I came across an article from THE MASSACHUSETTS DAILY COLLEGIAN titled “Point: The case against group projects” with the subheadline, “Students are not individually accountable”. The author does present a very strong case against group projects with the main argument being:
“…there is strong incentive for freeloading and one or two people end up doing the majority of the work while others reap the benefit of a joint grade, knowing that even if they don’t pull their weight, the most conscientious of the lot will ultimately get the job done. “
I believe, however, that the author wrongly attributes social loafing in group projects to the lecturer not designating at the start of the project who in the group was responsible for which tasks. I believe that the underlying cause of social loafing is that everyone in the group receives the same grade regardless of each team member’s overall contribution to the task – simply assigning tasks to each group member does not ensure that the tasks will be completed, nor to an acceptable standard. As soon as a team member’s individual grade is predicated on their contribution to the task (and leadership) then the likelihood of social loafing dramatically decreases.
It’s important to note that even if all students put in the same effort, the quality of work is still going to vary, as it is unlikely that each team member shares the same capability. Therefore, it is still important to award individual grades in a group project based on their respective contribution (quality being a measure) to the task.
There are a number of tools available to lecturers, such as Peer Assess Pro, that use peer assessment to determine individual grades based on contribution to the task. Using peer assessment to determine individual grades does not automatically guarantee perfect outcomes for all group projects, but it does ensure that each team member earns the grade that they deserve, which I believe would make for much happier students.