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I'm a TA in a graduate level course. Students in the course have to hand in a weekly assignment which is done in pairs.

A few days ago, one of the students approached the professor and told her that they are not getting along with their partner and requested to join another pair of students, in practice creating a group of three students and leaving their current partner on their own. The professor asked me and the second TA for our opinion in this matter.

When we inquired further, the student stated (roughly) that they think the partner does not take the course seriously, does not put enough effort and expects them to do all the work. They also stated that success in this course is important for them and that they wish to work along with a similarly motivated student. (They named a specific student they would like to work with. That student already has partner so it would make a group of three students.)

While the request itself sounds legitimate, we are reluctant to comply with it, because we are not happy with the idea of students working on assignments in groups of more than two since we think this is unlikely to lead to situations where all students in the group put in a reasonable amount of effort. Also we are concerned of what will happen with the current partner of the student if we comply. Thirdly, although we have no proof on this matter, both the professor and I independently had the gut feeling that the request might (mind you, I said might, again there's no proof and we may be totally wrong here) also be related to racial tensions.

A possible solution we were thinking about is to have a conversation with both students and see if we can make them work together in a more productive way.

I will be most grateful for any tips as to how to make this conversation productive and as pleasant as possible to the students involved.

Also if someone has any other thoughts on this matter such as creative solutions or convincing arguments for/against the obvious solutions such as refusing the request, complying with the request, doing some reshuffling in the pairs in order to be able to comply with the request and still guarantee all students are working in pairs, I will be most grateful.

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    How were pairs initially formed? Was it by student choice? Professor assigned? Would it be possible to ask a group of 3 to do extra work beyond what is asked of a group of 2? Or for a lone student do be resonsible for less than that of a pair? – pip install frisbee Nov 26 '19 at 19:27
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    How do you handle an odd number of students? How do you handle drops? All of these are related to your question. Also, you need to implement something like periodic peer evaluation. But you need to be sophisticated about it. And the answers here that suggest periodic shuffling are probably your best bet. – Buffy Nov 26 '19 at 19:59
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    Peer evaluations mean you get each student to answer a set of questions or rate each team member against a scale and evaluate the responses of how each team member is performing or perceived to perform compared to their colleagues. Best done electronically instead of by paper... Working out how you "sum" the values is a good exercise... dealing with errors and missing info... – Solar Mike Nov 26 '19 at 20:27
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    See this question of mine and at least my own answer to it:cseducators.stackexchange.com/q/3408/1293 – Buffy Nov 26 '19 at 20:46
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    Pairing up students at the beginning of the semester means students don't necessarily know their pair and can't assess their work ethic before pairing up. Being stuck for an entire semester with a pair who doesn't do their share can be rather unfair. If the assignments are independent, consider allowing all pairs to change over the course of the semester. – usernumber Nov 27 '19 at 12:36

13 Answers 13

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I would consider asking the student who is not getting along with their partner, whether they would consider leaving their current partner and work on their own from here on out. That way, the student still would have to do all the work on their own, but no longer has someone benefitting from their efforts without contributing.

If the student seriously considers this solution, you can be more confident that the complaint is genuine: if the student would be willing to go it alone, it is quite likely that the contribution of their current partner is near zero. But if the student is not willing to entertain this solution as a serious option, then you can derive the information that their current partner does contribute at least something to the team, and the request looks much less reasonable.

Based on the information you retrieve from this process, you can still decide to allow the student to join a team of three, or reshuffle some other way; asking the question does not commit you to actually make the student work on their own. But it might give you relevant insights.

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    +1. Truly the Solomonic solution. – darij grinberg Nov 26 '19 at 20:16
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    @Buffy: That's the easy part. What do you do about students who keep getting refused by their partners multiple times (despite switching partners)? That's one of the issues you get into with mandatory group work. – darij grinberg Nov 26 '19 at 21:10
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    I feel that there is something fishy about "testing" the student for their genuineness. But on the other hand, it looks reasonable, too, not trying to deceive the student, but to talk it out. My concern is that the student might reject working alone precisely with the same reason the student has given: they do not want to work alone, and is expecting someone else to help them, it's just the student simply doesn't get help from this particular partner. – justhalf Nov 27 '19 at 4:55
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    +1, but student working alone should expect to be graded differently. For example, if expected work is 20 pages, he should get away with doing less if only it covers the material, even in less depth that required from pairs. If still expected to do the whole work of a pair, student may say "no" even if all the bad partner provides is trivial work like formatting. "hey also stated that success in this course is important for them" - so they should have real chance of success even if only 50% of work expected from great pair is done, right? If they don't, saying "no" means nothing. – Mołot Nov 27 '19 at 11:42
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    We were all students, and we had our share of colleagues who just waited for us to do the assignments and did not bring any added value to the group. I had multiple assignments were only me and other guy were the ones doing the work out of a group of four, and one element of the group did not even want to print assignments out of the caution of having to do some last hour formatting work. This solution seems perfect to distinguish whether this is a legitimate request, or the complaining student wants to find an easier "victim". – Rui F Ribeiro Nov 27 '19 at 14:15
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I'm surprised that you hadn't foreseen this. Many students have complaints about their randomly-assigned partners - and frankly, many of these complaints are legitimate. I recommend switching partners weekly. This gives three advantages:

  • No one has an unfair advantage (in grades or workload) from having been assigned an awesome partner, or an unfair disadvantage from getting a bad partner; such things tend to average out.
  • Students can learn to work with many different types of people
  • Students can "grade" their partners and provide feedback -- by the end of the course, the students (and you) will have a statistically-significant measure of each student's ability to work in groups (I stole this idea from Randy Pausch's book).

At any rate -- you have come this far, it may be too late to switch your paradigm this time (though maybe not). If this is the case: I don't think either of the options you presented are fair -- first, because groups of three and one are unequal, and second, because there are likely more lopsided groups in which one member is suffering in silence.

What I would suggest instead is to ask all students whether they'd prefer to keep their current partner or to be randomly assigned a new partner. You can do this confidentially, and maybe give some wiggle room, saying that you may break up pairs even if neither member requests a switch. You can then shuffle those pairs in which at least one member requests a new partner.

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    If I was a student with a bad partner, a random reshuffle among pairs that request it would mean there's a 50% chance I'd replace the partner I want to get away from with another partner someone else wanted to get away from. So it's only wise to join the reshuffle pool if my partner is below the average of the reshuffle pool. The stable equilibrium of such a system would be a pool only containing the pair with the absolute worst partner in the class :) – mjt Nov 27 '19 at 12:11
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    Calculating the stable equilibrium implies a game of complete information, and implies that each partner has an absolute "goodness" rather than a compatibility score. :-) Regardless, I agree this solution does not fully address the unfairness -- "the rich stay rich" while those with lazy or low-achieving partners only have a chance of getting someone better. But this dominates the strategy of doing nothing, in which "the poor" will definitely stay poor. It's also not manifestly unfair like allowing groups of one or three would be – cag51 Nov 27 '19 at 15:22
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    +1 for citing Randy Pausch. Truly a great book! – vikarjramun Nov 30 '19 at 0:08
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As this is a weekly assignment, then I would consider randomly shuffling all the students every two weeks or each week...

This forces more communication and reduces the effect of any single poor pairing.

It also prevents the "stars" coagulating together permanently and exposes them to the skills of needing to manage teams/partners who are at different levels. It is a useful skill, to get the best out of others.

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    I would add to allow student to choose to work alone from the start. So called 'stars' will dread be pulled down to a more incompetent level but would still work fine alone. – deags Nov 26 '19 at 20:29
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    That gives an interesting POV from the faculty. Will frustrate many capable solo students though. Perhaps allowing only 1-3 students per group to go the solo route would be a mid-point. While the practicality for the teacher to assign groups cant be denied, its also not fair for students to be forced to deal with leeches or to not give them a way to deal with them. – deags Nov 26 '19 at 20:42
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    @Heutl Although logically sound, real-life "group work" doesn't look like that. A project manager will divvy up the work, the manager will allocate the resources, and the group member does what he is assigned to do. Academic group work looked nothing like job collaborations because 1) students have no idea what they're doing -- 2) there is no proper chain of command. If I have a problem with a colleague, I go to my manager, I go to HR, I escalate. I NEVER have to convince them to do work or "try to get along". If they do no work, it's actually "not my problem". – Nelson Nov 27 '19 at 8:12
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    @Nelson: And also in the"real world". What would your manager do? In the rarest cases, they can and would actually fire the other person/remove them from the project. Most commonly, the answer is some form of "get along" (or at least you have to get along with another group member). "Stars" can rarely work alone in the "real world". – user115896 Nov 27 '19 at 11:38
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    @Heutl The key thing is, if a real-life work colleague really does no work, I'm not responsible for his output. My teammate, at my level, is my manager's problem, not mine. I cannot be penalized for my co-worker's incompetence. In the academic world, somehow it becomes my problem if my teammate doesn't do anything due to the "group grade" BS. It makes no sense to me. – Nelson Nov 27 '19 at 13:24
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Working with the same pair for a full semester is already an interesting proposal. When I was a teacher I made sure to randomize pairs. It taught them good communication skills and not to trust anyone directly at their word :P

Reshuffling rarely hurts, it exposes the students to working with various people, an important skill in almost ANY field. I do not know the difficulty of the subject nor how the average student performs, but if the class seems to generally understand the assignments, I believe reshuffling every few assignments or even every assignment would be a good idea, even if this student had not made this request. As long you do not suspect it will tank anyones grades because the roles are so established at this point that the class could not adapt.

I would be wary of making a group of 3 and a group of one. This seems blatantly unfair, not only to the one, but to all the normal pairs of two.

I would not have the talk with the two of them, its not your job to intervene in that way unless the motivated student asks. Otherwise it is their responsibility to talk with their partner about this.

And I would not switch partners specifically for the two groups so that each group is two, but the motivated student gets their request. You will then be obligated to fulfill similar requests to be fair.

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  • Thank you for you input. I would however appreciate if you can explain what exactly you suggest in practice? Reshuffling the entire class just in order to deal with this request without explicitly creating a precedence? – user1614062 Nov 26 '19 at 19:39
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    Announce that you would like to encourage learning to work with a variety of people, and in that spirit, you are shuffling the partners. Do not give students a choice of partner, just shuffle randomly with no previous pairs allowed. Also ask for feedback on how assignments felt after the switch. A few very short answers such as rating on a scale of 1-10 the difficulty with previous partner vs new, if they feel they learned something new by working with another person, etc. Also keep an eye out for the response from the new partner of the "unmotivated" student. – AlbinoRhino Nov 26 '19 at 19:50
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The student made a request for a reason, whatever that reason is, and ignoring her reason is possibly hurting her education. What I mean is this:

I've been teaching at the university level for decades and what I've learned through the years is that students don't come to me with requests to break the status quo, to be different from everyone else, to do things in a way that will mess up my original plans for the class, unless there's a pretty good reason. At least not most of the time. And I've learned through the years that it's more important to give them the benefit of the doubt and be responsible for the needs of the respectful students, even if I might accidentally allow a very small number of slackers to slip through in the process.

Afterall, I'm an authority figure in their eyes. You are, too. You're an authority figure. It was probably difficult for that student to approach you and request a partner change. Therefore, something is probably messing up her education. She probably needs that partner change.

For all you know, one of the partners in the pair, possibly the partner the student wants to drop, may be, for example, an alcoholic. He may be disruptive, causing the two to argue almost violently everytime they talk. Or maybe one of them is sexually or racially biased, so that someone on that team is repeatedly getting hurt very badly. Maybe there's even sexual harassment. Or maybe they're too mismatched academically. Maybe when they try to work together, one makes the other feel stupid and there are serious arguments. Maybe a much less academically skilled student in the partnership is becoming seriously depressed.

The point is, the possibilities are endless and you don't know all the facts. You never will, even if you ask the students.

Years ago, one of my students killed himself. He was a high performer on a team of three who complained a lot about the other members of his group working on their project. He was taking several other courses in addition to mine, but after his death, which was about 2/3 of the way through a statistics course I was teaching and which he had been in, I began rethinking group projects.

Since then, I allow students to select 1- or 2- or 3- person projects and then to pick their own groups. My classes run the gamut: a few 1-person projects are done but most projects that are turned in are 2-person projects. A couple are 3-person projects. The difficulty levels are matched to the number of people working on them. Occasionally, a student requests a group change. I always allow it, no questions asked, without delay.

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Allow both students to present their work alone or in pair rather than to change teams or make trios. That way, if one of them really is doing all the work then that person will be happier to not feed of a leech while the other will have to start working or fail the course.

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Talk to your Professor more and ask her to get advice from someone with more experience, because this is a big an potentially challenging issue and you hint that it may rightly or wrongly be about race. If it were me, I think I would have a meeting with the other student (since you have already talked to the first one) and then have a meeting with them together. Basically you need to help them to come a place where they can work together effectively and maybe help them analyze in a calm why why the pairing is not working.

  • Is the other student even aware of an issue?
  • Has the first student discussed it with them?
  • Is there miscommunication or cultural incompetency?

You have no idea. I think you can always point out to them if they really seem to be having a conflict that it is essential in life that they be able to work with people that they don't like or whose personal styles they find irritating. But I think that you/the professor should contact whoever runs the teaching and learning center to get some advice about how to talk about this.

Also, I think this is a lesson learned about overreliance on group work for the purposes of grading. Group work is very important for building team work skills and also can increase learning if done properly. But you should always have an individual piece that is the majority of the grade.

I think that too many of the other answers are immediately jumping to the let them separate solution especially when you have not even spoken to the other student involved.

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I would let the person go off and do the project by themself, but I wouldn't let them join another team and unfairly have 3 people to a team while others only have 2.

If the 1 person really is doing all the work, and the other team member isn't doing anything.. then the 1 person will be more then happy to go solo on the project. (Many group projects can be done solo anyways, it's just professors are pushed to have more group projects, so they shove out a project that can be done solo, but as a group project, just to tell their administrative oversight committee that they're meeting "group project requirements").

I had a group project in grad school where me and 2 other folks were in a team, but I was doing all the work. I told the prof mid-semester that since I was already doing all the work, I'd rather just do the group project all by myself and leave those other two folks hanging then keep doing all the work and letting them partake in the grade I was doing all the work for.

Prof was ok with that idea.

Because it wouldn't have me go join another team and throw off the balance.

Colleges these days seem to be inundated with group projects, because businesses have told colleges they're getting a bunch of grads that don't seem to do well in project teams. So, colleges have ramped up group projects to give students "experience" in group work.

But, college group projects are not like real work projects.

In work, there is incentive to do your job. If you don't, you get fired.

In college, there is often no incentive to work, because if you have at least 1 person in the team willing to do whatever it takes to make a good grade, and there's no punishment system in place to punish slackers, then slackers will just let the hard worker do all the work while slacking off.

So, if you haven't already got a peer review system in place, you need to put one in place. This lets each member of the group project grade the others. So, if one slacker is in the group, everyone else will give them an F. And, you have to decide how that works into the final project grade. EG: usually a professor will count the peer review as 50% of the project grade, and will then give their own grade to cover the other 50%. But, if a professor sees everyone giving a slacker an F, they'll probably skew their own grade to an F as well and average it out. But, the professor uses their 50% part of the grade to "Curve" the grade if needed. (Because colleges seem to yell at professors for flunking classes, even if the student is a slacking POS.)

The problem with peer review is when you end up with a group of slackers and 1 hard worker. The slackers can gang up on the hard worker and threaten them with a bad peer review score if they don't bust their hump. If that's the case, you'd hope the hard worker would tell the professor. But, it might not happen. So, you can still have 1 person doing all the hard work, but a bunch of slackers forcing them into the predicament.

I had one class where the professor let us fire a team member mid-semester AND do a peer review at end of semester... all to proactively take care of slackers. If the slacker was fired, they had to complete the project on their own and automatically got an F on the peer review. This lit a fire under a lot of students' rears, because nobody wanted to get fired.

Problem then was that the project could easily be done solo.. there wasn't enough work to go around. So, everyone in the group was worried about being fired and trying to jump on any work they could do.

(To handle the "demand" for group projects, a lot of professors are simply taking their class project, which they used to have students do individually, and just have them do it as a group now. So, you have projects that are pretty simple to do, and thus a hard worker can do it all, which just means slackers look at it and go "meh, I know one person can do that, so I'll just hang back until that person gets on it.")

Basically, college group projects are designed to promote slacking and reward it. Professors that think a student will magically rise up and show management skills by "whipping everyone into shape" are delusional unless they give the students a punishment mechanism by which to give their threats to the slackers some teeth.

The fact that your professor doesn't have anything like this in place yet is a bit alarming.

As a TA, I'd say let this person do the project by themselves (but not join the other group).. so they can cut the slacker loose... and also get with your professor to get a peer review system in place STAT.

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  • Many questions on Workplace SE (and also on Academia SE) sound like those people have never interacted with other humans in their life. Even that they could probably get fired in the real world does not seem to help. – user115896 Nov 28 '19 at 18:31
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Talk about it with the lecturer/professor in charge of the class as a whole.

As a TA, you're in a relatively subordinate position, so naturally when dealing with these sorts of policy-related issues, asking your boss for advice would be a natural first step. It's possible that there's already a policy or procedure in place, in which case you should follow their advice. If there isn't, however, I'm going to give you a policy that many of the classes at my university use:

Allow students in malfunctioning teams to use a variant cover sheet that includes statements of contribution.

So, for instance, where a normal assignment cover sheet might simply include the names and student IDs for the students in the group, the variant cover sheet would also provide an additional column where they can list each student's contribution to the work - for instance, in a three person group, one student might be listed as a 0% contribution while the other two are listed as each contributing 50% towards the assignment.

Then, when it comes time for assigning marks for that piece of assessment, you take those statements of contribution into account - someone who contributed 0% of the assignment gets 0% of the marks for said assignment. Normally, knowing that they might be penalized this way encourages students to contribute a fair share towards their group assignments.

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  • I see two problems with this: First, this may only work for students who feel that they are in competition with each other (maybe in the US?). Next, if there is one mean overachiever and students who do a reasonable amount of work, those students will be rated much less then they would in another group. (In principle, if the overachiever is not a teamplayer, they should be downvoted for that, but in reality, the other students will not do this.) – user115896 Nov 27 '19 at 15:40
  • @Heutl I think it's more intended for non-competitive grade structures. It's more about curtailing students who go "I don't care about contributing, I'll get the same mark as the rest of you" than about rewarding overachievers - the overachievers don't get extra marks, so this is a purely punitive method of punishing non-contributors in malfunctioning teams. The vast majority of teams wouldn't use it, since they get no benefit from their teammate getting penalized. – nick012000 Nov 27 '19 at 15:51
  • Do you have experience with statements of contribution in practice? I feel this will probably create more problems, as students will almost certainly insist their own contribution is worth more than others feel it is. Students who didn't do much would be especially problematic, as they will almost certainly not accept a 0% contribution (and probably insist on an equal contribution). You may have more luck having them break it down into parts instead of percentages, but even that's not perfect and may still cause a lot of problems. – NotThatGuy Nov 27 '19 at 22:32
  • Hm, I tend to disagree. When I was a student, I would never have ratted a student out who did less than me (only in the extreme case that somebody does nothing and shows that they don't even want to participate). If I would try to play out my students against each others as you describe, I would assume that they talk to each other and all write that everybidy contributed the same (except for the extreme case that one is a complete ***hole). – user115896 Nov 27 '19 at 22:33
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I am also a student and we often have to work together in groups. My comment is therefore based on personal experience. In group work we have often divided the work so that one does the whole assignment alone and then the other does the next one. If then all of a sudden there is a new mix, this system can no longer function. Maybe a team member has already put in a lot of work and relies on his partner to do it soon.

I think reshuffling is a good idea, but I think you should implement it with the next course.

The easiest thing for now will be to offer to do the work alone, but encourage to get help from other groups.

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  • "The professor asked me and the second TA for our opinion in this matter." – user102072 Nov 27 '19 at 13:52
  • *you should advise the professor to implement it with the next course – plattenkondensator Nov 27 '19 at 13:56
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Others have answered quite well in usual terms, but let me put a different perspective here:

Forget about being a teacher, imagine you are their manager

In classes, relationships are usually disposable. In the workplace they're not.

At university, bad teachers usually get away with being abusive of students. Slacker or poorly behaved partners also get away with the full grade awarded for the group.

Maybe not radically or instantly, but both those perspectives change at workplace. Suddenly a colleague has the perspective of being with you for many years rather than a single semester. Also, if you are a manager, the main goal is to ensure that the mission is delivered a the end of the day, week, month or period, and while it ideally shouldn't matter who is delivering, it is also your responsibility to individually evaluate and provide feedback for team members. You'd be responsible for giving raises to good performers, and possibly assigning someone for a promotion. But, if the CEO wishes to cut costs, it would be your job to pick who's getting fired, even if against your will. And keep in mind, firing someone is much more drastic than failing a student in a lecture.

Also, it is a manager task to manage teams: Ensuring each team has the necessary resources (people and tools) to complete the job assigned to them. If there are conflicts in the team, i.e. two people don't get along, you may chose to avoid assigning some people together for a while, but the current task needs to be completed in the time frame. Also, if someone actively refuses to work with a given person, this refusal attitude needs to be curbed as much as it damages the company.

In management, you should be able to identify and act over excessive misbehavior without being requested to do so. That because at one hand, you need to show you can actually punish someone who fails to deliver or act properly, at the other, you don't want to create a "snitching" mentality. You would also want to avoid taking a person's word against another at face value.

This is hard in academic settings where people may be working in pairs, but all you see is an end result over a pdf file. It is also unhelpful that managers should rarely have to manage more than 10 people, while classes rarely have less students than this.

But notice that failing to do so creates much bigger problems in the workplace: Good employees may quit the company. Abused employees who cannot quit might develop mental health issues, and former employees might sue the company. Failing to curb racist actions or abusing your employees may result in a lawsuit against you. And unlike the university where usually the advice I give students is just "pass the class and leave it alone", in the workplace, people do quit their jobs and seek lawyers to settle past quarrels.

So case in point: Avoid running away from manager responsibilities.

Approaches that would be usual in workplace scenarios:

  1. Talk to the other person. Start with "how are things going?", then maybe move to questions that are more specific. Maybe he has complaints of his own. If you are good enough, you should be able to motivate this person to work better, without creating a grudge against the colleague.

  2. If conflicting reports arise, consider testing for authorship, a few technical questions may be simple to answer if you've done the work, but difficult if someone else did it.

  3. Do not accept when one person asks for another to be punished. It's not their call and you should curb this initiative. If one student asks to form a trio, he's already asking to be rewarded with no merit to earn it. If he asks for another student to be left alone, he's asking you to punish this other student. In your case I'd propose for the student "I'll let you work alone, and your colleague can form a trio, would that solve your problem?".

  4. Despite the previous advice, people do need to feel confident to report actual problems. So if one student has a complaint about the other, you should be a good listener.

  5. Check if the allegedly problematic student causes problems elsewhere. It's one thing if two good performers have a localized quarrel, but you'll often find people that make trouble everywhere they go. Don't be blind to this, it helps judging the case in hands.

  6. If, and only if, you can conclude independently from a single person report that there is a rotten apple in the basket take corrective action. That is, if you can see by yourself or there are enough non-involved people that support the claims about one person misbehaving, or slaking his/her work, then you should warn or possibly punish this person.

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0

As a student, I significantly prefer getting to choose my partner(s), especially if assignments take more than an hour a week.

The best solution I have seen to deal with requests to change partners was a form where two people would fill it out to become partners and leave their old partners. The old partners who were being left had no say in the matter, however they were highly encouraged to pair up with each other (they could continue alone if desired).

You also couldn't change partners more than twice (most students never changed partners). This was for a course where we spent ~10 hours a week on the assignment.

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-1

I'm missing a crucial bit of information here: as TA(s), do your observervations of the students indicate that the non-performing student in question does indeed underperform to an extraordinary extent?

  • If not, i.e. the performance difference is inside what is to be expected => I'd say that's the normal range within which students have to learn to collaborate.

  • On the other hand, there may be situations where the disparity between student performance is so large that you decide the group should be separated for didactic reasons.


I'd say that different levels of disparity between/within groups may be expected in different courses.

Two extreme examples I encountered as student:

  • As student I once had excercises where the rules explicitly favored teams that would have strong and weak students rather than the strong students ending up in strong groups and the weak students forming weak groups. This was very much on purpose: strong students were expected to explain solutions to weak students.
    In such a situation, the complaint doesn't make any sense and should be ignored.

  • But I've also had the experience of our group being seaparated - however, I didn't ask for a reassignment, the head assisitant told me they had observed that my colleague a) caused me a lot of additional work by frequently messing up the experiment, and/or b) didn't do anything themselves and obviously did not understand what they were doing. So they had decided that our group should be split into two one-person "groups".
    This came along with assigning us also different experiments which were suitable for single experimenters (and involved a bit more work for each of us than what we were supposed to do each as part of a two-student group). AFAIK, they had decided that the would be better for both of us: I was relieved of what they considered an unfair amount of work, and my colleague being forced to do their own experiment (and getting a TA closeby pretty much all the time) would learn far more than in the group. I may add that this was a chemical wet lab practicum with lots of time critical steps which left no time for additional explanations if one didn't understand what they were supposed to do in the middle of an experiment: in that case, the other had to work twice as fast in order to keep the sampling plan (and there usually was no time for redoing the whole experiment).

  • As TA, my experience with student groups was mostly also (wet) lab practica where groups did different experiments TAs belonging to experiments. One would occasionally get and hand on the information to "look with group x that y does their proper share of work", just like the information that "y in group x needs disability accomodation z".

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  • in most countries the vast majority of university teachers dont have assistants. If OP has that this is of great help though. – deags Nov 27 '19 at 19:52
  • @deags: I may have mentioned that my experience is from Germany: these assistants can be anything from PhD student/TAs to assistant professor, the head assistant usually being PI or assistant professor level (here, professor is more like an endowed professor in the US, so usually only the one or two heads of a department are professors). I do not assume that OP has an assistant but rather that they are assistant (as in TA) - and thus probably have the responsibility to look after the students also in terms of their performance (which I think is why the professor asked them for an opinion). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Nov 27 '19 at 20:01
  • That is interesting. For the most part, I've seen that there are no assistants whatsoever (USA does have assistants and your case adds Germany) and each teacher needs to manage her students alone. In my language a professor is synonym of teacher , and the division is between full time ones or hour ones . Full times are part of a union mafia (common case in LATAM) , but even them have no assistants. What they normally do to get help is to get the 'group chief' for the class to help out in exchange of extra grading points. – deags Nov 27 '19 at 20:56

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