March 28, 2012

Manifesting Great Group Projects

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It’s that time of year again: the weather is getting warmer, the magnolias are blooming (though now they are all dead and brown and looking awful), the sun is making more frequent appearances and group projects are being assigned. In the spirit of group projects, I thought about asking a few people to help me write this week’s column when I remembered that I hate group projects, so I scrapped that idea. Besides, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to be associated with this column.Group projects are almost always the worst thing that can happen in a class. When a class starts in the beginning of a semester and I see that there will be a group project, I sincerely consider dropping the class. There are definitely ways in which group projects can go well, though they almost never seem to work out that way for me. Why this is, I will never know. Maybe there is a Tompkins County Triangle that makes all the good partners disappear.I’ve had nightmarish group projects, the kind where (hypothetically) a girl in your group tells you the night before the project is due that she can’t finish her portion because she has to go to her sorority formal. Then she sends you what she’s done which (again, hypothetically) is absolute garbage. So you and your other dedicated partner stay up until four in the morning and rewrite her portion tracking down her undocumented sources. The best part about this whole (hypothetical) scenario is that the professor prohibits the assessment of group members, so you are not even allowed to put her on a direct flight to Fail Town and she is rewarded for all her “hard work” with the 97 percent you (hypothetically) got. Of course, this situation (is all hypothetical and never) actually happened. To do my best to ensure that no one else is forced to undergo such a horrendous (hypothetical) group project experience, I have drafted the Group Project Manifesto:

1) When selecting a group, do not pick people with busy schedules no matter how awesome, attractive or rich they are. These people are too busy doing other things to put the necessary effort into the project. A better choice is a person that has nothing going on and enjoys the smell of old books and the dim glow of lights in the Uris Library Fishbowl (instead of a fish bowl they stole from Level B and snuck into Uris). For example, do not pick the Editor in Chief of The Sun to be in your group (sorry Juan). He has a lot of work to do preventing lawsuits against The Sun because of inflammatory opinion columnists …2) This one should go without saying, but then again I am always surprised by what I actually need to explain to people. Once you sign up to be in a group, you cannot drop the class. Now that I have covered all the bases let’s move on.3) Do not tell your group that you will have your piece of the project to them the night before the project is due. Send it to them in advance, because your portion is probably awful and needs to be edited.4) Work by email as mush as possible. Having a 20 minute group meeting is a massive waste of everyone’s time, especially when it takes at least 20 minutes to walk anywhere on this campus. There are two times when it is appropriate to meet: to divide everything up in the beginning and put it back together at the end. No one needs to watch anyone else in the group while they work. I don’t know about you, but I work much more slowly when I am being stared at, because being stared at is creepy.5) You must respond to your group within a reasonable time frame. Obviously responding immediately is not necessary, but you can’t go a week without responding. That is just common courtesy. If I don’t hear back from a person after a week, I assume they have been crushed under a pile of books in Mann and I go looking for them. When I spot them sipping a non-fat caramel soy latte frappe in Starbucks, hitting on the barista instead of responding to my email, I go look for a pile of books to bury them under.6) While it may not be okay to never respond to an email, it is also not okay to be completely overbearing. If you find yourself sending your group members bi-hourly or daily reminders about their portion of the project, stop. If you are calling them every Monday and Wednesday night to set up meetings for the weekend, stop. If you feel the need to make them rewrite their pieces 12 different times so that it sounds like you wrote it, stop. If you find yourself stalking their Facebook to try to figure out how much time they waste by the number and frequency of their status updates (when you haven’t even friended them), stop. If this is you, just tell your group that you will send them the completed project once you have finished it yourself and they can look it over.7) Most importantly, if you are a person that really likes group projects, chances are you are the leach of the group and no one else likes you. The people that like group projects are the ones who don’t know enough to do projects on their own.

The world would be so much simpler if terrible partners were not allowed to be members of group projects. We would know we could trust our partners to do their job well, and this would lead to less annoyance for everyone involved. Unfortunately, this is not the case. But maybe this manifesto will help make the world just a little bit better.

Will Spencer is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at wspencer@cornellsun.com. Tripping Up Stairs appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Will Spencer

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