Group projects

Group projects have undesirable characteristics, and most students tend to focus on these disadvantages. However, we believe that the merits of group projects often overshadow the costs.

We believe that maximum educational benefit is experienced by groups characterized by considerable heterogeneity and individuals who can set aside differences in values in the pursuit of professional accomplishment. Thus, one goal of group projects is to cultivate skills in working productively with a variety of people. Therefore, you should consider forming a group that reflects variety in educational background, gender, and personal values. We hope that students will appreciate and value the diversity of ideas they encounter in a group setting, and will realize that good professionals can work productively even if they do not like their co-workers on a personal level.

One common concern regarding group projects is the prevalance of 'free riders' (students who do not carry their fair share of the work load). The existence of free riders usually increases the amount of work done by conscientious members of the group relative to groups with no free riders. However, the existence of free riders should not affect the grade received by the group. One or a few students may need to put in extra time to make the project satisfactory to them, but their grade should not suffer merely because they have to tolerate free riders.

A common perception among students is that the writing associated with written group projects must be divided amongst group members, leading to development of a "cut and paste" document. There are many ways to tackle the problem of writing a group report, but merely splitting the writing into small tasks is rarely a good approach. Rather, groups should discuss the elements that each member would like included in the report, after which the actual write-up becomes a pedestrian exercise which can be completed by one or two people in a few minutes. Shortly thereafter, the group can discuss the ideas and specific language in the report. This discussion should lead to revisions or further development of ideas, which will lead to another short session of writing. The time spent writing should be minimal compared to the time spent in thoughtful, creative discussions.

For further information on characteristics of good teams, click here.