Group Project Horror Stories — and How to Avoid Them

If you’ve ever been a student, then you’ve probably done a group project at some point. And you most likely also have a horror story about a group project that went terribly wrong.
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That trend was clear when EdSurge recently took a microphone to one campus and asked several students to share their group project horror stories. Every student we talked to had one.

But teaching experts say it doesn’t have to be that way. Yet fixing group projects isn’t easy, since many instructors tend to repeat the same flawed methods that their own teachers used when they were students.

For this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we connected with John Warner, a longtime writing instructor at colleges and a teaching consultant for Eyler Warner & Associates. He’s written books on improving writing, including “Why They Can’t Write,” as well as an essay on how to fix group projects. But he says he has trouble getting educators interested in his advice, in part because many see traditional group projects as a way to save time.

What he suggests may indeed take more time than other types of teaching, Warner says, involving more effort from teachers in setting up groups, teaching students about successful group processes and checking in on their progress.

“It’s not sort of ‘set it and forget it,’” he stresses. “Because that’s asking for trouble on the backend for the instructor, to clean up the mess when a student shows up with nothing on a group project day and you have to figure out how you’re going to grade them.”

We ran the student group project tales we heard by Warner to get his reaction and advice. And we addressed some big questions about what it means to teach — and to learn.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, or use the player on this page.

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