Whether it be through Skype, messaging, or drinking coffee together at the nearest Starbucks, present-day students often complete homework and study for tests as a group.
Such collaboration is supposedly “beneficial” to students’ studies, allowing them to teach and bounce ideas off each other. Students can work while enjoying the stress-relieving company.
“My English class meets during the weekends before reading tests,” said Christy Yoon, a junior from a Palos Verdes high school. “During these group ‘LIT(erature)’ parties, we discuss the major themes, symbols, and motifs of the book. I always learn something new.”
Recent studies, however, show that this increasing trend may not always benefit students.
According to a study by Dr. Charles Stangor, the performance of individuals in a group depends their environment. Although groups may sometimes perform better than individuals, this will occur only when the people in the group strive to meet the group goals and are able to efficiently coordinate the efforts of the group members.
The benefits and/or costs of group performance can be measured by comparing the potential productivity of the group with the actual productivity of the group. Studies of group tasks may also help us understand the situations in which collaboration is more or less likely to be successful.
Study results are quite similar to students’ experiences in school group projects.
According to The Odyssey, collaboration increases in difficulty as coordination decreases. Group work can increase one’s skills of meeting new people, working in a group, and expanding perspectives, but it can also be challenging for one to communicate or get along with his group members.
Certain members of a group may be the trouble. There is always the “leader” of any group, who barks demands to everyone and accepts no alternative perspectives. There are also the “slackers” who either procrastinate or do not contribute at all, leaving all the work to the rest. Furthermore, collaboration can be intimidating if one does not know anyone in his group or if all members cannot find a time to meet. Not only do tensions then increase amongst members, but the project also risks failure.
“I guess group study is different than group work,” said Yoon. “I’m much more motivated to fulfill my school projects’ requirements, but at study sessions, I find myself talking and getting distracted with others. It depends on how valuable the end goal is.”
Thus, collaboration is not definitively a tool for inspiration or pure distraction. The effectiveness and value of group work depends on the mindset and willingness of both the individual and group as a whole. Study sessions may help some and not others, but it is ultimately up to students to decide what learning method fits them best.
“Over my twenty years of teaching, I’ve seen both magnificent success and tragic failure with group projects,” said James McManus, a tutor in Palos Verdes. “Those who are successful are those who truly work together and inspire each other; it’s unarguable. These aren’t called group projects for nothing.”