Group projects are toxic

Luke Hutchinson | Editor-in-Chief

My time as a student has taught me a lot. 

I’m not just talking about random facts about the American Revolution or how to use the Pythagorean Theorem, I’m talking about how to filter out things that don’t matter: homework that isn’t graded, tardies, mean Instagram comments, etc.

You see, the educational system tends to exaggerate the importance of rather insignificant things to students from the beginning of grade-school all the way through high school. One prime example I noticed when I moved into Mason was our constant practicing of cursive. Where did that go? Probably the same place as the PARCC tests I opted out of in eighth grade.

There’s one practice, however, that still aggravates me to this day, especially because it is usually both executed and justified corruptly by teachers. That practice is group work.

It’s the most toxic aspect to every traditionally academic course I’m enrolled in. Through my experience, group projects play out the same way almost every time. 

First, students with a lousy — or nonexistent — work ethic will always be paired with the ones who actually care so that the overall grades of the class don’t fluctuate too excessively. That sounds peaceful for the teacher, because it is, but it puts students at an unhealthy disadvantage.

The worst part, though, if you’re a student that cares about your grade, is that trying to get the attention of the teacher almost never works in your favor. This is accentuated by the fact that teachers often contradict themselves in their own preaching; they say that students who try to take control of other members’ work are just as counterproductive as the students who don’t participate.

Now we’re at a stalemate. The student who feels forced to pick up the slack is criticized for being manipulative and everyone involved gets a poor grade for the lack of cohesiveness in the presentation, essay or whatever.

There is another argument teachers have been advocating for years that is mostly flawed. They’ve told us that the idea of group projects is one we should take seriously and stop complaining about because it will always be an obstacle in college, and later on, our careers.

I completely disagree. I will most likely never be working in my career with someone who goes home and does nothing on the Google Doc that night. In real life, my coworkers or colleagues will be committed just as much as I am because they care about their lives, and if they aren’t, they will naturally be removed from my sphere of work.

A significant reason a majority of teachers prefer group work nowadays is due to the lean towards more innovative teaching styles in the last few years. Sure, I understand that different students learn in different ways, but there’s also a clear reason why modern learning tools like Flipgrid have vanished even from last year. They dilute the actual content that needs to be taught, and students do not find them helpful.

So, before designing a new complex group project to try and make your class more ‘engaging’, maybe first consider a simple lecture. A lot of students would appreciate it.