July 1, 2008
Why Students Hate Groups
More people are writing comments on the blog! Yes! Thanks! And some of the comments are really excellent. They include references to other sources and links! I more optimistic about this being the kind of exchange from which we can all learn and grow.
Did you see the student rant about group work? It was posted in response to the March 18 blog entry on cohort groups. Having students reading the blog will keep us honest! Many students hate group work. Why? I think there are three reasons. First, some students (like most faculty) aren’t very good groupies. They don’t learn well in social contexts. I belong to that group.
Despite having a Ph.D. that emphasized small-group dynamics and being endlessly fascinated by how groups operate, given the choice, I will always pick to work alone. At this ripe old age, I have learned that groups can help, especially when you’re stuck. But for some students, groups do not provide the best or easiest context for learning, although all students need experience working in groups because teamwork pervades the professions now.
Second, students hate group work because faculty design it poorly. The grade is a group grade—everybody gets the same grade. There’s no individual accountability. So, if a student lets the group down, the rest of the group takes up the slack or suffers the consequences. Generally students take up the slack, but doing so engenders lots of hostility toward the process. The tasks lend themselves to the divide and conquer approach. Students can divide the tasks into equal portions. Theoretically everybody does their portion, so students work alone and the group never gels or becomes a community to which members feel any responsibility. They all submit their finished products to one person who puts it together, only not everybody delivers work of the same quality and some don’t deliver at all or in a timely fashion.
Finally, students hate groups because groups make them feel vulnerable individually. They don’t understand that collectively they have power. They can “pressure” members to perform. But in order to do so, they need a rudimentary understanding of small-group dynamics. They need to know about norms, how they are formed and what they should do when a member does not conform (like misses a meeting or shows up unprepared). They must understand that groups need members to fill different roles, including the leadership role. Students (and faculty) aren’t born knowing how to function in a group. It’s one of those skills students should learn in college, and it’s one of those skills learned best if it’s taught explicitly.