Excellence Through Cooperation

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An enormous number of college students absolutely despise group work. The thought of being forced to work with other students, and often to present the results of this cooperation, often causes immense amounts of frustration and anxiety. However, the question still stands: does group work have a place in educational environments, or is it unnecessary aggravation?

The matter really comes down to the fact that education needs to find a balance between creating a comfortable learning situation for students, and forcing those same students to confront new and unknown scenarios. If a student is allowed to be completely comfortable without trying anything new then they risk descending into a sort of educational limbo where they’ll never learn much of anything. However, students also cannot be constantly forced into new situations, as they’ll often be quite overwhelmed. A balance between the two must be met, and that balance can often be found through group projects.

These projects can force students to interact with others that they might not interact with otherwise, and often the various people involved in these projects will have different methods of working and thinking. The adversity of combining these different methods and perspectives is one of the primary purposes of group work. While the material is important, the learning experience of having to cooperate with another student is even more so.

According to Carnegie Mellon University, “Group projects can help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world. Positive group experiences, moreover, have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention, and overall college success.”

All of this being said, group project assignments do need to be streamlined to some extent. Many educators hold every member of a group equally responsible for the grade, but then they assign a grade to the project as a whole without assessing the effort put forth by each individual. While it may be argued that grading the group as a whole encourages cooperation, often it leads to anger from students who may have put forth more effort than their compatriots. If a group assignment is graded based upon individual effort, however, or perhaps student assessments of their group partners, then the possible for personal growth might increase.

One of the other prominent arguments against group assignments is that it is unfair to force incredibly introverted students to work in social situations such as these. While it is true that students who are naturally introverted might not flourish in a group environment as well as natural extroverts, it is still incredibly important that they learn how to work in a group. Group work is a reality in the professional world as well as in academia, and if introverted students aren’t taught how to work with others while in college they certainly won’t have any better chance to learn it.

Finally, instructors can also benefit from group assignments. According to Carnegie Mellon University: “Group work also introduces more unpredictability in teaching, since groups may approach tasks and solve problems in novel, interesting ways. This can be refreshing for instructors. Additionally, group assignments can be useful when there are a limited number of viable project topics to distribute among students. And they can reduce the number of final products instructors have to grade.”

Based upon all of this, group projects have a place in the academic world. While they should not be the bread and butter than teaching is built upon, neither should they be fully removed from education purely to make students more comfortable. Group projects are an important educational tool when used in moderation, and even students that hate socialization and working with others can stand to learn something from them.

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