Monday, January 22, 2007

My Weekend Plans go Awry

I had plans for the weekend. I was going to catch up on some chores, perhaps read a bit, and spend lots of time in my music room, laying down several tracks of a song I have been working on. For anyone interested in such things, I use n-track software on my PC to record and tweak my stuff. I like n-track, it's easy to use but powerful enough to do some interesting things and add some great effects when mixing the tracks.

Alas, I spent no time recording and mixing music. Why not? I was conscripted. I had to help my son complete a group assignment that was due today. Where were the other members of his group? Damned if I know.

Why do our educational establishments assign group projects? Any idiot knows that group dynamics don't work. Someone does all or most of the work, and everyone else goes along for the ride, mostly contributing inane and unworkable suggestions and generally wasting time. It has always been thus and always will be, forever and ever, amen. If there has ever been an exception to this rule, I am not aware of it.

My son had left his email address with the other four members of his group, but foolishly had no contact information at all for three of them, and only an email address for the fourth. He had not given his telephone number to anyone, nor had he taken the telephone numbers of any of his group members. Everyone left school on Friday with some vague promise to get together on the weekend. Naturally, that intent came to naught and the deadline for the assignment, which represents 10% of the final mark in my son's Geography class, would have been been missed.

What to do? I suggested to my son that he do the project all by himself, hand it in with only his name on it, and explain to the teacher that he did all the work himself because the group never agreed on what to do, when to do it and how, and obviously had no possible way of completing the assignment on time.

So, he did just that. He did a good job. I helped him format a bunch of stuff so that it could be printed on card stock, on a colour printer, something I knew more about than he (how weird is that -- a 61-year-old father knowing more about computers and software than his 14-year-old son?) and the project was completed about 9:30 Sunday night.

Now, I wonder what is going to happen. Will the assignment be accepted from an individual, especially since it was to be a group effort? Will my son be penalized because he did the work on his own? Or, will it be deemed to be the group's joint effort anyway, and everyone will share the marks? I have no idea, but I will be extremely pissed off if anyone else gets to share in the marks. In real life, if I foolishly assigned a project to a group and only one person did all the work, all of the slackards would be disciplined or fired.

I don't know why we have this fixation in our schools that kids should work together on group projects. Nor do I know why many of the projects are so complex that there is absolutely no way that the children could do them on their own. I finished my schooling in 1969. My days of doing homework and working on class projects should be over.

I am very curious to see what will happen when my son hands in his assignment today.

And, next weekend, come hell or high water, I want some time to myself.


  1. I agree with you about the group work thing. I was venting about it not too long ago and a professor of mine emailed me to tell me that Group work was very important in University, because people have to work together, in research or otherwise.

    It's bs.

    My mark depends on some half-wit who I just met, who happens to sit next to me, who isn't trying to see how well they can do, who only wants to pass.. all too often.

    That last assignment I did for my group - nearly 60 hours I spent and we all got 95%. I'm happy that I have the 95, but I'm annoyed about losing the last 5 and further annoyed that they shared in the mark, but really, that will only happen so often. You can't get other people to do all your work all of the time and eventually, someone will notice that they are a bunch of slackers and they will be fired or penalized.

    I just dropped a class because our prof said she only lectured for 50% of the classes and the rest were meant for us to use doing a group research project.

    I didn't pay my tuition to work for my prof. That's grad school, not undergrad. And, I'm not leaving 50% of my 3rd year mark in this class, which will be assessed by Grad schools, up to five (yes, five) other people.

    I don't get it either.

    I am happy that you helped your son. There are lessons to be learned for your son and myself in these projects.

    I hope you get some down time next weekend, Atavist!

  2. I just talked to my son, Penny, and he handed in the assignment to the teacher and, in his words, "she assumed" it was from the whole group. He elected not to set her straight. His group buddies all said, "Gee, thanks, that was great."

    The problem with teenagers is that they want to be liked too much, and in his case my son didn't want to make the statement that the group members were a bunch of deadbeats. So, I gave up some of my precious weekend time to help a bunch of lazy kids I don't even know.

    I understand your dropping that class you mention. Profs are supposed to contribute to your education, or so I would like to think. Otherwise, why not simply take correspondence courses?

  3. Forced group activity makes no sense. Some people work best in groups and others on their own. There's no global standard. It ends up exactly as you say.

    I hope your son will address the issues head on and make it a point to emphasize that.



  4. I love these posts because so often they remind me of a time that I had a similar situation.

    Firstly, I find that in the adult world, it's hard enough to get a group of people together for any kind of "project". Inviting people over for an evening for example. Send out the invites, coax responses from people. Then at the last minute they call up and cancel. Some are late. Once in a while some don't even show up.

    If it's that hard for adults to make group activities work, how much less will it be possible kids?
    They have no cars to get around, and as is true in my case, I was more interested in all the other fun stuff I wanted to do, and not the group project.

    The one I remember the most (or the least, since it was never done) was one very similar to the one you've just described. It was grade 7 I think, and we had to create some unique object to help with life on a deserted island. Something along those lines.

    Same thing happened. Everyone parted ways, absolutely no contact information was exchanged, and in the end as far as I recall, there was absolutely no project completed.

    Later when I was in Tech School, our final semester was largely taken up with a group project. This was a much better situation than grade 7 as people were older, had transportation, and a whole lot more responsibility. Even so, it took one member of my team to really kick it into gear one weekend and show up on Monday with a great looking start to the project. Once that was done, the rest of us got some traction and ended up with a good project.

    But it took an individual to do
    some work at the start to pave
    a path for the rest of the team.

    Sieg, you're probably familiar
    with this in software development
    too. One or two people need to
    work on a project to first get it
    to the place where it can be
    worked on by a group.

    Now, I will say something for groups... they're great for games!

  5. Trooper: You got it nailed absolutely right with the software development. I had one guy who could do anything, correctly and on time, every time. Then, there were the others... I could write a book.

    The only way that I see groups working is where everyone sits around and brainstorms to define the project. The best ideas are then culled and each discrete function or module or task, depending on the project, is assigned to one person. The caveat is that everything has to fit together in some pre-defined way, whether it is a software program or an electronic device or a school project. Then everyone is sent away to do the work. Anything that doesn't ultimately revolve atround individual effort will fail.

  6. I assumed a leadership role over a group of six, recently, after two days of no correspondence from the original decision to work together. I emailed them all, attaching my synopsis of the chapter we were supposed to be in charge of presenting.

    Four days later, with no replies..

    I sent point form suggestions as to which areas could be better developed and point form questions regarding new areas that might offer interest.

    I also gave a very brief description of two sub-headings that I had emailed one Emiritus and an agency about. I had hoped that this outside-the-box initiative may inspire similar type thinking and brainstroming about questions, issues and sources.

    I tried not to seem as though I had taken over, I left ample room for everyone's ideas and asked many suggestive questions to give them a head-start.

    I wrote it all in a team-oriented tone and sent out my email address and two telephone numbers and times during which I could be reached.

    As well, when I finally got their schedules emailed to me (their limited schedules), I cross referenced them and made up two possible subgroups which could meet on two of the days of the week and then one day of the week, on which we could all meet to collaberate.

    It was a big project and worth 10% of our mark.

    No one showed to the first two meetings. No one emailed any of their 'progress' for revision. Finally, I gave half my work to one of the girls who.. ladedah.. had been busy, but not to the girl who had been dismissively busy with her 'pubcrawl plans this weekend'.

    In the end, no one had read the chapter (they had glanced through my synopsis); I had to correct contraditions in their work (because they hadn't read the chapter); and, we didn't have anything extra in our project except my 40 hours of research.

    So I stayed up very late the night before it was due and put together some video footage and slides and sent them to the remaining nitwits.. why?

    Because I needed an A+.

    When we got our A+, after I had verbalized my disgust and disappointment to the group, two of them had the nerve to insinuate that they must not have done too badly, since we did get an A+.

    I bit my tongue when I should have said, "I got you your A+"

    Some people aren't worth explaining it to.

    Group school work means that those who wish to succeed and do well have four to five times the amount than those who don't really give a damn and it most often means sharing the reward, even if the responsibility is not shared.

    What that is supposed to teach us about working in the real world, I have yet to figure out. But, if it's a lesson in social-psychology or group dynamics or leadership, the final mark should either be only be worth about 2%, based on the unethical and unfair scrutinization of a non-controlled experiment in interpersonal relations, without consent. Or, it should be worth about 50%, because what is being tested isn't my knowledge.. it's my patience.


    I understand where your son is coming from. He got the mark he needs. Those guys can find another sucker some other time and he saves face. For now.

    But, the sooner he learns to stand up and call bullshit where it lay at his feet, the sooner he earns the respect that will make people want to work hard for him.

    It's too bad that the rest of the group couldn't be disqualified from this exercise based on the fact that they used an unsited source - You. It would affect your sons mark, too, though, I suppose.

    It's so irritating!

    Atavist, your summary of how group work should be sorted out from the beginning, is exactly on point. That is the only way.

    If they would just come to the table..

  7. I am so glad I am no longer in school, Penny. Putting up with all this stuff would be just too much. You have the patience of Job, apparently, and tenacity to match. When you are successful, after a stellar academic stint and application of your hearty work ethic, many of your peers will resent you because of your success. There is a real disconnect between reality and perception with individuals who coast through life without ever exerting themselves or thinking an original thought and wonder why they never accomplish anything of note.

  8. I agree, Atavist.

    When the schizophrenic is given meds to make the voices stop, they often complain of lonliness.

    And, by that I mean that some peoples' delusions are all they have.