are more minimum-effort. I do like to involve people in the pain, though, so I'd definitely strongly suggest to the guy that he come over and "help" you edit, even if he ends up just being the coffee-getter. Maybe he'll learn something about decent writing in the process.
posted by ctmf at 10:47 AM on October 18, 2009


General advice:
Check carefully for any evidence of plagiarism on the part of your other group members.
Specific advice:
Never work with this guy again.
Ask yourself why this guy's friend is willing to continue to work with this guy if he doesn't do a decent job.

I'll agree with ctmf that being completely factual/objective and telling the guy to put in references and do a run through the grammar and spell check is a good thing to try first. I'm going to assume that the guy won't actually fix things all that much, but at least you can maybe get him to do the annoying work of doing the references. Then go ahead and fix things. Keep drafts, do track changes if you can.

Yes, group assignments should help to teach you how to work with others. However, since you probably have not gotten any suggestions at any point in your education about working in a group, I don't think that the standards of the workplace apply to you. That said, go see if there are any good resources out that for the next time.

I tried doing a little googling and there was a lot of crap. Does anyone have a good suggestion for basic group work guidelines?
posted by sciencegeek at 10:49 AM on October 18, 2009


Does anyone have a good suggestion for basic group work guidelines?

Now we're probably straying even further off topic than I was before, but I might throw in a few suggestions off the top of my head, in case they're of benefit for future readers:

- Establish upfront who will compile & edit all the contributions. This is more work than it may sound, so this person should have to write less content than the others in return.

- The editor should ideally be responsible for writing the introduction & conclusion. This way, if somebody hands in a section that doesn't gel with the rest of the work, this can be glossed over & explained away if necessary in the intro & conclusion.

- The editor must retain control of the master version of the document. No editing of other peoples' work in separate versions, or you lose all track of the latest & best work.

- Establish a clear timeline & have everybody agree to it, eg your first rough draft must be handed over at the end of week 1, no arguments, no excuses. It doesn't matter how sketchy it is. It simply doesn't do for anybody hold off submitting anything until the very end.

- Schedule in review periods or sessions, as well. The first draft is probably just to take a peek at what everybody else is doing & ensure you're all on the same track. About halfway through the schedule, a stronger review session should be held. Depending on how long you have, at least one or more reviews should be held.

- Reviews should be "ego-free". Make that absolutely clear. In other words, don't take it personally if your work is criticised.

- Having said that, criticism should be in the compliment-recommend-compliment format as far as possible, eg "I like your analysis of cat declawing, but could you find more citations? Otherwise, it's a really good & coherent argument"

- It could be useful to have an agreed method for resolving disagreements, eg majority vote. You might want a system whereby the parties who disagree have to abstain from the vote & the others decide. Work it out for yourself how best to do this.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:59 PM on October 18, 2009


I was in a similar situation in college - assigned to write a paper where one of the group members went outside our paper's scope but also not only didn't cite her references but took them word-for-word from sources I gave her. She also repeated that "a spear is basically a pointed stick" multiple times.

Her contribution was so bad that I had to completely rewrite it to fulfill the object of the paper. I had to make edits to the other contributions as well, but not as extensively as hers.

I turned it in with my edits. She threw a hissy fit that I had changed it, so I suggested that she submit her part separately, as well as anyone else who was dissatisfied with the group. I also then apprised the professor of the situation and gave him the sources she had plagiarized.

While not an ideal situation, it resolved itself for the best and I would not have been comfortable submitting such a terrible product.

If you don't have to work with them again, that kind of burning bridges would suffice for now. Otherwise, try to contact them, asking for the references he was citing.
posted by bookdragoness at 2:07 PM on October 18, 2009


Something I might add here, in contrast to what most others have written:

Your team member is doing rubbish work, and you're just finding out about it now?

This is your responsibility. Imagine this was for a client. You'd be sunk! Your name is on it, your reputation would be down the toilet.

The lesson? People do not work in the same way, and you don't always get to choose who you work with (even in the 'real world'). Now, you are lucky, you have been given this lesson now, when your reputation, your salary and your family's welfare do not depend on it.

For the record, UbuRoivas, I have never been directed to pass a student, ever. I don't 'shelter' anyone. I run teamwork assignments because not everyone lives in a little shelter, and you don't always get what you want. I don't want to produce a bunch of students that say, "ho hum, it was the other guy's fault". I work to produce students that work it out for themselves, that are ready to grab the bull by the horns and take responsibility for their actions. Understand that not all Australian institutions are like the one you attended.
posted by Sutekh at 12:12 AM on October 20, 2009


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