How to Love Your Group Project! No, really.
Ahh, the group project. The bane of many students’ existences. I remember enjoying some group projects in high school because I got to work with my friends. However, as I got older, group projects became less fun and more work. By the time I was in graduate school, I shuddered whenever the phrase came up.
Group projects should be everyone’s favorite, though. After all, you get to split the workload! Group members bring a variety of skills and perspectives that can enhance your final product. Many projects allow or even require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
If you’ve ever been the member stuck with all the work, you know why students hate group projects. Trying to schedule work time around 4 or 5 different schedules can be beyond difficult. Attempting to edit other members’ sub-par work or harassing them to finish their part is no fun, either. (I had to edit a group paper in college and it was a nightmare!)
As a teacher myself, I started giving students the option of working in a group or by themselves. I was always surprised how many students chose to work alone!
But there are ways to tame the group project beast. Setting a few ground rules at the beginning makes the process easier for everyone!
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How to Love Your Group Project
Pick your partners wisely
If you get to decide who you will work with, please do not make the decision lightly. Many times students came to me at the last minute wanting to dump a partner who wasn’t pulling his weight.
You want to pick partners who are hard workers and known for keeping deadlines. Your best buddy and also the biggest slacker you know? Not a good partner. Super organized Janet over there – a better choice.
Share contact information.
On a piece of paper or in a shared Google Doc, write down each person’s name, phone number, e-mail address, and any other social media handles you might want. If on paper, each person should take a picture of the final product.
Divvy up the Work
This is key. At the beginning decide who will complete what part of the project!
Let’s say your group has to produce a slideshow with 20 content slides in it. There are 4 people in the group, so each person is responsible for 5 slides.
I also recommend putting each member in charge of another task – editing, overall appearance, bibliography, etc. Assign according to individuals strengths or preferences. This will keep the project coherent. As a teacher, I could always tell when group members just looked at their own portion and no one else’s.
Set a schedule
Everyone needs to commit to completing their parts of the project by a certain date.Pro tip - set a due date at least 2 days before the project is due to leave time for editing (and people who miss the original due date.)Click To Tweet
Also, decide when you will meet as a group and each due date for work. At your first meeting, nail down a schedule. Wait for EACH person to add it to their planner, calendar, or phone. Heck, create a shared Google calendar or even set up and send reminders.
While meeting in person is best, technology allows for all sorts of virtual meetings. Free software, such as Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom, allow you to meet from wherever you are. Heck, call each other on the phone (gasp!) if you have to.
Communication & Organization
You need to keep the lines of communication open. If someone needs to change the schedule, they have to be able to easily get hold of everyone else.
As a group, choose ONE main way to communicate and stick to it. Some easy group options – text, FB messenger chat, FB group, e-mail, or Snapchat.
Create a central spot to keep shared documents. I HIGHLY recommend creating a shared Google Drive folder. Keep your final product (document, slideshow, etc), plus any bibliographic information, visuals, or research notes in the shared drive.
When it just isn’t working
Let’s face it- not every group project will go smoothly, especially if you can’t select your own group members. So, here are some tips if things start to go off the rails.
Pinpoint the problem
Is Rachel not responding to texts? Has Jeff gone completely AWOL? Is Sarah not turning in work? You need to know the specific issue and WHY it’s a problem.
We need Rachel’s input, but we can’t get it. We need to know how Jeff’s video editing is going, but we don’t know if he’s even started. We need sufficient time to edit Sarah’s work before turning in the entire project
Talk to the group member(s)
Contact the group member either in person (preferred) or via as many contacts as you have. Send a text AND e-mail AND FB Message. But be polite!! Explain the issue and why it’s a problem for the group. Ask them to respond, show up, turn in work etc and give a time and due date.
Talk to the instructor
When all else fails, talk to your instructor and explain the situation. You may get some sympathy, but no action. However, the instructor might be willing to help you out.
Hopefully, if you follow the steps I outline above, you won’t have to resort to this final step!