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UoPeople's MBA - The Fairness of Group Work

© J. Francois Barnard – January 5, 2022

If you read what universities say about group work, you would see phrases like it being "an effective and powerful way to learn," being "highly relevant to the workplace," being "more efficient and fun," and it "enables you to pool your ideas and see problems from different perspectives." But is it true? Do we as students really benefit from it?

UoPeople is an online university, and I love the idea of the virtual "rubbing of shoulders" with students worldwide. I am a hard worker, and I can spot like-minded, hard workers in the first discussion forum. Since 2017, I have met wonderful people and still correspond with some today.

A key difference between my BSBA and MBA studies is doing group work, and so far, I have been blessed with being in groups where my peers also worked hard.

Except for this last term.

fairness When I see my group allocation, I look at who my peers are, and in which time zones they reside. If possible, I will try to arrange to do the final presentation of the group work for at least one of the courses I do per term. Some of my strong points lie in formatting the document according to APA guidelines, rounding off the text using tools like Grammarly, and checking for plagiarism.

However, if I see another hard worker in the group with me, and I know them from a previous term, I would ask them to lead the group because I am probably leading another course's group work. Usually, it works, but there are times when you can land up in a group where your peers are not able or inclined to take the lead and assemble an excellent final product.

I have noticed that most of my peers welcomed the idea that someone would take the lead and assemble the final product. They would choose which part of the group assignment they like to do and quickly dive into it. Then they can focus on other tasks and not worry about the final product. I do not mind working harder to get the final product out because I want to get the highest possible grade. All I need is for the others to do their best and contribute well-researched work.

For group assignments, all students receive the same grade. Yes, the hard workers and loafers are treated the same - and as long as everyone has contributed something worthwhile, I am fine with it. I can always make adjustments to improve it.

However, when we spot plagiarism, we reject it. We cannot tolerate cheating and will not jeopardize the grading of the group work. A few weeks ago, a peer refused to redo her part of the assignment, even though we pointed out that she plagiarized more than 50% of it. We had to omit all of her work, and I worked into the wee hours of the morning to research it and fill in the gap she left.

Should she get the same grade as the rest of us? I think not. Yet, she did, and this is where I question the fairness of group work. Do those who plagiarize deserve the same qualification I am working hard to get? If group work allows them to get it, there is a systemic fault and no fairness.

In another course, we submitted individual assignments in Units 1, 3 and 5, and discussed each other's work as a group. We received no feedback from the instructor after each unit, and by Unit 7, we were graded. It counts for 10% of the final grade, and I raked in 7 out of 10, which sounds fine, but it is not. For your MBA, you need an average of 73% to pass, and getting 7/10 means that I failed at 10% of this course. I know I will not fail the course in total, but for me, every percentile counts towards my goal.

Any long-distance runner can complete a marathon, but those who aim for the gold medal at the Olympics work much harder, and for them, every little thing contributing towards that goal is of utmost importance.

If group work means that my instructor judges me by the group's average, then I want no part in group work. Then group work is not reasonably assessed.

In general, I do not think there is fairness in group work. Those who advocate it will write many pages on how you should prepare it and how instructors can influence it to be a positive experience. Reaching those successes in a few short weeks at UoPeople is unreasonable. The volume of work does not allow for easing yourself into a group and building relationships.

You create a WhatsApp group, greet everyone, and spell out the project's scope. Depending on the various time zones of the members in the group, responses can take 12 to 24 hours. Each one claims a piece to do, and one person assembles all the work into one document. Everyone submits before the due date, and you hope for good grades. Once graded, you thank each other and delete the WhatsApp group. You seldom see those people again.

I do not think the above group work prepares me to collaborate with my colleagues at work. There we have a much deeper context about the scope of each project, and we do it minding the sustainability of the project and the relationships involved. We never have to cram everything into two or three weeks.

I do not discard group work because any experience can be a good experience. Sometimes you need to experience that which you never want to do again. So, I participate in the group work and do as well as possible, even though there is no fairness to be found.