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Tag: group work

Image of a group of students engaged in a breakout session
A group of disengaged college students, one of whom is idly checking his smartphone
Diverse group of four students working on a project

Note: Here’s a handout that can be shared with students. It outlines some of ways students working in groups can respond, with something other than complaints, to members who aren’t doing their fair share. Be welcome to modify the content, the format, or both. Click the link at the bottom of the page to download an editable Word copy.

You can explore our other handouts to students here.

Free riders—those who don’t do their fair share of work in a group—frustrate students, especially when they get the same grade as everyone else in the group. A lot of students don’t realize there are ways groups can deal with free riders—ways that make it less likely that the rest of the group will have to pick up the slack. The purpose of this handout is to help those in your group correctly identify who’s free riding and provide a range of options for responding to that behavior.

Is it the teacher’s responsibility to take care of the free rider problem? Yes, teachers should design group projects so that there are consequences for members who don’t deliver. And although groups can complain to teachers (more on this to come), now is the time to start developing the skills needed to handle free riders. Group work in college won’t be the only time you’ll encounter members who take advantage of the group, and after college there won’t be a teacher around to fix the problem.

Some typical free rider actions

Free rider behaviors vary with individuals, so expect unique combinations and maybe some behaviors not listed here.

Some typical actions of group members who lack confidence

Group members who lack confidence and are nervous about participating may look apathetic, like they don’t care and aren’t committed to the group. But looks can be deceiving, and it’s important for your group to figure out who’s free riding and who’s simply in need of some encouragement and support. Provide that, and a lot of low-confidence members become hard-working contributors.

What your groups can do about the free rider problem

And here are a couple of don’ts.

Click to download a Word version of this handout