Group work?

Joseph Caddick rants about his hatred of group work.

Joseph Caddick
2nd March 2020
Group Work. Those two words are dreaded by any student in any university across the country. It's scary enough doing essays for yourself, but when other people are relying on you it's a completely different type of nightmare.

One reason there’s so much trouble with group work is that people have different approaches to working. Some people like having work done ASAP, others prefer tackling the stress closer to the deadline so it’s one quick burst. Similarly, some people aim for 100 on every assignment, some will settle for 65 on tougher ones, and others just want to pass. These differences in mentality inevitably result in tension, it’s happened countless times before and it’ll happen countless times again.
Advocates of group work will say it helps you “get to know people on your course better”, and here’s my response to that; if you're constantly clashing with someone over your different approaches, how are you supposed to “get to know” anyone? It’s not a social exercise, and shouldn’t count towards our grades if it’s meant to be. Maybe (and only maybe) it's okay in first year when you just need 40 to pass and you can meet new people, but anywhere after that it's the blemish on many students’ academic records. If you think icebreakers are awkward and unbearable, group work makes them look like a 5-star holiday in the Bahamas.

There is no real advantage to group work

Another concern is the randomness of the groups. If you get five people who you work well with and/or can choose your group, you're far more likely to get a high grade than with two people you work well with and two you don't. From my experience though, you have to work with people inside your seminar group, so there’s an immediate limitation on who you’re able to work with. Likewise, some modules have students from different points in their academic journeys, be they third years or postgrads on a second-year module. That’s another immediate problem, as they’re perhaps more familiar with certain software that is necessary, for example. What group you end up in is ultimately up to chance, and that limits the usefulness of group work as a form of assessment. When we're paying £9250 a year in tuition fees, we shouldn't be getting a lucky dip of people to work with like we’ve bought a pack of Pokémon cards, we should be getting an education experience that doesn't make us want to rip our hair out.
Students on my course have even discussed avoiding modules that use group work for assessments. In a survey I sent out, over 90% of students said they would want to avoid group work in the future. It's an anchor that's weighed us down this semester, in both marks and morale. It's an ancient relic of a format that brings nothing but misery to the hard-working people on our course, and undoubtedly many others.
For the sake of student wellbeing, I’d say we need a serious reworking of how group work is handled by universities. It's cumbersome, stressful, and often results in marks that cause further stress and upset. There’s no real advantages to group work when compared to any other type of assessment. If it's not abolished, it needs modernising, and fast, before any other students have to endure the pain of group work.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

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