Group Projects: The Good, the Bad, and the Ineffective

group work
Obtained from Pixabay

I’ve had group projects on my mind a lot lately. Group projects have become the driving force of both of my Master’s program classes, and have been a recent topic of conversation in school’s professional development as we work toward an instructional model that heavily features collaboration.

 

So what makes Group Projects work? And what makes them fall apart?

Group Projects fall apart when:

1. There isn’t a defined and obvious goal

Group projects cannot be effective if the entire group doesn’t agree with and understand the goal for the project. Simply asking a group of people to work on the same task results in everyone completing work without a sense of purpose. This is also true when the goal provided does not seem to match the task at hand. For example, if the goal is to practice having collaborative discussions but the project is to create a slideshow about an animal, the mismatch of the project and the goal can create a disconnect for the group members.

 2. Everyone thinks they have the best ideas

The give and take of true collaboration is a key component of a successful group project. If every group member comes to the project with the belief that they know best and an unwillingness to listen to others, the project will not be successful.

3. The group members are not invested in the task

Similar to a lack of a goal, if the group members do not all believe in the importance of the task or are not engaged in the task, the project will not be successful because the group members that are not invested will not feel compelled to do their part.

4. The task itself is not clear

If the task itself is not clear, group projects will not be successful. Group members will spend a majority of their time attempting to make sense of the task and what it is that they’re supposed to be doing and whether or not they are meeting the expectations of the teacher instead of focusing their efforts on a cohesive project.

 

Group Projects are successful when:

1. All group members have a clear role to fulfill

In successful group projects, every group member has a specific role. Whether these roles are self-chosen, or whether they are assigned by the teacher does not matter. Older group members may naturally fall into roles without needing to specifically define them, however, roles give each group member clear tasks and expectations. The roles below are examples of how to divide tasks up for a project to give each group member a specific job to do.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 2.27.28 PM
Obtained from Teacher’s Notebook

2. There are mini-deadlines in place to keep the project on track

Projects are often packaged in a big-picture, final-product format. However, by creating deadlines along the way groups are much more likely to be successful because the task is broken down into smaller, manageable parts.

3. The project is relevant to all group members

Buy-in from all group member is essential for a successful project. Allowing for some element of choice can make this more likely, as well as clear goals and expectations.

4. There is a purpose for doing the project as a group

It is also essential that a group project clearly necessitates being done as a group. If the project could just as easily or more-easily be done independently, the group project will not reach it’s potential. Group projects are necessary when the project clearly requires varying perspectives, or when the learning is new or difficult and is made more accessible to learners when done with the assistance of other students. If the reason for the work being done in a group format is not clear, members will be resistant to working together.

Group projects have the potential to enhance learning and make the experience better for everyone involved if done with careful attention to detail. As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students the benefits of getting to work with other learners, so it is our responsibility to attend to the details and create a positive experience for them.

“Working with other people just makes you smart, that’s proven.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda

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