Why do teachers and professors think we WANT to work in “groups”?

June 16, 2010 at 4:05 AM Leave a comment

I have been wondering about this issue since the first time I started having serious classroom “group work” during my undergrad degree in sociology. Distinctly, Sociology of Family, Sociology of Religion, Sociology of Gender, Domestic Violence, and others I can’t quite remember all required serious group projects that contained a substantial portion of my grade. Two that stand out are the “project” in Sociology of Religion that required outside meetings and research of a particular religion and Sociology of Gender where we had to give a group presentation. Both of these were “partners” rather than groups — and in both cases they were assigned, not chosen.

All of my “group” work experiences have been negative or unrewarding. In all of them, I felt that I did a larger portion of the work and was totally unsatisfied with what the other parties were doing. Or, the group was so big I hardly even felt like a member of it, and it was certainly no organization I chose to engage with.

Now to… why do these teachers and professors always assign groups; and/or why do they have the idea that “groups” are better to get a job done? This is not in fact the case.

In Business sociology — there are defined (researched and understood) concepts of what motivates an employee. NOTHING on the list includes “having group projects with co-workers.” (NOTHING in the top 10). One of them sites a reward of giving the worker a “private workspace” such as a nice office, or something, which would motivate them — but not “give them a desk around 5 co-workers they can chat with.” Maybe culturally some people prefer working in groups — but I fail to see that here. Rather, I believe teachers do this mainly to take the weight off of themselves in teaching the class, if they can waste an hour while you sit around and chat with others in the class about something, then its an hour less they have to spend lecturing.

In addition — I have not really learned a damn thing in a group I could not learn better on my own. The only thing I learned from doing group work is that other humans frustrate me to no end, and the more I am forced to deal with them, the more frustrated I get and therefore the less motivated I am.

In my sociology of religion class, the guy I was assigned to seemed like a 22 yr old trust fund kiddo. I was in a Masters program, and he was in a Bachelors, this was an elective that fulfilled either requirement. This guy had firm believes about sociology, especially the sociology of women (for his age, I was amazed how sure he was about the sociology of women). Our “project” was Sedona New Age religious movements, and specifically we went to a New Age meeting in Sedona, researched various groups and went to a couple vortexes. The first thing that set me off was that the guy climbed to the top of this thing as if this was a hiking trip instead of a research project. And, it was hot and I was not particularly into “hiking” to the top of a desert hill in the middle of summer (whether idiots claim its a vortex or not). And, upon coming down, after I sat and waited for 40 minutes or something, tells me he “thinks” he felt something up there — and blah blah which I heard all the way home. Like I give a shit, or this has anything to do with the assignment.

Well, we did the research and each wrote portions of the paper. Once he gave me his copy (to type for us both to turn in) I read in his how “more middle aged women” were members of New Religious Movements because of this and that (being sad about their children leaving, being old and batty anyway — whatever his subjective reasons were he claimed as facts), and it pissed me off badly. I told the professor I would not put my name on any paper that says this shit — and therefore ended up turning in my own paper and he turned his own in.

The other major group project was Sociology of Gender. In this class, I was assigned to one “Evan” which I believe was trying to subversively hit on me from day one of meeting him in a cafe to discuss the project. He was older, in mid 40s or so, but within my age bracket. However, I gave no inclination of wanting to date him. The whole thing seemed like a game though and nothing about meeting to discuss the project because he did nothing to discuss it. Instead, he spent the whole time telling me how Gore (a medical manufacturing company) had “fired him for sexual harassment” and how wrong they were. He didn’t sexually harass me but he was trying to date me “behind” the project. For example, I told him they had various videos we could watch at the library (and I would only watch them there, I was not inviting this guy to my home with my child present) and his response was that we could either watch them at my place or he didn’t have time to watch them in the library.

What ended up happening is that dealing with him was impossible, we never actually discussed the project because he was too busy being political about something — I think the last time we “talked” he was going on and on about the White Tara. Where do these people come from? I ended up watching all the videos and doing the project on my own. I told my professor that the guy wasn’t working with me and was doing nothing, she said just to do my part and let him do his part. So I did this — I had a whole Powerpoint presentation, video, and paper handout. He had some rant in writing on a notebook paper about water in Panama. She marked my grade to a B because of his failure to finish the project correctly.

Other group projects might not have been “horrible” but NONE were enlightening or helpful. I remember one where the scheduling was next to impossible because there were something like 5 people in the group with completely different schedules. In a recent one, I was supposed to design the text part of a newsletter while my partner was supposed to design the graphic part. We each had ONE INDIVIDUAL handout about our portion of the project. On the week after it was assigned she didn’t show up at all. I emailed her and she said her car broke (mine did 2 years ago and I still manage to make it to class, on the bus). She came the following week having DONE THE TEXT PART because she “forgot” that she was supposed to do the graphic one. So the teacher said I didn’t need to be in a group — and could do mine on my own. I got an A on that project.

Now in Business Organization I have another group — they don’t seem completely deficient and we don’t have to meet out of class (which is a good thing). What usually happens is I write the paper because I can’t stand my grade to be lowered due to idiots — and so it ends up I do most of the work. One person in the group does and says nothing at all. Another man is older and hasn’t been to college in years — but seems like a bright enough guy to type a paper. The other girl seems on the ball, so maybe this one will be OK. But that’s the SECOND group I’ve been with in that class, because in the first one a girl who was supposed to write “all” of our names on a paper we did (we do group work every week, its torture for me) only put her name — and only SHE got credit. I asked the professor to give us all credit and said clearly we all did it, there were 3 witnesses — but the lady still would not so I HAD to move because my resentment of that girl would build, and if she will do one stupid thing to cost me a grade she will likely do another.

And, to culminate of all this — today in my accounting class, after 3 hours of doing accounting in class and doing homework over the weekend amounting to 3 hours worth of work (the homework being 15 points which is at least a letter grade on a test so it is a lot of points for that class) we had to sit there with groups. YAY. Mine contained 2 girls who paired off and knew what they were doing, and me and 2 guys NEITHER OF WHICH did the homework. So I had to sit there and coddle one of them while the other one just looked on silently and copied us. I got up to show the teacher the paper, and while I was gone one of the 2 guys stole my homework. So I have to redo it… 3 hours worth of accounting.

As a person with social anxiety — and anxiety in general, this causes me a great deal of stress. It isn’t so much that the homework is gone and I have to redo it, I regularly lose stuff and have to backtrack to deal with my perpetual brain fart — and that does cause me a lot of stress. But the “stress” level from being FORCED by some teacher to deal with other human beings whom I really have no desire to talk to, at all, seems unnecessary. If being forced to sit there and communicate with people does not make you learn anything new, or help you in any way — then why are we forced to? I have a few theories and I think they have nothing to do with “them” thinking a group will teach us better.

1. There are people in society who are low achievers. They will generally not be motivated to do things like homework, study for tests, etc. They will get by as best as possible, riding on someone else’s train. People do this all the time — they are the “users” of society. They exist everywhere. They are the people who will ask you for a ride because you have a car, when they could easily take the bus. They are the same people who will ask you for a ride and not offer you any gas money, because unless you “ask” they are getting away with spending less and then have more for themselves. These are not necessarily selfish or self-centered people, they could just be people who can’t make it on their own and NEED someone else to help guide them or they are lost. If you are a nice person and sociable, chances are you will have attracted them like moths to a flame. If you find your neighbor constantly asking to borrow your stuff and not returning it promptly, or asking you to borrow your car or for a ride, or for money or smokes — or anything else, my question is this: WHY CANT YOU GET IT ON YOUR OWN? I think if you CAN do something on your own fairly easily then you should try to first before asking someone else to go out of their way for you. I’m not saying never ask for help — but if you CAN help yourself you should. Anyway, these people need group projects because without them they may never learn the material and their grade may severely suffer. So what groups are is a subversive (!) form of communism so that the achievers of the world can bring the users up from their personal morass, because otherwise they’d just be zombies.

2. The teacher/professor wants a break. For them — assigning groups means they spend less time lecturing or doing actual work they would normally have to do. It also reduces the number of things they have to grade. So from the purely selfish perspective of the teacher — assigning groups may not make anyone learn a damn thing more (except the people who won’t take the initiative to learn and ride the skirt-takes of group leaders) it does cause them to do less work collectively. The teacher can just sit and check her email while you talk incessantly about random bullshit to others you wouldn’t talk to outside of class.

And here’s my other problems: I don’t want to meet these people. When I say this, I mean “guys”. There is always some old dude going back to college, or partying jock type that once I’m in a group with them they feel OK talking to me while I walk outside of the class. They are clearly just trying to converse with me as a pick up line/scam whatever. Not all of them, some really are interested in the class content or just want to talk to someone — but for the most part they seem to be looking for someone to ultimately have sex with. So, I’d rather just keep my mouth shut in class and do my work so no one tries to talk to me. If I want to meet someone I will inevitably meet them, I don’t need their stank ass up in my business because I was “in a group” so now the ice is broken.

I won’t say every group project or group effort has been negative or that it shouldn’t be implemented somehow. I can think of group situations (not formal such as those above, more like informal learning sessions in class where the whole class can group together if they CHOOSE) that did cause me to gain information and learning from others. I think it is the formal “assignment” of groups and particular group projects that cause me the most disdain. I guess, I feel that this person has no right to tell me I have to talk to this or that person or do this or that with another person. If I paid for the class it does not mean I paid to be forced into groups with my classmates, it means I paid to learn the material. And if for me I don’t learn better in groups then this is a fucking ripoff.

And the bottom line teachers and professors forget (which I think society needs a good hefty wakeup call to remind them of, and by this I mean in college) STUDENTS ARE PAYING A GREAT DEAL OF MONEY FOR THIS LEARNING EXPERIENCE. Teachers like to think they are dictators in a little society that they govern like a prison guard, or a boss a at a job. They forget one simple fact: PEOPLE PAY MONEY TO BE THERE. Just like people pay money to get things in Walmart. If I am at work and they pay me to work, they can tell me “get in that group.” If I don’t choose to do it, they can choose to hire someone who will. But if I paid for a service, then why is it that the service (of teachers and professors) can be so horrible and I can be so miserable (and I know other students are miserable with these activities to, not just me, but everyone seems to be disgruntled about having to move desks and talk to others about some bullshit we really don’t want to be talking about anyway, but have to because its our course — very rarely do people seem thrilled as punch to get up and move into “groups”).

I think we need some kind of massive student “strike” or boycott to make them realize they are getting paid by us, the consumer, they are not paying us, and we are not prisoners.

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