Monday, February 6, 2012

The "Benefit" of Group Projects

Okay, mini-rant time.

I, as my faithful readers know (haha), am in college for the second time. The first time through I went by way of the humanities division of my fine college. Lots of courses on writing, speaking, rhetoric, etc. Very light on the more practical business courses that could then be applied directly to real-world positions (accountant, human resources, computer nerd, marketing, etc). Is this an indicator of the failure of humanities/arts degrees failing to prepare graduates for the real world? That is something to be discussed in another post. For now, I would like to focus on one small item that irks me about classes on the business end of things. Specifically, group projects.

On the benefits of such projects: they are touted to encourage communication and teamwork. Good. Those are two great things. Also, they mimic what you may well encounter in the working world. When you get your awesome JOB that you worked so hard for you will likely work in a GROUP on a PROJECT. Because you have worked on said projects in COLLEGE you will be equipped with the proper tools to SUCCEED.

Okay, I get the wispy theory behind this. I really do. It all sounds good in syallbi form and coming out of the instructors' mouths. I'm sure that it looks equally good when these instructors present their curriculum and the plans to whatever committees they have to placate in order to continue teaching these courses in the way that they want to. All fine and good. Dandy. Just dandy.

When you actually think about it, it begins to crystallize into an observation on the real world. And that is, that these fluffy, wonderful, sparkly-in-the-light-of-a-unicorn's-patoot projects are garbage. They're nothing more than a way for instructors to do less work in their classes. Okay, okay, some of you may nail me here and say:

Nate! These instructors have been doing this for a long time and they are preparing you for real life! They know what they're doing and there have been PAPERS written about this type of thing! Group projects are necessary to develop your COMMUNICATION and TEAMWORK skills! That is what you'll encounter in the real world and you better shut your mouth now before the education gods come down from the Teachers' Lounge Heaven and smite you in their almighty smiteyness!

There may be a time where group projects are a worthy endeavor. Maybe. But I doubt it. Mostly, they are designed to cause great heartache. A student does not need multiple classes and multiple semesters of group projects to realize how tortuous and unnecessary they are! A student needs but one class! I propose that there be a class called The Hell of Group Projects. It will be assigned in a student's first college semester and they will quickly see how awful these projects are. Main points covered include:

  1. One, or at most, two people in the group will actually do any work in the group
    1. At this point, you will hope you are in small groups composed only of those willing to work
  2. You will never be able to find a meeting time that will work for all group members
  3. Actual group meetings will be UNPRODUCTIVE. 
    1. You will leave these meetings knowing that it would be better if you could just do the damn thing yourself
And I think that about covers what that class would entail. Only the most annoying types of projects would be assigned. Those with lots of graphs, group papers (Oh, God! You can keep me out of Heaven, just don't make me do a group paper! That is a punishment truly worse than the depths of all Hell!), spreadsheets, Pictionary-esque diagrams crafted with those fruity (or sometimes poisonous) smelling permanent markers, and pages and pages and pages and pages of peer analysis forms to be completed by hand.

That's it. Students would get it. Then these instructors, instead of crafting these brilliant group projects, could actually teach their damn classes!

I have encountered a strange phenomenon here in my second-go-round: I'm finding that some teachers are teaching in the most asinine way possible which is owed to the myth of the group project. I am now in my second class with this method. This is what the method entails, all summarized on the first day of class:

  1. Give fluffy presentation with syllabus about course structure, which is:
    1. Every day, instructor will give a brief lecture about the day's topic. And by brief I mean very very brief. This is what defines brief. As in about ten minutes brief.
    2. Remaining class time is devoted to GROUP TIME.
    3. Instructor will be wandering around the class, available should groups have any questions
    4. STUDENT/GROUPS are responsible for all understanding and actual teaching of topic to themselves and to each other
    5. Projects will be assigned for students to figure out on their own or in GROUPS (which have previously been found to be useless)
    6. Tests will be given, grades will be handed out
    7. The end.
What used to be clear to me, is now muddied by new-fangled thinking and creative laziness.

Hey! Instead of taking time to go over difficult concepts as well as teaching students the basics, I'm going to just shove it all under the poopy-smelling umbrella of group work! I'll empower the students to teach themselves and I'll give them enough space to be themselves and learn in the best way they see fit! God, I'm a freaking genius! And, in case they think I just use the time to go back to my office and play Angry Birds or Words with Friends, I'll stick around to answer any questions they may have! All while, of course, making sure they get just enough information from me to be only slightly-less confused.

What the fuck are students paying for when they come to college??!! What in God's name is the tuition for if not for students to be TAUGHT! We are empty vessels, here! We are here to be filled with knowledge by the faculty and staff who are paid (an amount that is not known, but probably is too much)! We are not here to sit in silent groups with our expensive textbooks open in front of us while the instructor flits about looking intelligent and caring! Don't just look intelligent! Give us some of that knowledge! We know that there must be some reason why you are paid to carry the title of instructor or professor or associate professor or adjunct professor or whatever your title is. We know you probably worked very hard to get where you are and there is a reason why you were hired in the first place. It was to teach! Not to tell students they will spend the semester teaching themselves! As it stands, a student is paying for a textbook and a semester-long study session with people who are likely just as confused as they are. The goals of the class could have been accomplished with the textbook and a series of YouTube videos. The knowledge is out there to be had much cheaper and much easier. Yet students are stuck because they have to get that piece of paper. That degree. Instead of lording that fact over students, mocking them with the idiocy of today's teaching, how about giving them something they can use. How about teaching? How about engaging them in discussion? Impart your knowledge to the students. Help them understand what is in the textbook. Step them through problems and concepts. There is a reason you, the instructor, are at the college. There is a reason the students are at the college. Stop telling them through your actions, that there isn't any reason to be at college.

Well, aside from that degree thing.

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