You are sitting in class, nonchalantly chewing on the end of your pen and jittering your foot, causing the whole table to slightly shake. All have their readings out from the night before. Obviously, your article is a lot more highlighted than that of the person’s next to you.
You’re waiting for it, you’re secretly dreading it–but you know it’s going to happen. The professor turns on the projector to reveal a list of questions. “Alright, now I’m going to break you guys up into groups…”
And there it is. Reluctantly, you focus your attention to your fellow peers counting off around the room, making sure you know which number belongs to you. After, on the instructor’s command, you unenthusiastically meander your way over to the equally unexcited peers with whom you are to be working, holding your number up with your fingers, hoping they’ll find you first and you won’t have to move far.
Then, the typical. Someone begins by complaining about the fact we have to do group work. Someone else asks, “What are we suppose to be doing again?” And then someone does all the work for the group within the first five minutes.
When all is said and done, and social loafing has occurred, the group will sit in silence either checking their cellphones or talking about a frat party while the teacher waits another half an hour before conducting the class again. There are pros to group work no doubt. It stretches critical thinking skills and forces one to interact with their fellow peers. However, for the most part, group work is moot.
In theory, conversing with others about a subject you are interested in learning more about seems like an excellent way of learning, and I am not denying that it is.
Unfortunately though, no one is usually adequately prepared to participate in a successful group discussion. Derek Bok of Harvard University published an online article in which he addressed several of the problems with group work that are undeniably true if you have ever been put in said position (which I have a feeling we all have considered the frequency of group work in college).
The first problem is that the individuals within a group have a tendency, while attempting to discover their role in the group, to fall into circular discussions that are not beneficial and that do not accomplish any work. Another issue comes forth once the group dynamics have been established.
There will always be dominating group members and those who are reluctant to partake. This usually leads to one person, as previously described, doing all of the work. How the hell is group work helpful if only one person is doing everything?
Other problems that tend to occur are digression, tangents, rushing to finish the assignment, feuds, and people ignoring or ridiculing others within the groups.
Furthermore, it seems that professors always overestimate how much time is actually needed to finish an assignment; therefore, once the group is done, the rest of class is wasted away.
All in all, considering how much each individual student pays to attend a class of whatever given subject, one would assume that instead of spending over half of class broken up into dysfunctional groups,
Learning would be overall far more successful if the instructor (who has been deemed an expert in said given subject) would just tell us what it is we need and want to know instead of making us chase our tails and figure it out for ourselves.
If it is really more valuable to discover information within peer discussion, if that is truly the better way to learn, then we all might as well drop out and just form our own discussion groups where we teach ourselves everything. I’m tired of paying hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to sit in a class listening to those in my group talk about the greek life goings-on this weekend.
It is extremely bold to say so, but at a certain point it comes across as though group work is simply an excuse for our professors to do other things. From all of the people with whom I have discussed the topic of group work recently, the same consensus is drawn. Though a lot of our student body does a bad job showing it, we are students and we are paying far too much money to be here and learn.
I have come to find that on days where over half the class is broken up into groups to work on some assignment, I tend to not learn anything except some new campus gossip.
Obviously, this is not solely the fault of our professors. Students in general should be more prepared and willing to work and learn; however, I sincerely do not believe group work encourages that at all.
Elissa Fredeen can be contacted at