I shall note up front, I am myself a student looking for insight from any lecturers or professors who have had a class with this situation and what I might expect in my case.

I am on a "Computer Engineering" integrated masters degree for which much of the assessment is done via assessed projects and coursework. Most of these projects are undertaken in groups of two where students are expected to share out work and each create a logbook also which documents their progress and individual contributions.

In a particular unit my class has an odd number of students, which after being split into pairs (using a random process) left me as the "odd one out". I discussed this briefly with the unit lecturer who felt that it would be inappropriate to create a group of three as there would then not be sufficient work for each student to demonstrate mastery over the subject.

I agreed that I would attempt the project on my own (admittedly there were not any other obvious options). Fortunately I have significant prior experience in the subject area and have therefore been able to keep up with the workload despite working alone. However I cannot help but feel that I would be able to accomplish a more polished and complete piece of work if I were not working alone.

I am therefore concerned that my work may not reflect what I would otherwise have been able to accomplish in terms of feature richness and polish and fear that this could negatively affect my grade in the unit. Note that I have completed all the basic requirements of the project fully but feel that the lightened workload from having a partner would have allowed me to explore and research in greater depth as well as complete a range of interesting optional features which would have been credit-worthy.

Firstly, what should I expect in terms or grading? Should I expect that they will grade my work exactly as they would that of a normal team of two, or are they likely to take into account the situation?

Secondly, should I try and talk to my lecturer and see if there is some way I can express my mastery of the more advanced areas without having the time to implement them in the project? or is this likely to come across merely as begging for lenient marking? If I were to have such a talk is there anything specific I could say to clearly express my concerns as I have stated here?

My institution does not appear to have any specific policy regarding uneven group sizes such as this case and as it has not happened before (as least in my classes) so the lecturer has not made any statements of how they will treat this situation.

TL;DR:

I am the last odd numbered student in a class for a pair project and am therefore working alone. What can I expect regarding grading and are there any actions I can take to express my mastery of the topic area to my lecturer without enough time to implement all the features in my project to prove this?

  • 3
    You should talk with your professor regarding special circumstances, and possibly a reduction in project requirement. It is a reasonable expectation. I would not expect a single person to be forced to do 2x people's work to demonstrate mastery. You might be allowed a bit of leeway in implementation if you ask for it. – Compass Jan 20 '15 at 14:36
  • Most of the time I've had projects that are small group, where being in different size group was a option (choice of student), we were explicitly told "Groups of 1 will be marked the same as groups of 2. The benefits you get from division of labour are expected to be cancelled out by the effort involved in coordinating that division." I generally found this to be true and often opted to work alone. These were quiet small projects though. – Lyndon White Jan 21 '15 at 2:17
up vote 7 down vote accepted

First, I'm surprised the instructor didn't ask for a volunteer to work alone. In a reasonably-sized class with pair projects, there's almost always at least one student who would rather not work in groups or pairs. It seems a lot of this angst might have been avoided had the professor simply polled for a volunteer. Is it too late to ask for groups to be rearranged? He could ask for a volunteer, and you could be paired up with that person's previous partner.

(Then again, maybe those students who would rather work alone are the very students who need group experience the most – and maybe that's why your professor opted to do this at random.)

Getting to the crux of your question, though, I would first study the assignment carefully and imagine how things might be different if you were working in a team of two. Would you be able to divide up the work? Brainstorm ideas? Once you have something concrete in mind, I'd reengage with the professor and ask for more clarification about how you will be graded.

In other words, if you simply say, "Will I be graded more leniently?" that might be regarded as premature grade grubbing. However, if you say something more specific, like:

I noticed this project has a lot of work, and I think I might be at a disadvantage working alone instead of in a team. For example, if I had a partner, we might divide this up, so that he was working on the interface while I was writing the guts of the program. If I have trouble getting this assignment completed on-time, will you take into account the fact that I had to work alone?

then I think you'll get your professor to think objectively about your disadvantage and answer accordingly.

It's generally best to be up-front about potential hardships that might affect the quality of your work, and to do so early. Otherwise, you risk coming across as a whining procrastinator. However, your question is reasonable, and I think it's best to get an answer sooner rather than later.

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    A variation on this approach is to ask about removing one or more requirements in order to allow a fully polished solution to a reduced problem. The argument would be that the dropped requirements would have been another student's share of the project. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 20 '15 at 14:40

You should arrange special grading expectations with your instructor. You should not be expected to do more than one person's work. You should get this in writing from your instructor.

Whenever I have presented people with a "pairs" assignment I have always dealt with the odd person by making a group of three not by having that person work alone. Part of the point of the project is teamwork.

If your professor doesn't care about teamwork then I suggest you cut the project in half and do half. If there is no teamwork requirement then the assignment is simply to do half the work and turn it in. I would actually go one step further (smarter). Have the professor break it in half and choose which half you want to do.

Now when I had three people in a group and it was a large project my thinking was that each doing 33.3% was much closer to 50% than one doing 100%. I would often add a small piece of work for the group that had three people but nothing that would have pulled that group into the range of doing 150%. I felt that having the dynamic of another person was probably work in itself.

Some things to consider:

  1. If you want to go to grad school, the professor's opinion of you might matter more than the grade you get in the class. When he writes your letter of reference, do you want him to say "this guy asked for special grading, which I guess is fair, but still a bit annoying" or "this guy did the work of 2 people and still built a better project than everyone else?" You want to show that you can thrive even when put at a disadvantage.
  2. In most group projects, one person does substantially more work than everyone else. Usually the strongest student, or the person who cares the most. You have a lot of prior knowledge of the material, so there's a good chance that if you were assigned a partner, you'd end up doing all the work anyway (or spend a lot of effort trying to convince your partner to do his share).

    Even if your partner wants to help, he probably won't be able to implement the advanced material at the same level that you would. (You could teach him, but that usually takes more time than doing it yourself.) And then you'd end up with results that are just as bad, except this time you won't have a good excuse for them.

Firstly, I'm glad you didn't agree to this situation and instead it was imposed upon you. The professor imposed it upon you regardless of the method he used. That fact could help you in any formal complaint. Remember, this extra work is also taking time away from any other work or activities. It is negatively impacting you.

"Should I expect that they will grade my work exactly as they would that of a normal team of two, or are they likely to take into account the situation?"

You should absolutely expect, and if need be demand, that the professor take into account the real situation.

Secondly, should I try and talk to my lecturer and see if there is some way I can express my mastery of the more advanced areas without having the time to implement them in the project?

This is tricky. Before I would have any conversation with the professor, I would try to find out anything I could about the quality of the other students' work. For example, if your work is of better quality than multiple of the other pairs of students, you may not need to say anything at all. Judging by your posted statements, I'd lay money on the likelihood that you have a damn good product to turn in to the prof. Then again, at this point it might be beneficial to show him what you have and ask him if he sees any serious area for improvement...and throw in something innocuous about not having had the time to perform an in-process review given your situation. "Am I on the right track" kind of thing.

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