In Seven problems of Online Group Learning (and their solutions) Roberts & McInnerney identify and elaborate on the challenges presented by online group work. Some of these challenges include student antipathy towards group projects, creation of the groups themselves, assessing group work effectively and a potential lack of group skills. These challenges exist at all levels, whether it is primary or post-secondary education.
Roberts and McInnery identify two challenging personality types encountered in groups. They talk about the Freeloader. The student who is all to happy to sit back and let the others group members do the work. They also address the Sucker. The Sucker is described as an individual who takes on the majority of the work. The other members of the group allow the sucker to pick up their slack while they make minimal contributions.
I propse that there is a third personality type that can make group work challenging. It is the Monopolizer. The Monopolizer is a cousin to the Sucker. The Monopoloizer possesses a domineering personality and ends up dictating the direction of the project. They have strong opinions and ideas. They dominate the conversation and make it difficult for other students to interject with their own ideas and opinions. Remaining group members can be left feeling marginalized. This can create an atmosphere of resentment that is counter-productive to establishing effective group dynamics.
Roberts and McInnery propose several solutions to challenges presented to online group work. While I find merit in several of the proposed solutions, such as the explicit teaching of the skills required for effective group work, I question the merit in others, such as rewarding Suckers (and their cousin the Monopolizer.) Rewarding students who take on responsibilities originally assigned to other group members encourages dysfunctional group dynamics and deprives other group members of the opportunity to learn and apply knowledge and skills. Annalise, a law professor portrayed by Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder sums it up succinctly in the debut episode when she chastizes a student who interrupts with the answer to her question before the student she calls upon has had time to respond by saying, "Don't ever take away another student's oportunity for learning." That is what Suckers and Monopolizers do.
As an alternative to rewarding Suckers and Monopolizers for contributions beyond their expectations, I beleive that the emphasis should be on the initial teaching of group skills and clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each group members. I also beleive that it is the responsibility of the facilitator to ensure that no one member of a group is being allowed to take over the project or that any member is being allowed to shirk his responsibility. This may require intervention and diplomacy but it is necessary. We must never allow a student to deprive another of a learning opportunity.
Roberts, T. S., & McInnerney, J. M. (2007). Seven Problems of Online Group Learning (and Their Solutions). Educational Technology & Society, 10 (4), 257-268