Surviving Group Projects

By Corey Fedde

Studies show that the largest single contributor to academic dissatisfaction among students is the frequency of group assignments. Despite my inability to convince anyone of this fictional analysis, I am astounded that the Geneva Convention did not classify group projects as torture.

My initial bias against group work originated from years of academic collaboration. When I say “collaboration,” I mean being saddled with lackluster group members who didn’t do any real work. I felt like I always ended up doing the projects and sharing the credit. I could feel the stress shortening my lifespan.

And I was able to back up my reasoning with Biblical evidence: the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Mankind was engaged in a monumental group effort to build a giant tower as a sign of human ingenuity. It was to reach the heavens. When God saw the tower, he knocked it down, cast mankind in different directions, and created different languages to ensure mankind never again worked in collaboration. Ah, God was on my side when it came to group work.

The first time I was assigned a project that I could not physically complete on my own, I had a near panic attack. Worse than the assignment was that my group was chosen for me. The three of us were to write a twenty-page research paper with a thesis supported by gathered statistics. The class was Introduction to Political Science. The paper was 40% of our grade. My prospects were grim.

We divvied up the work evenly and scheduled regular meetings. After the first week, I felt like I was doing more than the others. By the second week, I petitioned the White House to outlaw group assignments. On the third week, I sent a rough copy of my portion of the paper to one of my group mates to read and edit. She said she was busy. I called her.

Accounts of the “Call Scandal of 2012” differ wildly. The group mates said I yelled at them for being lazy. I, borrowing a line from my mother, affirmed that I merely “raised my voice.” Whatever happened, the result was that I had one group member in tears, another angry, and we were all being dispersed in different directions. Our tower had just been knocked down. I think I did the knocking this time.

Soon after this event, I was reading the New Testament and landed on the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-6). While eating lunch with a large gathering of Jesus’ followers, the disciples felt a strange wind and were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” When Peter addressed the group of worshippers, they all understood him and each other, even though they spoke different languages. It seemed like a miracle. That’s the Holy Spirit for you.

The Pentecost contrasted deeply with the Tower of Babel. Rather than disunity from collaboration, there was cohesion and harmony from inspiration and teamwork. I suspected the different results came from the different goals: the people in the story of the Tower of Babel pursued material goals, while those on the day of Pentecost aimed for higher spiritual endeavors. I realized that if there was a time and place for group work in the Bible, there was a time and place for it in my life.

The research paper was already done. We had turned it in, and I had even mended my friendships with my two former group members. However, when the next group project came (and there will always be a next group project), I didn’t clinch my fists and shake my head like a baby being fed peas. I looked at the group project as an opportunity to focus on higher endeavors.

The difference was immediate and tangible. The more I focused on listening and understanding my teammates and my own role in the group, the more I felt relaxed and stress-free. I was even making friends, rather than almost losing them. The pressure to complete the project on my own to ensure success was gone.

Overall, I still wouldn’t choose a group project for fun, but there is a definite reason for collaboration. There are always pros and cons, and the pros are a lot easier to see when you are listening to God and to others and seeking to understand. I’m even considering withdrawing my petition to the White House.