Thursday, January 17, 2008

The trouble with group projects

I'm going to preface this by stating that I can be a team player. Thank you.

In my last semester, I am taking a two hundred level computer engineering class, which is semi-required for three different majors. The class itself is relatively simple, although Mr. Professor could benefit from some student-centered advice.

Issue 1: Do not require engineers to choose groups on the second day of class.
  • First, the engineers do not yet understand the format of the class, and have not yet had time to re-establish their cave. This will disorient them, and breed general dislike.
  • Second, the engineers need more time to meet with the people in the class and determine compatibility. Nothing is worse than waking up halfway through the course and realizing that your life would have been incomparably easier if you'd worked with the kid sitting on your left instead of your right.
Issue 2: Limit the number of restrictions on the composition of groups.
  • Let's do the math: In a class of 42 students, it is impossible to have teams of exactly four students apiece. Given this, it is not recommended to threaten groups of five with amputating a member should more students enroll while discouraging teams of three.
  • Interdisciplinary cooperation is great. Unfortunately, if you want 1 Computer Science student, 1 Computer Engineering student and 1 Electrical Engineering student per group, you're going to run into issues when there are 8 CompSci's in the class.
Issue 3: Do not be surprised when students follow the letter and not the intent.
This should go without saying. If we have a group with 3 EEs, 1 CompSci, and 1 CompE, do not email saying that the CompE doesn't count because he's a double major. Likewise, listen to the five seniors in the class who offer to go without a CompSci. (A combined 20 years of programming intensive curricula will, in fact compensate for a sophomore who hasn't finished linear algebra.)

In summary, if the number of restrictions is greater than the number of students in the group, you're better off just assigning teams.

And with those words of wisdom, it's time to go send some emails and try to convince Mr. Professor to give a little bit.

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