Grading a group project when one group member slacks off
May 7, 2021 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm faced with a tricky, college-level grading issue: Two members of a three-person group claim that the third member barely did anything on a group project; that third member claims he contributed an appropriate one-third of the work. Per the assignment prompt, all members of a group are to receive the same grade. Teachers and ethicists: How would you handle this?

Perhaps it was foolish of me to say that everyone would get the same grade, but I counted on the students understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats. Most of them seem to have figured this out - even another guy, who barely submitted any other work this semester, made meaningful contributions to his group's project. I've used similar assignments for 20 years and have never had a case in which the students' assessments of each others' contributions were so divergent.

The three students (not their real names):
- David & Katrina: Consistently two of the best students in the class. Smart, creative, always contributing engaged comments and questions. Work always submitted on time, and fully.
- Greg: An indifferent student at best; has subtly trolled classmates a few times in online assignments; his work has been subpar throughout the semester. A recent submission was wildly off-topic; he has, here and there, looked for loopholes in submitting assignments. Some work has been late.

David and Katrina say that they have done the lion's share of the work on this project, and that Greg has either given excuses for not attending group meetings, or simply not shown up. They say that Greg did contribute an early version of the Powerpoint, but that it was incomplete and largely off-topic; they had to revise it almost entirely so that it addressed the questions of the prompt. Greg says they all made roughly equal contributions.

Not wanting this to "go to trial," I asked each student to give me, via private email, two numbers: the approximate percentage breakdown for how much work each person did, and the grades that they think they should each receive.

- David says he and Katrina completed 90-95% of the work, with Greg doing "perhaps 5%." He declined to suggest grades for each participant, but did request that Greg be graded separately if possible.
- Katrina says that she and David together did 75-80% of the work, with Greg doing 20-25%. She believes that she and David should each receive a grade of ~90 on the project, and that Greg should receive ~70.
- Greg says that they all did approximately their fair share: that each person did 33% of the work and that they should all receive a B/B-.

In the presentation portion of the project, Greg did almost nothing. He read, verbatim, the words on a single slide, and then clammed up; it was plain that David had to step in, on the spur of the moment, to pick up the slack that Greg dropped.

As you can probably tell, I am more inclined to believe David & Katrina than Greg. But this whole situation gives me a headache and I would like to find an elegant solution. Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you.
posted by Dr. Wu to Education (63 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
David and Katrina have nothing to lose by giving Greg credit for the work, and yet they aren't. Greg has everything to gain by claiming credit for work he didn't do -- and there's at least some evidence that he didn't do any work, because if he'd done the work, he could have spoken to it in the group presentation. I think you're right to believe David and Katrina and not Greg.

It's likely that David and Katrina also have text messages or chat logs they could show you related to Greg blowing off meetings. Maybe that's too much like 'going to trial' to ask for, but it probably exists because so much communication is electronic now. They should also be able to send the presentation draft that Greg contributed so you can see how far off the mark it was.

Or invite Greg to a meeting and ask him to please explain his research methods, findings, and contributions to the project -- not just 'I did this section' but what was in the section and what it means in the context of the project. If he can't do that, he probably didn't do the work.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:44 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]

Alas (I am a college instructor and avoid group projects for this reason, because even though I know they're good for the students I'm not willing to give myself this heartburn!), there's no elegant solution here (unless you have them using Google Drive or another platform that has a revision history you can track, and I expect that you'd have mentioned that.)

HOWEVER, there is actually a solution that agrees with everyone's assessment of the situation. :) David declines to assign a grade, Katrina suggests a 70 for Greg, and Greg says B/B- for everyone? David and Katrina get an A (or whatever you feel the entire project should get), Greg gets the B- (which isn't that far off from the 70, depending on your grading scale) and everyone moves about their lives.
posted by joycehealy at 11:46 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]

Unfortunately I've been in the same situation last year when I went through a coding bootcamp. I ended up with 3 lame partners in 3 separate 3-person projects. The course is pass-fail, but it's since left a bitter taste in my mouth. I won't go through the details of the project partners. Let's just say one designed something completely off-topic and held the thing up to the day of presentation, leaving me to fix EVERYTHING in 6 hours. The other is paranoid and actually accused me on the Slack channel of trying to sabotage her when all I wanted was to ask her stop wasting time on a frivolous feature that doesn't add to the functionality of the project. The final one ended up doing almost no coding, mainly did the UI and presentation.

With that said, if the project specified that they ALL would receive the same grade, there's really no debate here: rate the project itself, and NOT divide it up among the three students. You know the truth, they know the truth, counsel them in private that unfortunately you CANNOT give "Greg" a separate grade, and life is not fair. You will deal with "Greg" in a different manner.

As for Greg, it seems he's just content to "drift" through your course spending minimal effort cruising. I guess you'll have to give the class an individual project next time, that's NOT graded on a curve. If you want, give him a private "you are one lucky guy your partners stepped up" speech, but I doubt he gives a (bleep).
posted by kschang at 11:46 AM on May 7 [16 favorites]

This exact thing happened to me my first or second year teaching undergrads. I gave them all A's even though I didn't want to give my Greg an A on his final assignment (his overall class grade was still crummy). I then made two changes to the assignment for my future classes: (1) I tell students that usually everyone gets the same grade on a group assignment, but I reserve the right to lower their individual grade on group assignments if necessary; (2) I have every student fill out a feedback matrix a few times during the project about each of their fellow group members so that I can spot this kind of trouble as it's occurring.

I don't know if and how you grade participation, but I will often use participation grades as a way to tinker with their final grade in class if its not appropriate for reasons like this. So you might be able to give Greg a poor overall participation grade because he didn't participate in the group project. That might even things out for the total class grade, if you want to treat your syllabus like a contract.
posted by twelve cent archie at 11:46 AM on May 7 [45 favorites]

- Katrina says that she and David together did 75-80% of the work, with Greg doing 20-25%. She believes that she and David should each receive a grade of ~90 on the project, and that Greg should receive ~70.
25%...isn't that different from 1/3rd?

It is in the very nature of group projects that people may make unequal contributions, and may not even understand how much effort one another's contributions involved. I don't think you should try to disentangle the individual contributions for one particular group unless you do that for every group, and certainly not if you explicitly say, in advance, that groups will all share a grade. D&K could, and should, have come to you earlier if they had strong concerns about what was happening within their group.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:49 AM on May 7 [21 favorites]

Honestly, if you stated up front that all parties would receive the same grade, then it would be unfair to grade Greg separately. And it would also be unfair to give the other two a lower grade. Give them the grade the project as a whole earned, and take it as a lesson for yourself... never assume "good faith" will carry the day, and plan your rules for next time accordingly. Better yet, do away with group projects entirely. Group projects generally kind of suck even when they go well, and they suck mightily when you get stuck with a crappy team member.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:49 AM on May 7 [76 favorites]

[I would add that, should you go my route, you suggest to Katrina and David that they either not discuss their grade with Greg, or that they let him believe everyone got a B-. It all depends on how vested you are to sticking to the "everyone gets the same grade" narrative, versus "I'm a benevolent dictator and can change policy if needed".]
posted by joycehealy at 11:49 AM on May 7

When I first read your question, I wondered why David and Katrina waited until the very end of the project to speak up and, even then, are punting the issue to you to resolve. These are college students here who presumably are participating in group projects as a training ground for collaborative efforts in the workplace.

Perhaps I'm just feeling like a hardass today, but I'd be inclined to say "a contract is a contract", give them all the same grade, and use the experience as a teachable moment for David and Katrina to understand that collaboration and teamwork don't always flow smoothly and that they need to take an active role in resolving differences rather than expecting the boss/instructor to be the parent and impose a settlement.
posted by DrGail at 11:54 AM on May 7 [23 favorites]

I very rarely deal with group projects, so I haven't had to deal with this problem. I do wonder why you are not just grading them as you said they would; is there language in the assignment that says something like "in the event that one student clearly underperforms I will give separate grades"? You made things a little tricky if you didn't give yourself an out in the assigning language; many students do look at that as a contract.

That said, what's actually at stake here makes a difference. If the project was good overall and you (or D&K) just think it's unfair that Greg should get a good grade when he didn't do the work, then I would be inclined to let the current group grade stand. I would probably give Greg less benefit of the doubt on any future assignments.

But if you (or D&K, if they raised this issue with you) have a legitimate concern that they are going to be unduly harmed if they're graded equally, that's different to me. If the quality of the project was poor overall relative to D&K's usual work because of G's poor behavior, then I would make an exception to the policy and grade separately. Likewise--but I'd feel less certain about this--if you grade on a curve and Greg getting an ill-deserved A would harm some other student.
posted by col_pogo at 11:58 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]

My grading rubric for an assignment like this has some baked in discretionary points. So for the Group Project grade, a portion of that grade is the Group Paper and the Group Presentation; all members of the group receive the same grade for those 2 portions. A smaller third portion of the grade is determined individually, and this is where the student that loafed more would loose some points. I ask all students to fill out a survey about how the process of the Group Project went, and estimate the % of effort each member contributed. It’s not perfect/“fair”, but it’s been a good way to make grading this kind of situation more tolerable.

Aim for a “good enough” solution that won’t fry your brain too much :) oh and Happy Grading!
posted by Drosera at 11:59 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]

If you stated up front that everybody would receive the same grade, you should really stick with that.
posted by Perplexity at 11:59 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far. I'm weighing them all carefully!

I realize I forgot to add two key details: Katrina & David did not initially invite Greg into their group. Greg, through a minor clerical error (not his fault), had an initial group that dissolved. Katrina & David welcomed him to their pre-existing group at that point.

I've assigned many group projects in the past, and usually grade them on two criteria: a "group grade," which is the same for all group members; and an "individual grade," which each member earns on their own merits. I didn't do that this time around, for some reason!
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:02 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

This is part of a grade in one college class. Grading is not a zero-sum game, giving Greg a grade one letter grade higher than his classmate thinks he deserves doesn't significantly contribute to injustice in the world. Just give them all the same grade, like you said you would.

(Also, maybe Greg has other stuff going on that made it difficult for him to attend things and/or Katrina and David ignored his schedule. You don't know the full story and it sounds like all of you dislike Greg. Grade like you said you would and rely on other grades in the rest of the course to reflect students' overall performance.)
posted by momus_window at 12:03 PM on May 7 [19 favorites]

I think you created a grading situation which had an inherent 'fairness' flaw.

Group projects are however often about that in the end - if the idea of them is to prepare students for the workplace, well...actually you've created a very good, if hopefully less common, real world analogue here.

Anyways, I'd stick to what you said but agree with the students complaining that the method of grading had this weakness in it and [x steps if you are taking any in the future, no comment if you are comfortable leaving it there.]
posted by warriorqueen at 12:05 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]

This looks like David trying to throw Greg under the bus more than anything--he's the one whose estimate wildly diverges from the other two.

I'd probably do something different if this semester wasn't such a mess for literally every student I've spoken with, but this semester? I'd give the three of them the highest grade I'd give any of them individually, and then change my grading rubric in the future. Any other semester, I'd knock 5 points off of Greg's grade and a couple of points off of David's relative to their in-class performance.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:06 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]

Just give all of them an A. There is no dilemma here. Just because you haven't heard about this happening in 20 years doesn't mean it wasn't occurring in every single team that entire time. This is what all group projects are like and they should be abolished.
posted by bleep at 12:08 PM on May 7 [49 favorites]

I’m shocked that you think this hasn’t come up earlier. This exact scenario almost definitely has, multiple times but students know it’s not worth the effort to do the whole dang thing themselves AND then go through the work of convincing an instructor what parts people did and didn’t do and who deserves what grade when they know everyone is getting the same grade anyway.

In the end, they all get the same grade because that was laid out at the beginning. In the future, think of better ways to assess individual contributions and expectations for resolving group conflict in your syllabus or grading rubric. College students don’t bring up these issues because they think conflict is inherently negative, not realizing that being unable to resolve the conflict is the actual problem
posted by raccoon409 at 12:13 PM on May 7 [25 favorites]

@tchemgrrl -- personally, I think it's K being generous, but those are estimates after all.

My personal opinion is K is the peacemaker of the group and at best G did 1/6th of the work, if not less. K was trying to please everybody and inflated G's numbers at the expense of her own contributions. D was the kind of person who believes life *should* be fair and wanted the Prof's deus ex machina to make things right. Ah, to be that young and naive again...
posted by kschang at 12:14 PM on May 7 [23 favorites]

If you cared about contribution levels you should have had them record and submit contribution metrics. Since you didn't, grade the project, give all of them that grade, and move on.

It is 13 years since I did a final year group project with two crappy students who did nothing and self reported as carrying the project and I still resent them - but I don't remember what grade we got.
posted by bashing rocks together at 12:21 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]

You told the class that everyone would get the same grade. I assume that you would give D &K the grade that the project earned for the quality of work done. (They don't get a better grade because they had a weak partner, right) So, whatever you do has no impact on their actual grade. G gets a bit of a free ride, but not that their cost. You know that the grading isn't completely fair but you have no idea how many other groups also had unequal contributions and didn't complain.
So, that argues that you should keep your word and not punish G because you didn't include an individual component to the grading on this one.

Plus, you don't have the absolute facts and you probably wouldn't want to get into this on the level of determine the actual contribution of each member. So another reason to stay out of it
posted by metahawk at 12:22 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]

It doesn't sound like earning a higher grade than he deserves on this project is going to benefit him overall, so for the sake of consistency, I say give him the same grade. Changing your approach would just hand him the grounds to appeal the grade, at least it would at my instution.

I have encountered the same problem and now use the following policy: If a presentation is worth 100 points of a student's grade, I give the group a grade out of 300 points. Then I tell the students to divide up the points based on the contributions of each member of the group. Typically, the students divide up the points equally and they rarely report a problem with particular student. I guess some students hear "everyone gets the same grade" as a cue to do nothing because they will still do as well as the invested students. On the other hand, the possibility that the rest of the group will award them the zero they deserve inspires them to get involved.
posted by GeorgieYeats at 12:27 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

Another sidebar on group projects: they can really disadvantage returning students. When I returned to grad school as a working mom of an infant, finding time to meet with classmates living typical student lives was really tricky because we were on totally different clocks. I tended to have to pencil schoolwork into my schedule well in advance, and they didn’t always. It’s easy to see how this could lead to someone seeming not to pull their own weight. This might not be Greg’s issue but it would surprise me if something like it had never come up for any of your students. I’m not saying you shouldn’t assign such projects, but you probably should plan in advance for ways that they can suck for your students, and encourage them to come to you if that happens. I get the sense that you’ve never really thought about this type of equity issue before now.
posted by eirias at 12:29 PM on May 7 [16 favorites]

I don't really see a dilemma here. You have to go by your syllabus: give them all the same grade for the project you were presented with. That's the grade. Done.

Separately, you have a subjective evaluation of Greg's participation over the class, where this is a component of it, and you have the latitude to adjust Greg's final grade accordingly, if you explicitly include or grade a participation component in your course grade. Also seems straightforward.

You cannot, as in you are not in a position to, provide reconciliation to the others. That's a part of group projects (as is the implicitly assigned project management). You can adjust your rubric or approach for group projects in the future, if you feel compelled based on this experience. But you have to acknowledge all the various things that group projects entail when you assign them.

When I allow group work, I ask for individual write-ups, and grade accordingly. That way they can be a resource to each other, but get an individual grade.
posted by Dashy at 12:47 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]

Greg says he did 33% and Katrina said she and David each did 37.5 - 40% and is worth dying on that hill? It's not on you to determine if Katrina could be lying to be nice or Greg could be lying to be lazy or David could be lying to be a jerk.

I've been in groups with Gregs, but I've also been in groups with David&Katrinas who form some weird alliance and then put in all of these extra hours to do things that are possibly not required because they are super achievers. Maybe the 4.5% difference between Greg and Katrina was Katrina changing all of the fonts because she hated them.

Grade as you said it was stated in the syllabus, because changing grading rules after the fact isn't a good thing to do and sets a weird precedent.
posted by kimberussell at 12:53 PM on May 7 [18 favorites]

Grade the project. Everyone gets the same grade, per your assignment. That's the deal.

Uneven effort happens in group projects. Too bad it was so uneven in this case without Greg's grade reflecting it, but that's a consequence of the assignment you gave. Just grade it and move on without all the back-and-forth.
posted by MelissaSimon at 1:00 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]

I am inclined to at least listen to Greg's side, because I was in a similar position my sophomore year of college. There was a group project assigned fairly late in the term. The group huddled to determine when to meet, and decided on a weekend when I would be out of town, over my objections. They said they'd email me with what I'd have to do, which never occurred. Because it was so late, by the time I followed up to ask what I would be contributing, there was little time for me to actually do what I needed to do, and so my part was woefully underdone. My groupmates, like your David and Katrina, dutifully reported to our professor that I didn't participate, and when I tried to explain that they chose a meeting time when I was unavailable, the professor told me that I should have notified her sooner, and that I was out of luck.

There are some obvious differences between me and Greg, mostly that I was an avid student (this class was my favorite subject all through elementary and high school), and I did mostly high-quality work. But my point is that there could be reasons why Greg didn't participate as much in the group (including the fact that David, in particular, seems a bit catty and standoffish toward Greg). What sounds like an "excuse for missing meetings" to a gunner who puts academics before anything else might actually be a legitimate scheduling conflict. Greg probably also felt a bit unwelcome in the group, per your update, and this could have affected his participation. I could see how completely rewriting his first draft could make him feel like the other two weren't interested in working with him. He could have done a better job of making his case to you, but I'm disinclined to just take David at his word.

Katrina, for her part, seems a bit more reasonable, and I'd be inclined to listen to her more than either David or Greg. But, as one commenter said:

"25%...isn't that different from 1/3rd"

Flip it around - 75% divided by 2 - and it's even less of a difference. Your expectation obviously wasn't that each group member would contribute exactly 33.33333333333%. Most groups probably broke down somewhere like 38-33-29 or 35-33-32. Is that meaningfully different than 37.5-37.5-25?

Give them all the same, good grade. If Greg really didn't do the work, the good grade won't actually help him if he ever needs to use the skills developed in your class later in life. David will learn a pretty important life lesson about fairness, and Katrina, well, she gets a deserved good grade.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:02 PM on May 7 [12 favorites]

i've been a college student in a group where 2/3 or 3/4 people did the work. the profs always said everyone would get the same grade so everyone should put in equal work (lol). it was obvious to them that equal work was not done and so they asked us students who they knew likely DID the work, to spill the beans and they would give a reflective grade to the slackers. don't do that. don't put it on the students. we did not want to face the wrath of our slacker group members so we just shrugged it off and everyone got a good grade.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:08 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]

I'd look forward, not back. This can't really be about making sure anyone gets a "fair" grade since you bound yourself by saying everyone would get the same grade. As others have said, I'd just avoid group projects in the future. Personally, I always hated them bitterly because I'd invariably wind up like Katrina and Dave. In other words, I agree with Serene Empress and I disagree with DrGail.

As for Greg, there's no reason you can't pull him aside after you hand out grades and tell him that you don't believe he contributed his fair share, and that he only got the grade he did because you kept your word to the class even though he did not honor his obligations to the team. Tell him you won't be handing out grades that way again in the future.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:08 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

I hate to be this vociferous on the internets but I have been David+Katrina in every group project that I had the misfortune to be on. I really need to ask all instructors at every education level from K through college: do you really think you're teaching your students anything via group projects besides how to hate being assigned to group projects? Trust me, you're not. All you're doing is punishing the self-motivated students and promoting those who are willing to advance themselves by letting others do most/all of the work required. Please stop assigning group projects and let each student complete her or his own coursework!
posted by Lynsey at 1:09 PM on May 7 [32 favorites]

They say that Greg did contribute an early version of the Powerpoint, but that it was incomplete and largely off-topic; they had to revise it almost entirely so that it addressed the questions of the prompt.

Here there's a question of effort vs. quality. Maybe Greg really was putting forth his best effort, and just does not have the specific kind of intelligence (or background) needed to do well in this class. And maybe D and K realized this and preferred to do as much of the work as possible themselves. So what are you grading on? Quality? Effort? Teamwork? What's your motivation in assigning group projects in the first place: are students supposed to be teaching each other? Learning from each other? What's supposed to happen when they're not on the same level?

Anyway, agreed with everyone who says that for this round you need to stick by the original terms and give them all the same grade. And everyone who says that group grading sucks. (Frankly, grading by peer assessment sucks too; the different assessments here show how nonobjective the results can be, and how much personal motivations play a part.)
posted by trig at 1:12 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]

Without the drama, would it have been an A project? If so, grade per the syllabus. Greg's getting an unfair boost, but they should have come to you sooner. You can be sympathetic to them even, but point out it's not a zero sum game (Greg's A isn't hurting theirs). But mostly I'd just move on and adjust your rubric for the future.

If Greg's lack of effort brought down their grade (i.e. the last minute scramble didn't bring up their scores), then maybe you offer an extra credit assignment? I don't think you can get away with just offering it to David and Katrina (i.e. it'd have to be the whole class), but maybe there were other groups who had a similar issue but just chose to deal with the grade. Or somebody just had a bad go of it for a bit (maybe Greg even). Point is everyone gets a shot a fixing their mistakes or no one does.
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:19 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the opinions and constructive criticism. Every comment here has been valuable, and it's clear to me now, upon reading them, that I was letting my assessment of each student's honesty get in the way of the grading standards that I laid out in the prompt. As several of you have said, changing the grading standard now is unfair and sets a bad precedent; as well, indeed, this is not a zero-sum game: Katrina's and David's performances in the class are unaffected by Greg's grade on this project.

FWIW, I think that kschang's assessment of the three students:

My personal opinion is K is the peacemaker of the group and at best G did 1/6th of the work, if not less. K was trying to please everybody and inflated G's numbers at the expense of her own contributions. D was the kind of person who believes life *should* be fair and wanted the Prof's deus ex machina to make things right. Ah, to be that young and naive again...

is exactly, 100% correct. I can't and won't use this assessment to assign their grades, but I do think it's spot-on.

When I review and grade all the (many) elements of these projects, I will email these three students to inform them of the nuances of this situation, and how and why I will have stuck to the stated policy that all group members get the same grade. I will own up to this being an error on my part. I will specifically inform Greg that I do not think he did his fair share, but that he will get the same grade, anyway, because it's important for me to stick to my policies. I will urge him how his actions have caused problems for others. I will also inform K & D that they should have come to me sooner.

Incidentally, I had the student in this class propose their own grades for class participation this semester - something I've never done before but wanted to try, on the advice of a colleague who said that, in her experience, students nearly always assess themselves fairly. I just surveyed the students' responses, and the only one, in my opinion, who assessed their grade unfairly highly ... was Greg. He made all kinds of spurious claims to bolster his poor participation. He seems to me a bit of a weasel.

I hear but respectfully disagree with the "all group projects are bad/unfair" parties here. I've seen way, WAY more group projects be "more than the sum of their parts" than I've seen group projects be hindered by problems such as this current one. Perhaps this is partly due to my usually having that "group grade/individual grade" consideration, but I think it's at least partly due to student communicativeness. I always urge students to let me know if they're having problems with their groupmates. When they do, we address it and make any necessary changes. I agree that K & D should have come to me sooner.

Peer assessment, yeah, is a double-edged sword. I've tried that, but have seen vindictiveness get the better of more than a few students.

Perhaps I've just been lucky that most of the group projects I've assigned have come off for most students (so far as I know) with few hitches!
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:20 PM on May 7 [12 favorites]

I must second bleep (and Lynsey) on this: "Just because you haven't heard about this happening in 20 years doesn't mean it wasn't occurring in every single team that entire time. This is what all group projects are like and they should be abolished."

This happened to me on EVERY SINGLE GROUP PROJECT I EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. Middle school, high school, college. There is always one deadbeat who does nothing and everyone else compensates for the deadbeat because they actually want a good grade. I never had an entire group contribute to a project in my life until I started working real jobs. God bless my coworkers for actually pitching in on stuff. All you are learning is compensating for the deadbeat.

This exact scenario almost definitely has, multiple times but students know it’s not worth the effort to do the whole dang thing themselves AND then go through the work of convincing an instructor what parts people did and didn’t do and who deserves what grade when they know everyone is getting the same grade anyway.

Yeah, we all learn not to complain about stuff like this because pointing out that Greg slacked off openly usually at best gets you nowhere with a teacher, or you get a lecture about how Everyone Should Participate and it's Your Fault that Greg flaked, or your grade gets docked because you pointed out that Greg flaked and therefore ALL of you get a bad grade. There was a lot of incentive for me to keep my mouth shut and not be open with any teacher/professor as to what was going on, once I figured out what actually happens when you speak up about group projects. So just because this is the first time in 20 years you've found out this happens doesn't mean it wasn't happening every dang time. Just for the heck of it, try asking people you know who don't teach and maybe aren't your students what their experiences have been with group projects in school, see what stories you get.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on May 7 [34 favorites]

I always urge students to let me know if they're having problems with their groupmates.

This is a huge, unfair burden to shove onto the Katrinas of the world. We're trying to mind our own business and do a great job; we have enough to do with our own work. Why are you making us monitor the Gregs; waste effort trying to babysit and badger and manage the Gregs; and finally get into open conflict with the Gregs and pay the social consequences for that? Why not just abolish these kind of projects, when we're paying to to learn the material and demonstrate mastery of it, not to be Greg's mommy?

The folks in the thread saying giving Greg an A doesn't hurt Katrina and David are wrong. A class that a fool like Greg can ace is simply not as worthwhile to ace as a fairly graded class is. At the very least it's demoralizing: at worst, your class now has the reputation of one that doesn't require much work.

I hear teachers pontificate all the time about how in the real world there's teamwork. Yeah, that's true, but in the real world, SLACKERS FACE CONSEQUENCES. Projects get taken away from people who don't do their work properly; they can be demoted or fired. That's not the same thing as a student environment where everyone who can pay the tuition gets to participate at the same level.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:13 PM on May 7 [36 favorites]

For the future, I recommend building in a weighting to individual marks for high-stakes group projects. The following works reasonably well for the time it takes: have each student fill out what proportion they think each group member contributed, with the condition that they can't assign everyone the same % (eg. in a group with 3 students, students can't say that everyone did 33.3% of the work; in a group with 4 students, they can't say that everyone did 25%, etc.). Groups that actually worked together will also work together on this task, and if someone wasn't pulling their weight, it will show up.

For longer projects, regular and early check-ins and assigning roles are both important and useful strategies (I don't know what discipline you teach, but Jo Boaler (math education specialist at Stanford) has some useful suggestions about roles to help structure group work in math, that seem like they would transfer okay to many other areas).

For the present dilemma, has Greg violated a course or university academic integrity policy here, in passing off work that is not his as his own? (One way to determine this would be to hold an individual oral exam with each of the three students.) If that framework doesn't fit the situation, it sounds like you need to follow your syllabus. In that case, I would tell let the other two students know that you have heard their concerns, explain what you've considered and why your hands are tied in this case, but that you will be changing the way you do group projects in the future. So then they'll at least hopefully feel validated and heard, and thus not have too much of a negative impact on their own learning process.
posted by eviemath at 2:19 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

I will specifically inform Greg that I do not think he did his fair share, but that he will get the same grade, anyway, because it's important for me to stick to my policies. I will urge him how his actions have caused problems for others.

Up to you obviously, but I (a professor) would not do this, especially not this semester. A CDC report last summer found 1 in 4 young adults between 18 and 24 had recently considered suicide. I doubt it's gotten much better. Greg might just be a jerk, or there may be way more going on with him than you know. Have this impact his participation grade, but I think it's inappropriate to give him a lecture because you screwed up your grading policy. Yes, change your group project grading policy for the future, but you don't need to shame Greg by telling him this. He likely already knows he brought the group down.
posted by coffeecat at 2:19 PM on May 7 [29 favorites]

I'm going to preface this by saying I am a college instructor, and I used to wrangle with the same sorts of dilemmas you are facing now. I've been where you're at and the rest of my comment is not meant as criticism; it's just more something to think about for the future.

I think your decision (as per your latest update) to give all the students the same (high) grade is the right one for this situation. You need to follow the grading policy you set at the beginning of the course and make sure the people who did the work get credit for it. Your best solution, and the only fair one, is to give them all the same grade as you said you would--the grade that the end result merits, regardless of who did what.

For the future: I fully agree with the people saying that this situation has in all likelihood played out many times in previous group projects--you just didn't hear about it.

In a school setting, group work for a group grade just sets up so many possible scenarios for inequity. I avoid it for that reason, but I do find other ways for my students to work with others, by having students do ungraded small group projects, usually in class. I know many people think students won't do things unless there's a grade attached to it, but in my experience, most students do participate to the best of their ability.

Greg's getting an unfair boost, but they should have come to you sooner.

I disagree. It's unfair to place that expectation on students. There is an unequal power dynamic between professors and students, and many students find it intimidating to approach their professors about conflict or a negative scenario. I fully believe if a prof assigns a group graded group project, it's their responsibility to plan and monitor for the possibility of this kind of dynamic. And let's be real: how many times have students approached an instructor about this kind of situation (not you specifically, Dr. Wu) and the responsibility just gets placed back on them to "work it out"? Students don't really have a lot of recourse over a classmate who won't (or can't) do their fair share of the work.

Too many times I have heard instructors say, "I don't like it when they come tattling to me. They're going to have to solve this on their own, because that's what it's like in the real world." In answer to that, I'll close with this piece by Alison Green of Ask A Manager. I don't always agree with her, but I liked her explanation of why group projects in school are not the same as in the working world:
Most importantly, at work you have totally different types of accountability. If someone is slacking off and not pulling their weight, you have recourse — you can talk to their boss and there’s the specter of consequences.

Moreover, group projects at work usually don’t have the same sort of redundancies that group projects in school have. In school, everyone working on a project is usually bringing similar skills and background to the project. At work, group projects are often made up of people with very different skill sets, because that’s the point of bringing them together to each handle different parts of the project. As a result, it’s more likely to be clear who should take the lead on what and who has expertise where, and that’s much more efficient than the typical school project.

And at work, there’s typically someone in the group who’s charge of the overall project and who has the power to make decisions and hold people accountable — whereas school group work often relies on consensus.
Good luck with the rest of your marking--this time of semester is stressful for everyone!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:26 PM on May 7 [36 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your informed replies here. They've helped me see this issue with fresh eyes, and with a view toward equity.

Seems like a lot of people here have been burned by poor collaborators. I regret that this thread may have reopened those wounds for you. Thanks for sharing your experiences with these projects. I can promise that I'll take them into consideration for future classes.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:56 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]

You've already reached a resolution, but I want to emphasize two things:
1. Group projects by far were the best preparation for post-college life. And, frankly, on most things you are indeed assessed as one group, regardless of individual contribution. Learning how to identify and respond to that is a key skill. One grade in a class doesn't really matter. Learning how to contend with those who don't pull their share (or go way above and beyond and then are resentful for you just doing reasonable work) is such a key skill.
2. I was really off-put by your framing the question with your assessment of the student's performance outside of the assignment. I suppose it is my pedagogic philosophy coming through, but the quality of the work in this assignment is what it is, and no one should get special treatment - nor a higher bar - because of your other impressions of them, unless that escalation is an explicit part of the class.
posted by meinvt at 2:58 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]

So, its grading season, and like you I am sitting here with a mountain of assignments to grade. Per university policy they are all group projects, but we can choose to include elements that facilitate individual grades.

First of all. We are still in the middle of the pandemic. I have never met the students I teach this semester and many of them have not met each other. I have learnt some things about online teaching in the past year, but one of the things I have not solved is individual grading within group projects. I thought I had an idea, and it hasn't worked. It only led to me having more unpaid work and more frustrated students.

What I usually do is have them hand in a physical logbook of the semester's work. You would be surprised at how easy it is to evaluate how much someone has contributed based on the logbooks and how that is consistent with the students' own perception.
I also assign individual tasks within the group work, but it is a pain online, because the students are not all good at uploading results even when they are good, and the evaluation takes far more time that I have, so now I limit it.

Connected to the logbooks is the fact that I ask them to make handwritten notes from all lectures and group meetings, which is based on science. It is well documented that handwritten notes enhance learning. You don't have to read all the notes in detail, you can immediately see wether they are relevant or not, just leafing through.

An element of all of my courses is project management, and I calculate the balance of project results against available hours (how many group members). So a group of four students will be evaluated differently than a group of three.
A couple of years ago, I had one group member fail, while the remaining two were given an A. My boss supported this and rejected the inevitable complaint on the basis of the failed student's incomplete logbook and individual task.

During corona, my usual strategies have not worked, and I have discussed this issue with several students who are frustrated by their non-contributing group members. I have told them that in this situation, I choose to weigh towards the positive, because at the end of the day it is more fair to all. We have no idea why some are contributing less. Mostly, they accept this.
posted by mumimor at 3:09 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: 2. I was really off-put by your framing the question with your assessment of the student's performance outside of the assignment. I suppose it is my pedagogic philosophy coming through, but the quality of the work in this assignment is what it is, and no one should get special treatment - nor a higher bar - because of your other impressions of them, unless that escalation is an explicit part of the class.

Yes, I agree with you - I realized that I had made an error in that department, and admitted that much, above.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:10 PM on May 7

Obviously late to the party, but my two cents: If a teacher truly believes that school group projects are good preparation for the real world, then the lesson should include explicit instruction on how to resolve these type of group interpersonal problems. Expecting students to "just figure it out" inevitably leads to the sub-par solutions being complained about in this thread.

Thank you Dr. Wu for taking the time to consider everyone's feedback here.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 3:24 PM on May 7 [16 favorites]

Group projects by far were the best preparation for post-college life..

People always say this, but in my experience it is not true at all. Maybe in some industries, but very rarely in actual jobs are several employees assigned one task, allowed to split it up themselves with zero oversight or task tracking or anything, and then have their performance feedback only take into account the group, rather than individually. I have never experienced *anything* like university groupwork in real life. And yes, I was the person carrying groups a lot of the time, and group projects with no peer feedback to contribute to grading were bullshit. They were just a way for poor students to get their grade average up on other people's backs.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:56 PM on May 7 [15 favorites]

Essentially, in a real job, if it's the day before the deadline and Greg hasn't done Foo, you go to your manager and say "hey, I've done Barr for the report but Greg still doesn't seem to have finished foo and I'm concerned about meeting our deadline?" And then it's not entirely your problem any more.

If Greg still hasn't done Foo the day before a uni project deadline and you go to the professor, dollars to donuts they'll say "you should have come to me about this sooner" (like you should just know in advance that Greg was all talk!) and then I guess you have to do Foo overnight or accept a poor grade. And some kids are on scholarships where that grade *does* matter.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:10 PM on May 7 [10 favorites]

One last comment, sorry - from a teachers perspective, I'm sure every group project I've been in went well. They didn't see that I had to write two sections and re-write one, instead of the one that would have been my fair share. From my perspective, every group project I've been in has been a big, frustrating waste of my time. I would seriously reconsider whether you're just not seeing the issues with group projects, rather than them mostly going well.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:20 PM on May 7 [11 favorites]

I'm way too late to this party, but I think that you chose the right solution! I also have a few thoughts about how to maximize benefits/minimize harms of groupwork, which I've learned through experience tinkering with my courses:

-I spend about an hour talking to the students about how to be a good group/team member at the start of the course. This includes things like good communication and setting/meeting internal deadlines, but also perspective-taking: not everyone thinks about grades the same way you do, some people have a lot riding on their grades, some people have kids at home, work tons of hours, are going through a personal health crisis, etc. Basically, the message is to always try and treat your other group members with kindness and respect and remember that although you're all in the same class, you may be in very different life situations otherwise.

-Even though the meat of the course I'm talking about is entirely groupwork (for good reasons), most of the output is not: all major assignments are individually written and graded. Only one small assignment and their final presentation (which is only worth 10% and are graded quite generously, because the presentations are sort of a celebration of their work throughout the term) are actually assigned a group mark.

-A small percentage of their mark is based on self/peer assessment of how well they did as a group member (things like "contributed fairly, met my group's deadlines, both shared my ideas and gave others space to share theirs"). They have to leave comments to explain why they gave the marks they did. This gives people the chance to self-reflect, share frustrations if needed, etc. Lots of students in groups that worked well together just give all their group members 10/10, but it's a very small percentage of their grade so it's mostly a psychological impact (from a justice pov if a group had some issues), but does impact their grades slightly.

I have put a ton of thought into how to best deal with group work; maybe something there is helpful going forward!
posted by DTMFA at 4:49 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]

I have in fact seen the equivalent of group projects in the workplace! It is that thing called “service” in academia. It is widely viewed as inequitable and a waste of time.
posted by eirias at 4:59 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]

When I was teaching, my pedagogy greatly improved when I stopped connecting character and academic performance. It is easy to assume that a student is not doing the work because the student is lazy or apathetic or something along those lines. But that assumption is often wrong---and it places responsibility on the student to shape up rather than on the teacher to provide more scaffolding and support.

In this situation, you mention that Greg frequently went off topic and it seems like he often did not understand what you were asking him to do. How might you have clarified that? What can you do in the future to help students break down an assignment?

Think about the group project from Greg's point of view: he spent time doing his part and the other members excluded his contribution because it wasn't good enough. Why would he continue to try to participate in the group?

Group projects fail because people have different levels of mastery over the material and those with superior mastery want to do the work to get a grade that reflects that. I mean, Greg might have been happy with a B and a B might reflect his current understanding of the material. But the others sound like they wanted an A. If Greg can only contribute B-level work, of course the others are going to take over and exclude them so they get an A. Do you expect those getting a B to suddenly be able to produce A level work because they are surrounded by greatness? Do you expect those producing A-level work to take time to teach the Gregs and help the Gregs contribute?
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 5:04 PM on May 7 [25 favorites]

The world is full of group projects where you have very little formal guardrails or recourse, like most versions of volunteering or activism or hobby activities. And even at work, often the formal remedies are unavailable, such as when you're competing with a peer manager for budget or depending on a collaboration with a resource who barely even reports into the same chain. Or maybe you are just stuck in close collaboration with a known, entrenched non performer on a project, *because* your boss is threatened by you and is hoping that your failure on the project will erase some of your shine (This situation consumed a chunk of my work life in 2019). And often the formal methods are of last resort-you shouldn't go running to your boss about co-worker problems regularly, in my experience. Bosses like it when you solve your own problems.

Anyway, in my opinion, the better that you are at navigating group dynamics in an informal way, the faster you will rise in most any organization--Ask A Manager is a great resource, but imo most of her advice is aimed at lower level employees in well defined roles. Group projects in school are a great way to develop some of these skills with very low stakes, and OP, I'm glad that you continue to put a focus on that kind of learning.
posted by Kwine at 6:46 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

put in all of these extra hours to do things that are possibly not required because they are super achievers

This perception is why I strongly encourage individual grading on group projects, according to effort, and contract grading if possible.

I am the Katrina here. It has been very important to me to receive an A in each and every class; this is because I have been a poor student competing for scholarships. I always “extra achieve” on assignments because I want to be sure that if I fail in my expectations, it will still be an A project.

Not everyone wants to be an A student. Maybe they just want their degree, and they have other things going on in their life they prioritize. That’s fine. But what is a bad idea is yoking C students to A students and promising they will both get the same grade. It usually winds up with a B project, which is actual harm to the student striving for top grades on their effort.
posted by corb at 6:59 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]

This is obviously a hot button issue. I add my small perspective. I got my grad degree at night while working/trading full time. One quarter I had 4 classes, a different one on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All had group projects. I had to schedule with each group in mind 4 meetings every weekend. It was a logistical nightmare. Getting the projects divided up and then meeting to combine our efforts into one cohesive submission was difficult. Also, these were not math or science classes where there was a right and wrong answer.

Often there were disagreements with what was the best answer. Sometimes those disparities would only show up at the end when we were putting them together. There were times when I, or anyone in the group, did a whole lot of work, but the final product was edited for consistency which cut out most of the work I did. We still all got the same grade.

Also, bc of life, there were projects where we all put our name on it, but one or two people did most of the work on that project and the other two did it on the next project. The teacher knew by the writing style. Our argument was that we all could demonstrate our knowledge of the subject on the final test and we actually proved that we could work well as a group or team. If one of the points was to learn group work, we thrived as a team.

Finally, there was one project in an options class where I just did the entire project. I was somewhat of an expert on the topic and I was able to do it on my time without having to do the unproductive meetings on the weekend. I had no problem handing it in with all three names. We were a team. Even though I did it all, they trusted me enough to risk their grade on my efforts. That is what makes a good team, trust.

Either you are a team or a collection of individuals. You stand as a team or fail to be a team. When the Yankees win the World Series, but if Aaron Judge strikes out 10 times in a row during the series, he still gets a championship ring.

They should all get the same grade without hesitation or reluctance. Frankly, that two of them were so willing to sell the other down the road when their grade was not affected, is bothersome.
posted by AugustWest at 8:50 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]

Others have had good advice about this from the fairness & instructor’s perspective.
From the students’ perspective, my guess is that David and Katrina’s biggest concern is their own grade, meaning their worry is that the overall group grade will be lower than what it would have been otherwise because of Greg’s poor performance in the final presentation. They may be annoyed that Greg will end up getting a higher grade than he deserves, but still happy if they get the A that they both feel they deserve, so your proposed solution is a good one.

Edited to add: corb beat me to it :)
posted by sleepingwithcats at 9:10 PM on May 7

For those commenting about group projects in their work life, but also as additional advice for future pedagogy: the reason my university has a group work policy is that the majority of the students will come out to jobs where they must work in groups. Normally, like DTMFA, I spend time in the beginning of the semester explaining this to the students. This year, I forgot that. But I did not forget to include project management in the syllabus. And I ask them to hand in their project management plans as a mid-term assignment. In a normal, physical class, we will then look at that together during every group tutorial, and see if the group is up to speed and if possible, solve all problems by talking openly about them. This has been very difficult during lockdown. Frank discussions are not the same on zoom as irl. Because of that, I tend to be a bit more generous than usual while grading.
posted by mumimor at 9:55 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

I offer, in case it's helpful for the future, the rough rubric from the group work* on the masters degree I am completing.

The expectation was that all participants in the group would make an equal participation to the work. For peer marking, group participants could choose to either declare that the contribution was equal with each person taking responsibility for the completion of the whole as well as their individual elements; or they could choose to apportion the work between group members on a percentage basis with a rationale. The course tutor could overturn the peer marking if they deemed it unreflective of actual contributions.

Obviously each group I was in chose to declare that we had made an equal contribution - but that was as true as it reasonably could be as there weren't any slackers in any of them. Really, I thought it was the note that the peer marking contribution could be amended if necessary that might be useful.

(*The grade for each of 4 modules was assessed entirely on the completion of a single group project or assessment for that module, because single final assessment is how we roll over here. The group work was not painful exactly, but I am very grateful work is nothing like it and that I've completed the final piece and never have to do it again.)
posted by plonkee at 1:51 AM on May 8

With all respect to Alison Green from whom I have learned a lot: it's quite possible to make group projects more like work projects, and I recommend doing so. In my experience, it doesn't take much more than lightweight project-management scaffolding and (announced in the syllabus) 360 evals at the end. For some courses, too, I do more work breaking down the project into discrete tasks, rather than assuming students can do so effectively.

My favorite project-management scaffold for group projects is this formulation of a Team Compact. I like it because it puts un-workplace-like ground rules on the table directly: communication modalities, time and availability differences, what everyone hopes to put into and get out of this, and so on. (Like, in a workplace everybody gets that everybody's in this for a paycheck? With group projects, that question needs to be discussed explicitly.)

I also request that each group choose a project manager, who has authority to assign work and resolve differences, and that person be the person who communicates directly with me if needed. This cuts down on my email inbox (a LOT), introduces the idea that structurelessness is suboptimal (hi Joreen), and gives just enough structure that it's rare that a disagreement needs to come to me. (Life Happens situations do come to me, but with a bit of structure behind them, students come to their PM and/or me much sooner and I can work things out with the PM no problem.)

360 evals: briefly explain each person's contribution to the project (including your own), and give each person a score out of five. The sneaky thing here is that it quietly teaches students to look for and value others' contributions. I frankly ignore the ratings most of the time -- so many students are so much harder on themselves than they need to be! I'm just looking for Gregs whose grades need docking. There haven't been many.

I tell my students "if the process works, you'll be astonished at how much more you like the people," and that does seem to be the case. A fair few 360s gush about how this is the smoothest and most enjoyable group project the student has ever done.

Effective group work isn't innate; it's taught and learned and structured. I wish I'd learned this sooner myself!
posted by humbug at 6:44 AM on May 8 [15 favorites]

Very late but agree with sticking with the published rubric.

This may be an extreme example but it's why so many people hate school group projects. I'm sort of amazed that a professor (likely more of a Katrina/David) hasn't experienced this. But then again, there would be way fewer group projects if the people assigning them had run into this very common problem. Seems like another example of survivor's bias.

It is unfair to add even more work to the conscientious by making them responsible for fixing the problem by narcing to the professor. You're just harming those who are already hurt by the situation even more!

Group projects are a microcosm of societal inequities and biases and are fundamentally unfair. As often assigned, they don't even provide a model for a positive real world work environment. But I guess it would be naive to think that schools would be better than a job in this case.
posted by jclarkin at 7:40 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]

by the way, in the real world, people get PAID to manage the Gregs. Literally their job description says it is their responsibility and they are compensated and titled in accordance with that responsibility.

There is no equivalent in a student work group. By the way, the folks telling you this aren't "traumatized"; we are professionals who work in the real world, and we're telling you something - what it is like to be a Katrina in school, how common the situation is, and how unfair, and what a waste of time and energy it is - which you, stating that you haven't seen this problem before, seem not to realize.

I'm not saying that to attack you: I'm glad you're seeking the feedback and it's more than a lot of teachers do. It's just the truth; and every teacher reading this - ESPECIALLY those who have been in academia a long time and not in office work - should know it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:04 AM on May 8 [6 favorites]

And let's be real: how many times have students approached an instructor about this kind of situation (not you specifically, Dr. Wu) and the responsibility just gets placed back on them to "work it out"?

This happened enough times to me and my classmates in high school that I did not even consider "bring it up with a professor" a viable option once I got to college. The teachers usually said, "if you have problems, bring it up with me" which I assume they had read from some syllabus, because they sure as hell didn't actually want to deal with problems.

I was shocked when I joined the workplace and started working on team projects. My workplace is dysfunctional as hell in many ways, but managers actually cared whether someone wasn't pulling their own weight, and there were consequences when they didn't.
posted by creepygirl at 11:50 AM on May 8 [6 favorites]

I hear teachers pontificate all the time about how in the real world there's teamwork. Yeah, that's true, but in the real world, SLACKERS FACE CONSEQUENCES.

Umm... about that. In the long term, sure, but over the course of a single project you need to use your leading, inspiring, cajoling, shaming, and every accountability skill in the book to keep the project from failing. You have to use your communication skills to let the slacker know unambiguously what's asked of them, and the manager (professor) know what's going on in real time and the efforts you're taking to fix it. You can't let the project fail just because someone should get the consequences they deserve.

That's one of the lessons of a group project, and yeah, everyone hates them because they don't have those skills yet. Everything sucks when you don't know how to deal with it.

Dr. Wu, I like your idea of having an individual "presentation" grade, in addition to the total objective quality grade. Someone who didn't contribute much is going to look like an ass if they have to present their fair share, then stand up to questioning about it. Sounds like that's exactly what happened to "Greg", but this time your grading standard didn't account for that. I might even also put in an individual "teamwork" grade that's nearly always 100%, but goes down during the project if you start getting timely complaints about people not following through on their reasonable commitments, and you can verify that.

This time, though, just give all 3 the grade K and D deserved. It's not going to help G much, and you can invite K and D and G separately to office hours to discuss how they should have handled that situation. You can also explain that in the real world, reputation matters a lot and G has just (simulated) shot himself in the foot, while they have increased their own status. No school grade can capture that, but it's something they should be aware of. They'll be better people for it.
posted by ctmf at 2:16 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]

[favoriting humbug's comment several times]
posted by ctmf at 2:26 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]

Dr. Wu, if you are actually teaching all the communication and interpersonal/project management skills students need to navigate group work effectively, then by all means I think it could work really well. My comments were more about the majority of courses where professors do not do any of this scaffolding (laid out beautifully in humbug's comment) yet expect students to somehow magically know how to do it.

I think professors either need to spend the time to teach these skills and explicitly assess for them (in which case, great!) or admit that they aren't doing enough to set their students up for success, because they expect them to just know how to work effectively together as a team. Alison Green/Ask A Manager wasn't saying that good school groupwork situations are impossible, just that most of the time, that's not how they're set up and that's not what most students experience.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:57 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]

My workplace is dysfunctional as hell in many ways, but managers actually cared whether someone wasn't pulling their own weight, and there were consequences when they didn't.

over the course of a single project you need to use your leading, inspiring, cajoling, shaming, and every accountability skill in the book to keep the project from failing. You have to use your communication skills to let the slacker know unambiguously what's asked of them, and the manager (professor) know what's going on in real time and the efforts you're taking to fix it.

(1) Any average random student has no leverage, control, what have you over the Gregs of the world. If Greg doesn't give a shit about the project, you can't crack a whip on Greg. If Greg doesn't care about his grades and everyone else cares, that's usually what happens. If Greg is going to get a good grade because everyone else once again has to do all the work without Greg's "assistance," there's even less motivation for Greg to give a shit. Greg is not going to actually get harmed in any way Greg cares about here.

2. Work is entirely different because it's a paycheck/your life support. If Greg fucking flakes, Greg gets some writeups, maybe a PIP, maybe fired, maybe the boss subs Susan in for Greg and Susan gets stuff done. Greg may actually face some consequences that may affect him if Greg flakes at work.

The only group project equivalent I've ever heard of happening at a job is when my friend worked in the tech industry ('nuff said, eh? And it was one of The Big Companies, too) and she had some coworker decide to flake and bail on a presentation something like an hour before it was due because, and I quote, "I have high blood pressure." As far as I know, the flaky coworker got away with that, industry.

3. Asking someone ages 12-22 or so to have "leading, inspiring, cajoling, shaming, and every accountability skill in the book" and "communication skills to let the slacker know what's asked of them" (were they not in class?), is frankly, a hell of a lot. This is peers, not teacher/student. Your average young adult shouldn't have to put on a bleeping giant show and have better everything skills than full grown adults to try to cajole Greg into doing the work.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:51 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]

"leading, inspiring, cajoling, shaming, and every accountability skill in the book" and "communication skills to let the slacker know what's asked of them" (were they not in class?), is frankly, a hell of a lot

Plus, just as a practical matter, doing all that can take up too much time to be a viable option for everyone. I know on the last group project I did, I could have put more effort into trying to get the other person's work up to par and their contribution to equal mine. But I had far too much going on, and literally not enough time to chase after someone else or teach them things they should have learned in middle school (or which, maybe, the professor should have taught them). So I just did it myself, because that was the only viable option I could see. And I wouldn't have felt justified in complaining to the professor about it, because it's not the other person's fault they weren't coming in with skills at a high enough level to even understand what the problem was. It still sucked, though.

Also, a lot of students will have to keep coexisting, interacting, and sometimes living together long after the class is over, and so they can have personal or social considerations for not putting pressure on their groupmates that don't usually apply in the workforce.

Group projects can have a lot of value, but, as many people here have said, they have to be designed and executed with real care. And teachers/professors need to keep in mind that while students learning from each other and teaching each other can be great, students having to somehow teach remedial skills to clueless groupmates in a short amount of time on top of all their other responsibilities is not a good scenario, and there's an element there of teachers offloading their own responsibilities onto others.
posted by trig at 4:05 AM on May 9 [7 favorites]

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