How to Deal with Group Projects
All morning my sister has been complaining about a group project. It's due tomorrow and she just found out two of her assigned group members haven't done their parts. Now she has the option of working all day and all night trying to get the project done for tomorrow, or explaining to the teacher why it is incomplete and hoping he'll have sympathy.
In theory, group projects should be very successful because they combine the talents, resources, and ideas of many people. But most of us know that this rarely happens. Sometimes, the group members fight about what they want to do so much that they never get anything done. Other times, there are people who aren't willing to do their share of the work, and don't contribute anything.
My sister's situation reminds me of a time in middle school when the same thing happened to me. My best friend and I had worked really hard on our part of a history project, and we were planning on meeting with the rest of our group in the morning to put it together the day it was due. But our group members hadn't done anything, and we panicked because we wanted a good grade. We skipped class work on it, and had managed to make the project decent before history class. But apparently, the deans found that even doing homework is not a good reason to skip class, so we failed the project anyway. I learned that I should have held my group members accountable for their part before the morning that it was due, and that I had other options for finishing the project, like asking the teacher for an extension or explaining to her the situation, other than skipping class. So I advised my sister to not neglect her other homework in order to finish this project, but work on it if she has time.
A math professor from Princeton University shares his advice on dealing with bad group members:
It is not at all inappropraite to e-mail your professor and let her know that the group is not functioning well...
But you should let her decide on a course of action: i.e., you are writing to say "this group isn't working well and I'm concerned about my abiliity to do a good job on the project, what should I do?" not "I demand that you move me into a different group" or "I demand that I not get the same grade as those jokers."
It's a bug, not a feature of groupwork that the strongest, most motivated students do more work. We want the best students to work harder... It might seem unfair that you have to work harder than the other students. But you know what? You probably work harder than other students anyway, which is why you're the one expending an effort to pull the group along, and why you're probably going to end up with a better grade in the course than your slacker classmates!
As for "What happens if, on presentation day, Group Member #2 stands up there with us and takes credit for something he had no part in?" the answer is, he gets some credit for work he didn't do. He doesn't learn anything about the material of the course, and you do. He gets a poor grade overall because he's been treating the rest of the course the same way he's treating the group project. A year from now you'll have forgotten his name.