Negin Sattari, Department of Cognitive Sciences

Group Versus Individual Project

Often students’ faces announce dissatisfaction when a group project is proposed during the first session of the class as a part of the final examination. The complaints are mainly coming from hard-working students who doubt that other group members work as hard as they do. This guard against group projects is even more stressed among college students who may not see their classmates a lot due to differences in life schedule. On the other hand, group work has been shown to be beneficial for teamwork practices in students’ future careers. Specifically, college instructors are required to prepare students for future careers. Further, considering the impact of students’ enthusiasm on the quality of their learning, how should instructors design group projects to fulfill the need of teamwork and at the same time take away the stress and dissatisfaction from students? This is a critical question to ask.

Group-Individual Project (GIP)

Perhaps a GIP can be offered in comparison to either solely group work, which may not reflect individuals’ learned knowledge per se, or an isolated individual project, which takes away the “teamwork” opportunity and adds to the instructor’s workload in terms of grading. Using GIP, instructors should be able to evaluate both individual and group work. Of course, there are considerations for using GIP. For example, two rubrics are needed: one for the individual and one for the group. In addition, the clarity between the two parts (individual/group) is essential both for the students and the instructor. However, since active, student-centered classrooms are encouraged, students can be involved in the process of creating GIP materials themselves. This way, student engagement in the class increases, which may lead to an increase in student satisfaction of the “group” part of the project and at the same time take away a portion of the instructor’s workload.

An GIP Example

I used GIP twice in my Development Across Lifespan class at Chapman University. In this class, students learn about physical, cognitive, social, and personality development across different age ranges from infancy to older adulthood. Here, I am going to briefly show the step-by-step method I used to make the GIP work:

  • Students were advised to create a group of at least 3 members.
  • Groups were given a week to pick an area that interested everybody (e.g. memory-development).
  • Groups were given a week to assign each member to a specific age range.
  • Individuals were instructed to find 3 papers related to the group’s topic in their age range (e.g. memory-development in infancy for one, memory-development in adolescence for another, etc.).
  • Each student met with me briefly (~15 minutes) to make sure the papers were sufficient to answer their questions regarding their group’s topic and their age range.
  • As students were developing their knowledge on the topic, they were given time in class to meet with their group to update others on the expertise they obtained about their age range.
  • During the last class session, students made a poster as a group and each presented their part in a group presentation in assigned time slots.

Both based on student feedback and my experience, I found GIP to be a great tool to 1) encourage teamwork, and 2) reduce the stress related to individual differences within the team. In addition, with the two separate rubrics, and the poster format for presentation, grading was done fast and the class heard about the patterns of development of different topics across the life span.


Forrest, K., & Miller, R. (2003). Not another group project: Why good teachers should care about bad group experiences. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 244-246.

How to Improve Group Work: Perspectives from Students by Brigitte Vittrup, Texas Woman’s University.

Hammar Chiriac, E. (2014). Group work as an incentive for learning: Students’ experiences of group work. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1-10.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on March 6th, 2020.