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Navigating the controversial world of group projects at UNC


UNC students Anna Monocha, Laurel Thomas, Marina Perez, and Wid Alsadoon work together on a group project before Fall Break in Davis Library on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

Group projects — college students either love them or they hate them. 

College in itself can be quite the competitive environment, making collaboration all the more difficult.

With registration right around the corner, students are now having to decide which courses to take next semester. For many, seeing the words “group project” on a syllabus is a major red flag. 

“Groups are just like anything else,” said Bradley Hammer, professor of English and comparative literature and director of Writing Assessment and Placement for UNC. “If it’s not designed well or organized well, it’s not going to work well.” 

To ensure that students are working together in his class equally, Hammer has his students complete their assignments in Dropbox. 

“As a faculty member, you have to stay on top of it, but they’re not children anymore,” Hammer said. “They have to be able to select their own groups.”

For professors and students alike, it seems the biggest issue among group work is a matter of motivation and the impact group members who slack off can have on each person’s individual grade. 

“It all just depends on how dedicated the students are to creating a good end product,” said Olivia Cohen, a sophomore majoring in advertising and public relations. “You can’t control other people.” 

Jessica Wolfe, professor of English and comparative literature and director of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, said she believes there are more efficient alternatives to graded group assignments. 

“There’s an important distinction to be made between graded group work and in-class group activities,”  Wolfe said. “It does seem like a lot of collaboration and a lot of group work, especially for important grades in a class, would pose a bigger problem than, say, just dividing up a discussion into groups to sort out the main ideas.”

Wolfe also said she understands that students possess varying goals and ambitions depending on their responsibilities outside of her class.  

“Students come in with different goals, different backgrounds, different standards for the kind of work they want to do and I wouldn’t want any student to feel like they’re being held to another student's standard, whether that’s higher or lower,” Wolfe said.

Not all members of the Carolina community dislike group work, however. Some students have found collaboration to be quite beneficial.

“I really enjoy group work,” Zeke Meltsner, a sophomore studying psychology, said. “I like bouncing my ideas off of people and comparing their reasoning to my own. I had a recitation the other day, and we were all really cooperative because we were going over a test.”

Hammer said groups are most effective when the students involved are motivated and the group dynamic is well structured.

“Groups have to have some recourse,” Hammer said. “There has to be a good division of labor.”

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