This post accompanies this talk I gave at my university just before I wrote this post.

The module leader asked if I would like to share my personal experience and opinions on the group project module. It was great to be able to give feedback to all the faculty and have an open debate about what’s best for students with regard to a group module, so I gladly said yes.

Although most hate university group projects, they are a very important part of a degree, particularly in Com Sci and Software Engineering. In most cases, including mine, it’s the first trial run that students get to apply what they’ve learnt so far, to the real world. They’re particularly amazing for teaching communication skills, which, stereotypically, programmers and the like, lack.

There is not a module, currently, in UoW’s Software Engineering syllabus on communication skills. Or if there is, it’s not been included as a core module, which it should.

The reason people hate group modules is because they can be held back by unmotivated students if they themselves are a highly motivated student, or they can be (rightly) nagged to do work in the opposite case.

If universities can guarantee the grouping of the right students together, the amount of students, both with high and low (if any) aspirations, will be significantly greater.

Since universities don’t grade or measure motivation/aspiration, it’s particularly hard to define a process for grouping students together in a way where both ends of the spectrum are supported.

I believe that students should be able to choose their groups for themselves. If they are smart, they’ll choose people that share their aspiration and that they know they’ll work well with. If they’re not so smart, they’ll choose their friends and should conclude at the end of the project that working with friends doesn’t always lead to good results. Learning is about failing.

If they’re really not smart and completely lack motivation, then they’ll learn that motivation and a personal investment in what they’re studying is key to being successful. If they find they can’t invest themselves in their degree because they don’t enjoy it, they should probably reconsider continuing the degree, since when (and if) they get a job in industry they’ll very likely hate every second of their professional life. Some people may find it harsh of me to say that, and I’d agree with them, although it’s the brutal truth that needs to be faced.

One needs to find what they love, and follow it. Not take something up because it’s what they thing they should be doing, or that they must go to uni. It’s much better to wait and commit to something you love than jump feet first into something that’s only going to get you buried in debt, that won’t give you any enjoyment in the process and leads to jobs that you’ll only detest.

This module is massively important. But when high aspiring students are put together with low ones, their opportunity is wasted.

Notice that I’m talking about aspiration and motivations, not skill and ability. A student’s knowledge and skill doesn’t matter, it’s their motivation to learn and their aspirations that count.

Steve Jobs, Standford Commencement Address:

“You’ve got to find what you love – don’t settle”