Professors, don’t assign group work during a pandemic

Many classes this semester are taking place over Zoom. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

The dreaded group project is an assignment that often invokes a classroom-wide sigh, a sudden rush of anxiety and momentary scrambling. Students who find themselves in a group project face obstacles that otherwise would not exist when working independently: finding meeting times that work for all, dividing the workload fairly and relying on peers to work in a timely manner, to name a few.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt daily life, many classes have adapted group work to adhere to social distancing guidelines. But the main benefits of group projects are lost and the challenges only get worse in a virtual setting.

Typically, group work requires students to meet in person, so they can compare notes and thoughts and complete the assignment as a team. Having to accommodate each member and ensure everyone holds themselves accountable for their share of work is stressful — your assignment grade may be left in the hands of the kid who sleeps through the entire class.  

But in-person group work does promote the sharing of ideas and helps students better understand class material. In a virtual setting, however, group communication is unclear and uncomfortable, especially when technological obstacles pop up along the way.

For one, the unpredictable nature of the internet and technology makes it even more difficult to find a time and space for the group to collaborate. Students are expected to meet via video call where technical difficulties including poor camera and microphone quality and bad Wi-Fi connection make sharing ideas a challenge. Popular videoconferencing platform Zoom has also been known to have internal issues that can halt entire workdays without warning: On Aug. 24, the first day of virtual instruction for many universities and institutions around the nation, Zoom suffered a crash making it very difficult for thousands of classes, groups and peers to meet. Technical issues are not unheard of for sites that are used daily by thousands of people all at once and can sometimes go unresolved for hours at a time.

On top of this, the coronavirus pandemic is constantly affecting people’s availability to work. Many find themselves unexpectedly ill with the virus, caring for a family member who is sick or responding to emergency situations. It’s wrong to expect that students rely on one another for grade security in times like this, when security does not exist.  

As a result, the once daunting and less-than-favorable group project is now a virtual nightmare.

While students are trying to complete their classes in the middle of a global crisis, the benefits of doing group work are clearly overshadowed by the inevitable complications. Professors should reconsider assigning group projects during this already strange and uncomfortable semester. Students have enough to worry about without the added stress of working in a group.

Gabriella Kurczeski is a junior English and psychology major. She can be reached at gkurczes@terpmail.umd.edu.

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