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Group Work: The Bane of College Assignments

By Reneé Medina

Students working together. (Screenshot via Reneé Medina)

For many students, the most dreadful assignment of all is being paired to work with flaky classmates.

College students love to do their own thing. But, when they are thrown into a group with unfamiliar faces, there is less of an incentive to participate. No amount of ice breakers will change how it feels to rely on others for a grade.

“It is on a professor to provide mechanisms or strategies so that students will learn more about who they are in a group setting, increase their skills, and self-reflect about what works and what doesn’t,” said Maria Guralnik, an arts management professor and department chair of the program.

When it comes to group work, Guralnik said it’s all about structure.

“If we structure meaningfully, group work on campuses and in communities begin to break down barriers,” she said.

Some of these barriers include the awkwardness and anxiousness that come with having to collaborate with unacquainted students. She also said that these barriers can be driven by the fact that students get caught up always doing their own thing.

But, Guralnik said that group work is meant to empower students to take ownership collectively and hone in on their strengths.

“Frankly, two heads can be better than one,” she said. “[But] it’s not enough to have one role. People will start using the word ‘I’ Instead of ‘our team’ when completing assignments.”

Guralnik understands that group work is not suitable for every student, so she works with those who are just not fit to work in groups. Generally, she is in favor of students picking their own groups though she usually does some matchmaking early on. Guralnik also tends to favor groups of around two to five students, and she will look into downsizing a group to two to three members to accommodate those with difficulties working collaboratively.

She said, “What we don’t want is to force something. I think what we do when we get into the idea of collaborative work is to set the stage, prepare students to succeed, and then give them an option.”

Additionally, in Guralnik’s class, students in groups give assessments of each other which lets her know which students are contributing.

“Each member has to self-reflect and peer review in an anonymous way,” she said. “It does push students to be very honest about themselves and about their peers.”

Despite strategizing, sometimes groups can still fall through.

“I will have 8-10 groups every semester and there are always two that fall apart on me at the last minute even when we have the best strategies,” she said.

“One student didn’t really seem to have presence of mind in class or in our group work sessions,” said 21-year-old liberal studies major Emma Listokin. “It was really frustrating because I knew that we were being graded as a group. I really put my best foot forward with my end of the project.”

Listokin said she did not want to be penalized for her group mate’s lack of effort. Though after explaining her situation to the professor, her project was graded individually.

“It’s frustrating to have to work with someone else,” she said.

She said that it creates tension and prefers when professors pair students up randomly despite having difficulties working with assigned students.

Listokin said that group work also creates stress for her.

“Not only will you experience the stress of the project itself, you will also have to carry the stress that the group brings on, (such as an uncooperative student.)” She prefers that students get graded individually, seeing that it is not fair to those who “carry” the group.

“At this level of education, it is such a waste of time,” said 20-year-old Andrew Mako. “I pay thousands of dollars just to rely on other people for my grade.”

The journalism major said that he does not like group work and has not found it to be particularly trouble-free.

“I do find myself in classes in which I have to partake in group work and it's always a hit or miss and mostly a miss,” he said. As an alternative, he suggests that professors grade members of a group individually as well.

According to a poll taken by this reporter on the Purchase Open Forum, group work is very much disliked by some Purchase students.

Screenshot of poll taken by Reneé Medina on the Open Forum (Screenshot Via Reneé Medina)

Out of 126 students who participated, 57% do not like group work in comparison with only 5% of students who do, leaving 38% of voters feeling neutral about it.

Comment posted by a student on the group work poll (screenshot by Reneé Medina)

Mako said, “I definitely prefer working alone. I can't make other students do their work. My job is to make sure I am doing my work that needs to be done, not to make sure others are doing it.”

Despite his views, Mako said that he has no difficulty working in a group if every member is dedicated, present, and willing to put in equal time and effort.

Comment by a student on the group work poll (screenshot by Reneé Medina)

Other students who commented on the poll seemed to agree.

“I work two jobs,” said Mako. “Meeting with group members is sometimes just not possible, and it's even more difficult when you do the most to meet with them, but they don't.”

Unlike Listokin, Mako feels that approaching the professor about inactive group members serves no justice. “I have never found success in telling the professor's just unnecessary drama. It is what it is.”



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