Sometimes faculty members tell us they want to get their students involved in longer-term group projects (from several weeks to the whole quarter) because these projects teach teamwork and develop communication and collaboration skills. Great! We’re into that type of skill development here too.
But let’s talk about one of the practical realities: some students will “freeload”; that is, not do as much work as their peers. When every member of the group earns the same grade, the hard workers need to make up for the slackers in order to get the A they are looking for. Many faculty members, as overachievers, remember this problem from when they themselves were students – they remember feeling resentment and frustration that they were doing more than their peers in group scenarios.
Research on ways to reduce freeloading and increase student satisfaction with group work is emerging slowly. Here are a few principles I’ve picked up from the literature and from talking with colleagues:
- Students need to be given the chance to do peer evaluations within their groups. The high achievers don’t want to suffer in silence.
- We, as instructors, need to build in opportunities for students to discuss the group process early. Our students aren’t born knowing how to work effectively in teams. I’ve held out-of-class meetings with each student group in a class to help them talk about how to trouble-shoot group interaction problems before they start, and other instructors (see below) recommend requiring student groups to do periodic ungraded evaluations of each member throughout the quarter. Dyrud (2001) has virtually eliminated last-minute group crises using these early, formative evaluations.
- Students sometimes respond well to the opportunity to distribute points to each member of the group. Maranto and Gresham (1998) find that asking students to distribute an uneven number of points (say 9 points to 4 of their group members) helps students identify the best/worst contributors. With proper use, this technique can help you adjust student grades according to their contributions.
If you’d like to read further, here are some recommendations:
- Dyrud, M. A. (2001). Group projects and peer review. Business Communication Quarterly 64(4): 106(7).
- Shows ungraded, formative review sheet, recommending repeated use at weeks 4 and 7, with a formal evaluation upon project completion.
- Brooks, C. M. and J. L. Ammons (2003). Free riding in group projects and the effects of timing, frequency, and specificity of criteria in peer assessments. Journal of Education for Business 78(5): p268(5). DOI: 10.1080/08832320309598613
- Provides a sample evaluation packet, also pointing out the benefits of early timing to reduce social loafing.
- Maranto, R. and A. Gresham (1998). Using “World Series shares” to fight free riding in group projects. PS: Political Science & Politics 31(4): 789(3).
- Describes the “Knickrehm Method” of dividing a given number of points among group members in confidential balloting using a key.
We’d like to hear how you’ve handled the problem of freeloading in group work. What works? What doesn’t?