Exasperated group members on campus. Photo: Cailey Fletcher.
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Group projects shouldn’t make up almost half a student’s total marks

Classes have been in session for almost a month here at the University of Ottawa, which means most students have likely had the chance to tackle an assignment or two. As you read through your syllabus and see what’s in store, you might notice that some of your marks will be made up of the bane of most students’ existence: group projects.

Group projects aren’t the most effective way to teach course material for most classes, reward those students who know more people in the class, thus being able to pick better group members, and most importantly, fail to test if the individual team members actually understand the course content.

I have several classes where group work accounts for almost 50 per cent of my marks. This is ludicrous for my final year of my undergrad.

At this point in my university career I don’t want to do group work, and my marks—especially for many mandatory classes—shouldn’t be so dependent on the work of other students. If the goal of university is to test an individual’s knowledge and understanding of the course material, how is that met through group projects?

For professors, the appeal of assigning group projects is that it reduces the amount of marking they have to do, going from one assignment per student to however many groups there are. But deciding what assignments you will give your class based solely on what is easiest for you as a professor isn’t exactly the best way to run a class.

I understand that there are some classes, such as business classes, where group work is a better representation of what working in that particular field will be like, but this is not the case for the majority of classes.

There can certainly be some practical aspects of group work, and I’m not denying that. I’m saying that in an artificial environment like school, we shouldn’t reward those who get along better with other people but may not know the subject matter. Academia is founded at least in principle on knowing the subject matter, and demonstrating how well you know it.

The reality is that group projects unintentionally reward those students who know more people in the class and can form groups with those they already have a good relationship with. We can agree that essays are not the best way to test some people, so let’s say the same about group work. If neither of these options are perfect then instead of lurching wildly from one to the other let’s find an option that’s closer to the middle, and best for the most students.