Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest Post: Prehistoric Group Work

Here is a great submission from an organic chemistry professor at a liberal arts college.


What suggestions for improvement could you offer?


Please please please get rid of group lab reports. Every group lab in the history of mankind results in one student doing the majority of the work while the other acts as dead weight. Back when cavemen were learning how to make fire, there was always "that guy" who would throw water on the embers. Imagine walking several miles in the winter for hours wearing only a loin cloth (as was the fashion back then) and carrying only a spear for your defense when you finally come across a wooly mammoth or whatever cavemen hunted. You are absolutely stoked to see a wooly mammoth because I mean come on, it's a wooly mammoth. The thing's huge. So you scare that giant wannabe cow-looking-thing right off the side of a cliff killing it instantly. You drag the beast back to your cave and expect there to be a fire roaring when you get back. You left detailed instructions on how to start the fire by drawing pictures on the wall. Really good pictures too, like, drawing inside the lines good. Instead of a fire, you come back to find a triangle wheel. How does a triangle wheel help you cook a wooly mammoth? I'll tell you. It doesn't. Professor, it just doesn't help you cook the wooly mammoth. So of course you're a little irked and you wonder how the guy charged to start a fire ended up making a triangle wheel which is useless unto itself because, come on, a wheel should be circular, but who am I to stifle someone's creativity? So you end up having to leave something you know is pretty much wrong in the lab report because you can't exclude it and rewrite it yourself since it's the only thing your lab partner did. And that's how I ended up finding myself. I was left with an uncooked wooly mammoth left to rot in my dorm room for the rest of that week.

11 comments:

  1. WIN!

    Its very true unfortunately...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I LOVE the analogy.

    And yes, group lab reports (or group anything else) SUCK. Professors say that working on teams is part of "real life," but I have never worked on a team in the workplace that functioned as badly as my school teams did. Something about incentives i.e. getting paid / not being fired (actually the only team that I was on where people did not work well together ended up with people getting fired.... so I rest my case).

    ReplyDelete
  3. I completely and whole heartedly agree with this poor person's feedback and can vouch for the frequency of this experience. Just last week I wrote up an entire lab report before the rest of my group even showed up to help me work on it. Luckily, they made good contributions to my draft. We are a good team. But it is not always so.

    ReplyDelete
  4. hated group reports as a student. hated them more as a teacher. REALLY hated being required to assign them by clueless administrators who insisted that they "supported" me and "respected" my experience.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My contribution here. This was the funniest student comment I've ever gotten. I definitely felt for this student having dreaded group lab work in college myself. Now with my professor hat on, I try to have a mix of individual and group experiments to balance things out so that final lab grades reflect personal performance. I do encourage students to try working with new people throughout the semester. It's not a perfect system, though.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You nailed it! Group work is the bane of my existance.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can definitely see both sides of the issue. It really sucks when the deadweight knows just enough to dominate the presentation, cut you off and answer all the questions with superficial answers, and then somehow end up with a better grade than you. That said, the ability to work in a group is obviously important. It was a bit of a shock to me seeing how much companies prefer people skills over academic achievement in hiring decisions. There's definitely no perfect system, but having the combination of group and individual work is probably the best way to do it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yo I hate group work... I would rather write a 200 page project in two days than having a group work with others!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ha, ha, ha! I'm in the middle of a grad-level course in Psychology and my prof is a huge fan of Vygotsky, the idiot whose theories spawned the whole collaborative learning movement. Every week, the prof chooses two students to read a journal article. The students have to summarize the article and post a series of questions about it on a class blog for the rest of the class to answer. The summaries are usually so badly written as to be incomprehensible, as are most of the questions. My grade basically depends on me answering these often irrelevant, rambling, idiotic questions, while including references to material in the course textbook. This class reminds me of that quote by Orwell, about some ideas being so stupid that only an intellectual could believe in them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Speaking of psychology, I have seen a lot of social loafing in group work activities. I still feel there are benefits for group work, so I still use it on occasion.

      Delete