One common problem groups experience among team members is the “free-rider” or social-loafing team member. Wikibooks identifies several causes of social loafing. Some things faculty can do to reduce social loafing from occurring within a group include:
- Create appropriate group sizes for the project.
- Make individual contributions meaningful; create task interdependence among group members.
- Promote the use of tools that capture individual contributions to make each student’s contributions more visible (e.g., Google Docs)
- Encourage groups to have a progress-checker, to hold members accountable for contributions and to remind them of deadlines and expectations.
Unfortunately, group conflicts sometimes aren’t revealed to the instructor until the end of the project. Encouraging or requiring progress reports or feedback from students at specific intervals may help you to identify trouble spots.
For semester-long projects, a mid-semester feedback form is useful. In “Online Groups and Social Loafing: Understanding Student-Group Interactions,” Piezon and Donaldson suggest including multiple evaluation points so that “group members are aware that their contributions are salient and being observed by others. Members who are performing poorly are given several opportunities to increase their performance.”
Another strategy is to prevent conflicts by keeping the groups on track and on task by requiring small deliverables for the project throughout the semester.