Group projects: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Group work is common experience for library school students, and a pretty popular topic of discussion here at HLS. I managed to avoid this experience during my first year as an LIS student, but made up for it this semester as all three of my classes had group assignments as major portions of the grade. While I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to avoid group work throughout my program, I was a bit overwhelmed during my first week of classes when I learned that I’d be subject to three such experiences in one semester. I, like many people that I’ve talked to, have always hated group work. Whenever given the option, I’ve worked independently. But this semester I learned that group work doesn’t have to be bad. One of my group projects was among the best experiences I’ve had in library school, one was kind of bad, and one extremely frustrating. I’ll discuss these projects under the labels, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

For the first class I’ll be discussing, I found the group work to actually be pretty enjoyable. But I don’t know if I would have been able to predict this from the start. Our first, group meeting was, well, pretty awkward. Part of this stems from the fact that this was an online class, and so our group meeting took place in the form of chatting with one another in a “break out room” during time that was set aside in class. As you can imagine, this is a pretty unnatural way to communicate with people, especially people that you don’t know.

Now one thing that the instructor did for this class that worked really well was to set aside in class time most weeks to allow us to meet in these break out rooms. And week after week, I noticed that our conversations with one another became more natural, and we really meshed together as a team.

So aside from getting to work with some awesome people in this class, I developed experience working remotely with people in real time. I think this experience is particularly valuable because librarians often participate in conference calls, often with people that they haven’t met before. After taking this class, I feel a lot more comfortable talking to people that I haven’t met face to face, and jumping right into a project instead of sitting through an awkward silence wondering who is going to speak first.

The Bad

My experience in my second group project should have been okay. One of the three other members of the group was not particularly communicative, but generally everyone made an effort to contribute to the project as best they could. However, our project was derailed a bit when our initial topic turned out to be unmanageable for the amount of time we had left prior to the deadline. This resulted in our having to shift to a completely new direction last minute, and I think this ended up hurting out ability to work as effectively as a group. Each member still contributed, but it felt more like each of us was working independently on a sort of mini-project, rather than working on something larger as a team.

The Ugly

My final group project was particularly frustrating almost entirely due to a lack of communication throughout the group. This project, like the first one I discussed, was for an online class. However, for this class we didn’t have very many opportunities to meet in class. This made communication a bit of a burden, and this was only complicated by the fact that some members of the group were not very timely in responding to emails, or otherwise contributing to aspects of the project.

Final Thoughts

While 2 of my 3 group projects were somewhat frustrating this semester, I did learn that group work isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In addition to what I learned with respect to the content of the course, I gained some valuable experience working remotely and speaking with people in a conference call type of setting. I think gaining this kind of real world experience is often the justification behind group projects, and I’m glad that I was able to enjoy some of that.

Nevertheless, group projects introduce some factors that are beyond your control. You can’t always choose your group members, and even when you can, there’s no guarantee ahead of time that their working styles will match up well with yours. But this is how the real world works as well, and I think it can be valuable to gain experience working through these sorts of projects. Even if librarianship is your dream job, not every project is going to be a dream project, and part of being a successful professional is navigating these challenges.


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