Monday, April 4, 2011

Group Projects

Due to the sensitivity of this topic and the likelihood that it will inevitably
resemble actual persons, I am going to try and keep this as objective and research-
based as possible. This blog was never meant to be a place for rants and I apologize
that one of my recent posts slipped in and out of ranty-ness. Even worse than this,
it ended up being a passive way to confront the situation and, if you're a regular
reader, you may be aware of how much I am bothered by passivity.

Also, I am now aware that the grumpiness of current group members was due less to
maladaptive group dynamics and more to an equal disdain for group projects. Huh.

"We are a group but we do not want to be; we are a forced group; we do not feel as
if we are a truly united group." (Thanks, Group Process! Most-enriching course that
I do not enjoy!)


A Study, Analysis, and Critique of Group Projects in a School Setting (Primarily College)

To be informed by objective research and current studies within the course, Group Process

What is the rationale behind group projects in a college setting?

The typical reasoning I have heard within casual conversations with faculty is that
group projects prepare students for the future requirement of working well with
others in the workforce. One specific professor expressed that this is an outdated
philosophy. I'm not quite convinced it was ever in-date.

Public education in general (particularly elementary and secondary schools) is
structured to condition students to enter the factory workforce. They are trained
in both broad categories, such as attention to detailed instructions and following
authority, and small details, such as becoming accustomed to being directed by a
bell. Elementary and secondary schools are factories for future factory-workers.
This particular model is outdated, as 11% of Americans worked in manufacturing in
2008. And that's all of manufacturing, not just factory-line production jobs.

So, public elementary and secondary education structure is behind-the-times in regards
to these instances of conditioning (surprise, surprise). Is college education group
project-centered structure likewise outdated? Honestly, I'm not sure. I would need
to interview a variety of people within the modern workforce to try and gauge how
applicable past group project experiences are to their current careers. In pure
speculation, I imagine that it is generally important in most workplaces to be able
to work well with others (see examples of workplace group dynamic conflict in shows
such as The Office and Traffic Light or the movie Office Space). Life is social.
It is generally important to be able to work well with others in a variety of contexts,
whether within career or otherwise (being a good conversationalist at family events;
being a non-grumpy customer when interacting with servers, cashiers, and other
service workers; and so on).

Do college group project assignments reflect group assignments that are common in
goal-oriented groups, such as those found within workplaces? I speculate no, but I
cannot say for sure. I speculate no mostly because it's my gut feeling. I'd like to
say that work pressures are different from school pressures because students are so
severely focused on grades, but employees are likewise focused on keeping their jobs.
I'm not sure how else school (specifically college) is different from a job because
I have only limited experience in the workforce.

I do, however, have a bit of experience working in groups that are not school-related.

First, I have been an active member of two committees at a local youth and family
community theater. The first, the teen committee, was during my junior year of high
school and consisted of three or four high school students and one or two adult
advisors (the numbers fluccuated). I had probably done a group project or two before
this time (yes, at least one for speech class at HACC), but my ability to participate
in and contribute to the committee was not largely influenced by past group project
experience. The second was an ad hoc committee during my senior year of high school.
This committee's purpose was to study and analyze ticket sales and theater patrons
in order to somehow increase the numbers of both. This committee met more frequently
than the first (approximately once a month) and I was the only non-adult member.
I was an active participant of the committee, but never explicitly called on past
group project experiences to inform this participation.

Second, my coworkers at my job back home qualify as a group. Perhaps we are more
independent than we are collectively goal-oriented, but there is teamwork. Again, I
never explicitly call on past group project experiences to relate to this group.

Is it possible that my past group project experiences subconciously influenced my
ability to function as a participatory member of these groups? Perhaps, but if
subconscious learning is the only reason to endure school group projects...?

I'm not convinced.

I am currently taking a course called Group Process and Interpersonal Communication.
It is a weird class. But I have learned more about group functioning than I ever
was aware of learning in all of my group project experiences. It's a weird course and
I don't like the class much, but I like the material and the assignments and I can
feel myself becoming more aware. Huzzah, Sociology!

While I am of the school of thought that every skill and area of knowledge can be
improved and increased to an infinite degree, I've felt confident in the areas we
have covered during the course (leadership, conflict management, communication, etc).
Well, maybe not communication, but that's a weird and recent development. Even though
I have felt confident in these skill areas, I am becoming more aware of how they
function within a group setting. I forget where I was going with this, but I think
the point was that I feel confident in my skills and knowledge to function within
a group. Even if I was less aware before taking this course, I still feel that I was
able to function efficiently within a group.

Long story short, group projects have not taught me anything about how to work in a
group with other people.

Do other people need to learn this skill set from experiencing group projects?

Maybe, but I don't want to.



The Balcony Lady said...

good post. I don't know many, if any, people(or students) that like group project, EXCEPT for the slackers. They can be part of a group and get away with less work/input/effort than others in the group. It would be interesting to research the beginning of this method of teaching, since it sure seems like a fail. Reader's Digest has an article this month(April 2011) about over and under achievers.

CarpathiaBenatar said...

Yes, but the slackers can similarly slack on individual projects and the over-achievers can over-achieve on individual projects. And everyone's happier, generally.

Save that article, please.