Phi Beta Cons

The Folly of Team Projects

Students should be encouraged to acquire team skills through jobs, sports teams, and social/professional clubs — not through the classroom.

In his 1/17 column, David Brooks makes good points about the necessity of team skills for success in modern careers. At the NAS site however, I argue that the classroom may not be the best venue for teaching those team skills; too many team projects in school are poorly managed from both the teacher and the student end. Under the guise of “teaching how to work in teams,” these projects are frequently assigned as a matter of convenience in order to reduce the grading load in classes.

As I mention in my essay, I’ve made my share of mistakes in trying to assign team projects in class. My experience and conversations with colleagues suggest that the classroom should be used for as much individual work as possible. GPAs are the currency of academia and an overreliance on team assignments distorts how much a given student has learned in a class unless those projects are managed to ensure that free riding is minimized (easier said than done).

Not everyone will agree with my stance on team projects, but if my essay forces professors to justify the effectiveness of their team assignments, I have achieved my goal.  

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