Old Dogs, New Tricks

A blog for non-traditional students

No “I” in Team

Few assignments bring forth such a shadow of dread as the group project.  I understand the principle behind this sort of work; it’s going to prepare students to work with others once they enter the “real world.”  That’s a great goal, but what does it do for those of us who have already been there?  And don’t say that group projects can teach the same principles to non-traditional students as to their traditional counterparts – if mature learners haven’t figured out how to work with others by the time they’ve returned to college, there’s a pretty good chance they never will (and maybe don’t want to).

 I am the first to admit that one big problem I have with group assignments is completely my fault.  I’m a perfectionist – and hence, a control freak – so the idea of relying on someone else’s efforts to get a decent grade makes me extremely anxious.  Of course, if I’m not careful, this concern can come across like I think I’m better than my teammates – which makes the whole social dimension of group work that much more difficult,  But at least, as I’ve learned from chatting with other non-trads, I’m not alone in this anxiety.

 Another serious issue I (and my fellow old farts) face in group projects is the unspoken belief that because I’m a mature (read: old) person, I’ll do whatever anyone else doesn’t (want to) do.  That sort of thinking leads to a lot of slacking off by other team members, but this phenomenon is not restricted to (more) adult students.  Pretty much any type-A personality can expect to shoulder more than a fair part of the work in team assignments.  The major difference for non-trads is how we react to being dumped on like this.  We tend to think of the guilty parties as being immature or “just kids,” which further separates us from our younger classmates.

 For those of us who are both non-trads and commuters, the worst part of group work is trying to meet outside of class with the team.  An out-of-class session might mean a ten-minute walk for students who live around campus or in Clifton, but it means over an hour in the car for me – not to mention the costs of gas and parking.  My reluctance to meet in person is often taken as my being difficult or anti-social (okay maybe it is, just a little bit), but I spend so much time in my car as it is, just driving from Colerain Township to Clifton everyday for my classes, that I’m on the verge of succumbing to road rage.  Or slipping into a coma as I travel the same, monotonous route every day.

 I completely get that there is an educational purpose beyond the stated assignment in group projects, but I often wonder how many professors consider non-trads when they design their syllabi.  Thankfully, email and BlackBoard make this sort of project less difficult.  Regardless, the whole concept seems a little out-of-date.  When mature learners were rarities in the classroom, it didn’t make much sense to retool an entire course to suit their particular needs.  But nowadays, it’s not just the non-trads who have other, equally important, demands on their time; most traditional students have jobs – some even have families.

 I guess what I’ve learned from group work is a little outside what my professors probably intended.  Ultimately, I’ve discovered a problem that non-trads share with their younger peers.  No one likes group projects – and they are just less relevant today.  The Internet revolution has made telecommuting not just a faint possibility but an everyday reality.

 Finally, something that the old farts and those darn kids can agree on:  It’s time to say goodbye to the mandatory group assignment.

 *** Danielle


January 10, 2009 - Posted by | Student Life

1 Comment »

  1. […] Group Work […]

    Pingback by Sound Off!! « Old Dogs, New Tricks | March 9, 2009

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