The dreaded group assignment

By Ben Allison

‘When I die I want my group project members to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time…’

I am currently in my final semester of university (congratulations to me). As I sit here writing this article (read: procrastinating from completing assignments), I have five weeks left before I bid adieu to the Magill campus forever. There are only six major assignments standing between myself and that piece of paper that says I’m a qualified writer. The catch is (because there is always a catch, and nothing to do with university is ever simple), that the six major assignments I have to complete are… group assignments (cue the Wilhelm scream).

I have spent the last four years, five if you count my gap year, avoiding group assignments at all costs. I have purposefully not enrolled in courses because there is a group assignment component, often opting for an exam at the end of the year instead.

While the work is relatively simple, it is the trials and tribulations associated with working in a group setting that I find incredibly off-putting. Don’t get me wrong, I am an extremely social person and I get along with a multitude of different personalities just fine. However, I don’t think that I am alone in my seething hatred of group assignments.

Throughout my academic career, I have had to endure multiple groups and have found that there are a range of stereotypical group members one inevitably stumbles upon:

The ‘I don’t care’ member. Whenever you ask this member a question, assign a task or discuss a time to meet up, their response will forever and always be: ‘I don’t care’. While their indecisiveness seems like a blessing at first due to their chilled nature and acceptance of any task or role within the assignment, you will inevitably learn that they also ‘don’t care’ about the grade you will receive. Expect slap-dash sentences and references from Wikipedia.

The over-achiever. This group member is the exact opposite of the ‘I don’t care’ member. While the ‘I don’t care’ member sits back relaxed in their seat, the over- achiever is hunched over their notepad rapidly scribbling down any tips and pointers the tutor slips out of their mouth. The over-achiever’s hand will always shoot up whenever the question of a ‘team leader’ is expressed or discussed. Expect tight deadlines, multiple drafts and the suggestion of an extra workload to impress the marker.

The mature age student. Quick tip: the older they are, the worse they will be. While the mature age student’s heart is in the right place, you will constantly be reminded of their work commitments, family life and extra activities they have to juggle as well as do the current assignment. Annoying? Yes. They will tell you how their ‘real world experience’ is more valuable than the theory and you will often hear the phrase ‘well, this is how we do it in the workforce’. Expect in-depth discussions with the tutor and no imaginable way to connect with them on any personal level.

The one that never shows up. This member is the most frustrating of all. You will inevitably find that once you have divided up all the roles and responsibilities pertaining to the assignment, they will come along to the second tutorial. So, the group divides the roles and responsibilities again to account for the extra group member. Then you won’t see them ever again. There will be no explanation or reason for the absence and you will once again have to redivide the roles and responsibilities. Alternatively, you will work with this group member for the duration of the semester, only to find that on the day the assignment or presentation is due, they are a no-show, leaving you with one less section of the assignment to hand up. Expect a fall in grades.

The one that doesn’t have Facebook. Facebook is a godsend for group assignments. It basically means that you will never have to physically meet up with your co-members and all of the work and discussion can occur online. Unless… one of your members doesn’t have Facebook. What twenty-something-year-old doesn’t have Facebook? Even the mature age student has an account to spy on their unsuspecting teenage child. However, the fact that one member doesn’t have Facebook means that you will have to make the hour-long drive to campus just to meet up with your group (despite the fact you have no other tutes or lectures on that day). The meeting will inevitably achieve nothing and everyone will walk away only to leave the other group members discussing the assignment behind their back on Facebook. Expect whining about feeling ‘out of the loop’.

The international student. Let’s just say, there will be a language barrier. Often the student will miss the whole point of the task and will hand up a section that doesn’t gel with the rest of the assignment. This isn’t to say that this particular member isn’t trying to the best of their ability, but you will always be left with an abundance of editing to do on their behalf. While not necessarily their fault, it is still frustrating at best. Expect broken English in written and oral form.

The full-time worker. Perhaps my favourite of the stereotypes. This member studies and works full time. You will often wonder how they manage it all, and perhaps feel a bit guilty at your own laziness in comparison. They will hand up everything on time, but they won’t be present at any meetings or tutorials ‘due to work commitments’. When you think about it, this is a bonus because it’s one less person you have to talk to. Expect to feel inadequate compared to their achievements, especially if they have already secured a job in the field you are studying.

Now, put these stereotypes together and expect clashes galore!

The mature age student and the over-achiever form an alliance against the full-time worker and the one that never shows up.

You hear Barb (the mature age student) say to Candice (Barb’s over-achieving sidekick), ‘well, at least Joe (the full-time worker) handed up their draft, unlike Sam (the one that never shows up)’.

‘Who even is Sam?’ Candice replies. ‘Do you think we’ll get penalised if he doesn’t come to our presentation? I’ve already done a quick little mock-up of his part just in case, but we should tell the tutor anyway.’

Sven (the international student) looks up for a second from his translator and then looks back down, perhaps sensing drama is afoot.

‘Well, maybe Karen (the ‘I don’t care’ member) can do Sam’s part?’ Barb suggests.

‘Yeah, I don’t care,’ Karen says vaguely.

It’s hard to judge whether Karen actually minds doing extra work on Sam’s behalf or not.

‘Or I guess we could ask Shelley (the one that doesn’t have Facebook) to do it, but she won’t be able to post her draft to us on the group page so we won’t actually see it until the day,’ Candice says.

‘I could always email it to someone,’ Shelley replies.

Shelley is ignored by the rest of the group while Barb and Candice stress about who will complete Sam’s section of the assignment in the likely case that he doesn’t attend. This is despite the fact that Candice has already written his part in full and referenced it to completion.

Case in point: group work is the absolute worst.

Whenever I do a group assignment, I don’t necessarily learn anything about the subject matter. This is partly because the over-achiever will always take your part, edit it and then submit a version that looks nothing like what you’ve written. However, the one thing I do learn each and every time is how much I hate group assignments.

1 Comment

  1. As a mature age part time student for many years this article packed me up. It’s so true. I’ve had so many more bad experiences with group assignments than I’ve had good ones.

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