Photo by Kyle West

By: Monica Takahashi

Group projects are becoming an increasingly unavoidable element of university. Nowadays, it seems as though group work is included in every course. There has been also been a simultaneous rise in project-based programs, especially at McMaster University.

Different courses treat group work differently. Some require students to answer a difficult problem that should, in theory, be easier to solve through collaboration. Other courses assign projects with a heavy workload under the assumption that this workload can be managed effectively by a large group of students.

In both situations, the individuals that compose the group can make or break the project. In theory, group projects are great. They teach students how to collaborate with different people and allow them to strengthen their communication and teamwork skills. In practice, however, group projects can be incredibly stressful.

As a fourth-year student in the Integrated Science program, a project-based program, I have been working in groups for the better part of my degree. I have had both positive and negative group experiences but ultimately am against the current structure of group projects in universities.

Even if all the group members are competent and invested in the project, it can be difficult to divide the work evenly. This difficulty can increase significantly when one or more of the group members is not well-versed in the course content or simply does not care about the project. When the volume of work that each person is responsible for varies dependent on the varied levels of interest and ability, things can become problematic as students receive credit they do not deserve.

I have found that there are three main types of group members who consistently cause problems. First, there are those who lack basic communication skills. These individuals are the ones who never respond to messages in a timely manner. Coincidentally, these individuals seem to also always encounter a “big emergency” hours before the project is due. Asking for help is fine but there needs to be adequate forewarning and a valid reason.

Then there are the group members who actually want to help with the project but lack the abilities to do so. While I recognize their attempts to help, the burden to teach these individuals should not fall on other students. It is true that part of group work involves learning through teaching each other, but there is a difference between discussing advanced concepts and teaching someone the very basics of a course.

Finally, there are group members who simply fail to contribute towards the project at all. These are the most infuriating to deal with and unfortunately, the most prevalent. There should be greater measures in place to ensure that students are not given marks they don’t deserve due to someone else’s extra efforts.

Professors could have a better way of modulating group projects. As it stands, there should be some metric whereby students receive a grade proportional to the work they put into a project. While some professors have implemented a peer evaluation process, many courses still lack this completely.

The courses that do have this evaluation could still be greatly improved and better managed. It is not enough to reward students’ additional efforts at the end of the project as this still leads to students being unfairly overworked and over stressed. Instead, courses that have large group projects can also have mandatory check-in periods to ensure that all students are contributing.

Working in groups is an important part of many jobs and so it makes sense to implement group work at the university level. However, until group projects are restructured, their existence will continue to be at the disservice of hardworking students.

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Photos from Silhouette Photo Archives

By Adriana Skaljin

Conor Marshall has been playing for the McMaster men’s rugby team for three years and has followed the sport since the ninth grade.

The fourth-year chemical engineering student decided to play the sport due to its physicality and challenging nature. However, it was not until he picked the sport back up in the 12th grade that he realized that it was a good fit for himself.

“Rugby teaches you about life lessons, as it challenges you to play as a team, work with each other’s personalities, and ultimately move as a single unit,” explained Marshall. “A rugby team is only as strong as its weakest player, which proves the importance of communication and teamwork.”

[spacer height="20px"]At a high school level, Marshall explained how the differing levels of understanding and skill towards the sport contrast the strong passion for the sport that comes at a university level.

“In university, everyone knows what they are doing in the game, which allows us to come together to build the platform needed to win,” said Marshall.

The team is composed of around sixty players, whose age range is staggered across all undergraduate years. A lot of players were recruited this year, due to the loss of several upper-year players. It was one of the biggest recruiting sessions, as people were pulled from all over Ontario, rather than by joining the team as walk-ons.

“We have many talented veterans on the team, who are joined by lower-years that are stepping up their game,” said Marshall. “Our first-year players are providing us with speed, which is changing the way that we are playing. Others are providing us with size and effort.”

Marshall described how having an age diverse team has contributed to strong levels of mentorship and leadership both on and off the field.

He explained how the upper-year players serve to help correct and assist the younger players on the field. This leadership extends off the field as well, as seen through the implemented mentorship program.

“The mentorship program that has been created for the team, pairs up fourth-year players with younger years,” explained Marshall. “Off the field, these upper-year mentors help lower-year ‘buddies’ with their homework and will check in to see how they’re doing.”

It is evident that this mentorship program is one of the many things that led to Marshall’s classification of the team as being “friendship oriented.” Both on and off the field, the team is described to always have each other's best interest in mind, which ultimately allows them to connect on the field.

[spacer height="20px"]“It’s an interesting dynamic as to how the players smash each other in the game, but then can meet up with one another and have a talk,” said Marshall. “The fact that we can do this with the rival teams prove that rugby is a humble sport.

The team also has six captains who share the responsibility of leading the team. The ‘Leadership Group’ decides themselves who the captains are for each game, and attribute to the team’s purpose of being player-oriented.

These captains sit down with the coaching staff and come up with the areas that they believe need the most work. These improvements are then touched upon during their film study session, which occurs on Sundays, and then becomes the main focus of that week’s practices.

“The fact that we get to figure out our own areas of improvement has created a great environment to play in,” said Marshall. “Coach [Dan] Pletch is a player-oriented person and instead of telling you how to do something, he will ask a question and make us figure it out. He calls it problem-based learning, and I find it to be very effective.”

This coaching style forces the players to figure out the problems themselves, which is a challenge that the team has accepted.

“It allows us to come up with ways to better the system,” explained Marshall. “By allowing us to come up with our own solutions, Pletch has implemented a method that makes us very player-oriented.”

It is through a player-oriented approach and the strong mentorship between teammates, that players such as Conor Marshall, have recognized their areas of improvement and the fact that they are stronger together.

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