Smith: Group work great for character

Smith argues that group projects aren’t going away, so students should learn to maximize their experiences.

Jessica Smith

Jessica SmithFor college students nationwide, two words in the English language have the weight to make or break an entire semester. They can strike either fear or joy in the hearts of youth. I speak, of course, about group projects.

Since the dawn of time, professors have found it necessary to include the infamous group project in their syllabi. In response, students have soared to victory or crumpled in defeat. There is no middle ground where group projects are concerned and that reason alone contributes much to their notoriety.

I recently stumbled upon an Internet meme that compared group projects to “The Hangover.” The character descriptions were simple: one member is totally incompetent, one leaves the work to other people, one does everything and then goes crazy and one disappears until the very end.

Judging by your initial reaction to the first paragraph, you have probably affiliated yourself accordingly. Does just the thought of another group project send you into crippling panic? Did you perk up a bit at the memory of an easy grade? Are you patiently reading and waiting for a point to be made because you’re so indifferent about the idea in general?

As a self-pronounced Phil/Bradley Cooper, I can attest for the admitted apathy. There’s no point in stressing over one group assignment when I’m already cruising my way toward an A on my own, right? But it’s that belief that creates most of the trouble. Due to some utopian experiences with group projects in high school, we’re jaded. We assume that the two index cards about Guatemala we had to memorize for a 10th grade presentation amounts to the severity we’ll tackle at Temple.

“In high school, all my projects were group projects,” said Niti Shah, a freshman pre-pharmacy major. “I preferred group projects to working alone — I was usually just the data collector.”

However, there is much more at stake at the collegiate level. Professors expect an intense amount of effort from every student involved. This is usually enforced with personal grades built into group project grades — each individual in the group might be responsible for their own essay on top of the collaborative manifestation or a detailed outline depicting their handiwork. While this sounds like it benefits the hard workers, it doesn’t. The slackers may be punished for their relaxed attitude, but it doesn’t mean they’ll definitely contribute to the group grade. The whole point of dividing work equally is usually lost on college students.

“Before this year, I would have said I loved working in group projects,” said Shiva Augustin, a senior entrepreneurship and mathematics major. “Now, I take three business courses and have a group project for each one. This is the first time I’m experiencing having group members who don’t do their part so everything is 10 times harder for me.”

Even those who strive to put their best foot forward can be burned by the group grade. No matter how stellar your own writing or expansive your knowledge, you can’t be responsible for the thought process or capabilities of everyone. Some people may try their hardest, but still falter with their own input. Where does that leave the group leaders? Are they supposed to assume the responsibility of more work and stress to get the grade? Or should they sacrifice quality by letting their weak members fend for themselves? This reveals the group project double-edged sword.

The motivation for professors assigning group projects is not to punish us in cruel and unusual ways — though that’s probably a factor — but instead teach us the value of teamwork and decision making.

“Professors make you work in group projects because that’s how the real world is,” Augustin said. “You don’t do it alone. You need someone to help.”

In terrible times of group project woe, keep in mind that it’s building character for the future. If you’re a slacker, try seeing what it’s like to be in charge for a change. If you’re stuck with too much work, ask for help and you might be surprised at the freedom it grants you. If all else fails, just hope that member who hasn’t shown up for a meeting yet is locked somewhere on a roof.

Jessica Smith can be reached at

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