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I'm currently working in a group of two where I and another person is supposed to compose code for an assigment we recived. This worked well in the beginning, as we discussed various solutions and tried to understand some concepts of the code language we used.

However, during the weekend I get a message telling me that he has made the entire thing from start to finish, with the reason being that he learned the concepts best that way.

This makes me both sad and angry, and it feels like he is abounding me simply because he got the hang of it before me.

I have no idea how to proceed. I wanted to help, I really did but he gave me no opportunity to. He still calls it "our" project, and it will be handed in as such, but it will be painfully obvious I had no part in it.

I did not laze around, I did put effort into solutions and such, but not even those was visible in the final code.

So, should I confront him, contact my teacher, or just accept the situation?

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    This is not really on-topic for this site so is likely to be closed. You haven't said when it is due. But you need to think about what you are sad and angry about and try to resolve those. For example, if it is about the fact that you haven't learned, there is nothing stopping you from continuing your efforts and trying to implement it yourself. You say that he has used a different solution approach, try coding up yours. You can learn even more if you both look at both approaches - which is better and why? Maybe some of yours can get into the project after all.
    – JenB
    Feb 27 at 12:39
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    @JenB For my edification, can you briefly explain why this is off topic here. I am only an occasional visitor here but this seems similar to other material I have seen here. Feb 28 at 3:46
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    FWIW, in my experience, the majority of students would be more than happy with their partner doing all the work unprompted. Guess your partner was so sure about this he just didn't even ask. I wouldn't go too hard with him.
    – Neinstein
    Feb 28 at 9:46
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    @Neinstein They will only be happy until they see their exam scores and realize they didn't learn the material because they didn't do the work. And regardless of whether they're caught, it's still an academic violation at most schools to submit work with names of students who didn't contribute according to the rules, which usually require equal contributions. Feb 28 at 13:47
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    @Neinstein That's not been my observation at Michigan, but Michigan is a very competitive school. More to the point, this student is not happy to be lazy. Feb 28 at 14:09

7 Answers 7

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I am a little bit sympathetic to your partner. Group projects where everything is done together often move very, very slowly. If a project seems to be stalling, it may make sense for an individual to make a big push. Even if the project wasn't stalled, it is easy for an individual to start working on something, get "into the zone" and make a ton of progress, and then they want to get it totally finished so that it is off their plate. That said, I am also sympathetic to you: your partner did unilaterally change the terms of your partnership, and now there is no straightforward way for you to contribute useful work.

Is there any room for improvement in your partner's work? Is there any additional work that could further extend the project's scope or depth? If so, then there may not be much of an issue here; it is not too late to make contributions.

But if your partner's work is good and there is nothing else to do, then I think your next steps depend on context a bit. Do you get projects like this every week, or is this a one-time, end-of-semester project? In the former case, a discussion with your partner is in order, so that you both have clearer expectations for next time. In the latter case, it may be a matter of chalking this up under lessons learned: at the beginning of a project, you need to "partition" the work as much as possible so that you both have agreed-upon responsibilities, and you can both make progress asynchronously. Partition early and partition often!

I would hesitate to discuss this with the instructor. It seems like there is no real problem for the instructor to solve -- and if there is a problem that can be solved, you should first discuss it with the partner before complaining about the partner to the instructor. That said, I might adjust this part of my answer depending on your instructor's personality: even if there is nothing that the instructor needs to "do," some instructors are very good at giving advice and offering alternate perspectives.

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    You have my very rare downvote. If a project is assigned to two people and both can gain credit or demerits from it then there MUST be a degree of cooperation - even if it is going over the solution together and agreeing to accept it. Feb 28 at 3:30
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    Hmm, I thought I specifically said that OP should either find places to make contributions (second paragraph) or else review the work and agree to accept it as-is (third paragraph).
    – cag51
    Feb 28 at 8:17
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    @cag51 Fair enoughish. I'm fairly disturbed by the general feel I got from the response - very largely not your fault - I had something similar happen to me long ago in a corporate setting - it was not "important" and only a peripheral activity but the actor went out of his way to lock in his solution as the sole one - which he had no right to do. I cannot now undo my vote unless the answer is edited. Alas your grammar, spelling and general content look too good to change much :-). Your last paragraph feels to me to lean towards leaving things be - with some risk of negative consequences. Feb 28 at 12:40
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    I disagree completely with your advice not to discuss with the instructor. If one partner has already finished the project without involving the other and is preparing to submit with both names, what's left to discuss with the partner? This is a problem the instructor needs to aware of if it's to be sorted out. Feb 28 at 13:41
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    I want to accept this answer for some reasons. Firstly, I did contact him, and indeed seems like he simply got into it and finished it in basically one single go. However, he made it clear that it was our discussions and such which led him to the solution. Yes, even tho my code was not in there, I've still aided him. Secondly, the code was not finished, and some bugs remained, and he let me help this time! In the end, I did not contact my instructor as things are now working fine between us. It was a misunderstanding, it seems, which is now solved. Feb 28 at 19:40
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I would add this to @NicholeHamilton 's excellent answer.

Code always benefits from several sets of eyes. Consider taking your partner' solution, reading it carefully and improving it. Things to work on:

  • Is every feature properly tested?
  • Is there a design document that sets out the strategy and the reasons for that strategy?
  • Is the overall structure sensible? Are there modules/functions that should be separately coded?
  • Is the code formatted and commented so that human readers can understand it?

These are all questions that the two of you should have thought about together, but since he wrote all the code, you can suggest to him that you do this part. Be sure that your instructor understands your significant contribution when you submit the project.

You will both learn a lot from this exercise. The least of it will be you understanding what your teammate wrote.

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    Seconded. This is software engineering 101. Coding isn't 100% of a software engineer's job; some of it is quality assurance, some of it is code reviews.
    – moonman239
    Feb 28 at 19:00
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In most cases where students are allowed to work with partners on assignments, the expectation is that they will share the work equally. In part, that's so that both will learn from the experience. (If you haven't done the work, how will you pass the exams?) But also, in academia, if you turn in work with your name on it, the expectation is that you will have contributed and that anyone else whose name is on it also contributed. If you didn't contribute, that's generally considered an academic violation (for both of you.)

But yours is not the first partnership that's ever gone off-track. You should talk to your instructor. You can bet they've seen it before and that yours is not the first case they've had to deal with. They may be able to help you find a different partner, if not for this assignment, at least for future assignments. But it's also possible you may be stuck working on your own. Either is a better outcome than turning in work that's not your own and not learning a thing from it.

One of the most important determinants of all your outcomes in life are all the other people in your life. When you have a choice, it matters who you choose. This particular partner was not a good choice. Talk to your instructor. Good luck. I'm sorry you're going through this.

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    Do you consider discussing possible solutions and their merits as contribution? It seems OP had lengthy debates about what works and not and how to solve the problem with their partner. They partner then only provided the implementation. In my experience, the implementation is usually the smaller part. I often end up needing more time to plan & understand a problem then writing code. So yes, while this is a step they should have discussed before, it doesn't seem like Op contributed nothing -- they contributed important knowledge.
    – Polygnome
    Mar 1 at 10:57
  • @Polygnome I don't consider it equal contribution. Nor it is likely to be an equally helpful learning experience. Students who let their partners do all the coding rarely do well on the exams in my experience, Mar 1 at 12:43
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A, and perhaps the, key issue is that you must be certain that you will not be disadvantaged or marked down by accepting what has been done.

IF this is a formally shared project where you have academic responsibility for the result and can receive credit or demerits as a result then it is utterly essential that you engage with your partner over their actions. What happens next depends on the outcome of these discussions.

Again - it is essential that you discuss this.
If a project is assigned to two people and both can gain credit or demerits from it then there MUST be a degree of cooperation - even if it is going over the solution together and you agreeing to accept it.

If you agree to the solution then you MUST understand the solution and be able to replicate it yourself.

If this fails, then you MUST tell your partner what you are going to do and then go to your supervisor and discuss what is happening.

It may be to your advantage to largely accept your partners solution, but you MUST have a proper share in it. Failing to do so is an academic failing and may cause you major demerits.

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I used to be a student, then a teacher and then left academia.

Student perspective: if this was a project you were not particularly enthusiastic about - rejoice. If you really wanted to do it then, well, shit - you would have had a good time. But you have some free time now to ace that tough exam the day after.

Key point: make sure you are comfortable with the outcome:

  • whether the output is good enough, a good rule of thumb is "would I have done it better?"
  • how you will address this group assignment in front of the TA. It would be less than optimal if your colleague said "I did it alone and DirtMixWater brought pizza and beer" (though it depends on the TA)
  • what did you miss in terms of learning. There are some projects I did I would like to forget but they still haunt me and I would have paid with my body to have it done by someone like in your case.

Teacher perspective: a good TA will immediately see who did what. The work does not have to be balanced, I had teams where one was the lead thinker, another one the lead doer, and a third one the lead entertainment/food/drink supplier. And it was great, each of them did their role very well (and, counterintuitive, the third one is important in the real world).

You should be careful if you plan to lie to the TA, it will be obvious. See above the point about clearly agreeing on who did what.

Outside of academia perspective: it does not matter.

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If your partner decided to code on their own and it went smoothly, and they found it "better to learn the concepts that way" to the extent of making it hard for you to contribute, chances are you're capable of the same and will also learn as much.

As discussed in other answers as well as comments, learning to behave in teamwork, be it communicating with others or adjusting yourself, plays a key role in these group assignments throughout your college life. Depending on the situation, this may or may not be the hill you want to die on. Working alone or finding other partners are never as bad an option as it may seem.

Talk to your instructor and explain the situation. Since you mentioned you had discussions with your partner and you (plural.) had disagreements in your approaches, it's reasonable for you to come up with your own implementation (code) and submit that as yours.

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    The point of group assignments is not only teaching the subject matter but also soft skills, in particular teamwork. It is not reasonable for the instructor to accept individual submissions.
    – Roland
    Feb 28 at 7:41
  • @Roland Depends on the course policies. For example, at Michigan, the major design project (aka Capstone) courses always require students to work in groups. But every other CS class that allows students to work with partners also allows students the option of working alone. Feb 28 at 13:52
  • @Roland Dissolving the group and working independently could be the result of the application of soft skills.
    – Kaz
    Mar 2 at 1:56
  • @Kaz I disagree. You won't be able to just dissolve your team later in your career. You need to learn how to integrate with people of all kinds of skillsets and mentalities. That is one aspect of what you are supposed to learn from these exercises.
    – Roland
    Mar 2 at 7:40
  • @Roland I disagree. You won't be able to just integrate any clump of people later in your career; you need to learn to dissolve dysfunctional groups, too. (Not to mention fire people, when necessary).
    – Kaz
    Mar 2 at 16:00
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So, should I confront him, contact my teacher, or just accept the situation?

Let me first summarize my view of the situation. You and your partner were both given a total amount X of work to split among you. And he, instead of doing X/2 and leaving the other X/2 for you to do, did the whole of X himself.

Is that a bad thing? Well, yes and no. Although it certainly suggests some negligence and selfishness on the part of your partner in that he did your part of the project without any consultation or consideration for you, it is also impressive in a way. He did twice the amount of work he was expected to! So while I do not mean to suggest that your feelings (sadness, anger etc) are invalid, some of the other answers suggesting that your partner is a bad partner and someone unworthy of fraternizing or collaborating with seem misguided to me. In fact, I think your partner has the potential to be a rather awesome partner and collaborator in the future, once he is made aware of his immature behavior in connection with the current project and reflects on it a bit. Honestly, I don’t think that will be a hard lesson for him to learn, assuming he is not an inherently selfish person.

About the current project, I think there is a likely solution that will be a win-win for everyone: you, the partner, and the instructor. You and the partner should talk to the instructor, explain what happened, and ask for suggestions for broadening the scope of the project to roughly 3X/2. This additional scope could then be your part of the assignment, which hopefully will have as much value for you in terms of the learning you can derive from it as the original assignment. Ideally, during this conversation your partner should apologize for his lack of consideration and for putting both you and the instructor in an awkward position. I’m reasonably confident the instructor will be happy to accept such an apology and not penalize either of you for this situation.

Of course, to make this happen you will have to talk to your partner. I wouldn’t describe this as “confronting” your partner as that sounds rather adversarial. You should simply explain to him how his behavior has deprived you of a valuable learning opportunity and the satisfaction of doing an interesting assignment, and suggest how to move on from there.

If this arrangement works out, everybody will benefit, and I think you and your partner stand to get an excellent grade for doing a project that is well beyond the scope of the original assignment. I can’t guarantee the instructor will cooperate, but it’s not clear to me what else they could do that isn’t clearly penalizing you for something that’s not your fault. Anyway, good luck, and I hope things turn out well!

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    Since many assignments in computer science classes (as this appears to be) are autograded, there is generally no opportunity to "broaden the scope". An assignment is what it is. If this is a large UG course, the last thing I'd want to deal with as an instructor is creating a one-off variation. My answer as an instructor in cases like this (which I've faced any number of times at Michigan) is simple: If you can't work as partners, we'll split you up. Feb 28 at 13:35
  • @NicoleHamilton thanks, good points — perhaps I misjudged the probability that this will lead to the nice outcome I described. Regardless, my practical recommendation remains the same: both of them should talk to the instructor (as you also suggested), the partner should apologize for his lack of consideration, and they should ask for instructions on how to proceed. And I think it’s unfair of you to characterize what happened as “you can’t work as partners”. There is no evidence that OP did anything to cause this situation (although that’s a possibility of course).
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 28 at 16:40
  • I think it's unfair to suggest I think the OP did anything to cause the situation. But however it occurred (and it does appear to be the sole fault of the other partner), the result is the same: They're not working as partners in keeping with the usual expectations that they will share equally in the work. When this has occurred (once/twice a year) in large (1000+ enrollment) classes I've taught with co-instructors, we have always split up the partners. Obviously, every instructor is free to make their own choice, but this was always ours. Feb 28 at 17:02
  • "And he, instead of doing X/2 and leaving the other X/2 for you to do, did the whole of X himself." That narrowly focuses on code. But OP did provide a lot of knowledge. They said they discussed possible solutions with their partner before. I think it is short-sighted to only look at who wrote how many LOC to decide how much they contributed.
    – Polygnome
    Mar 1 at 10:59

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