From: Karl Lieberherr (
Date: Tue Nov 19 2002 - 15:12:35 EST

The article below addresses important issues you might encounter
in your group. Please read it; it is not too late.

When you are done with the project and you are in a team,
please give me the information below
either in class or put it into my mailbox.


Your name:

Let's assume that the grade for your project is B. Which grade would you give
to each of the team members (including yourself)? Why?

The evaluation is confidential. It will serve as additional input
for assigning a grade.

-- Karl Lieberherr

From: Rick Reis <>
Sender: owner-tomorrows-professor@lists.Stanford.EDU
To: tomorrows-professor@lists.Stanford.EDU
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 17:22:53 -0800

"The bottom line: You and your teammates are left holding the bag.
Jack is getting the same good grades as everyone else without doing
any work. Oh yes-he managed to make you all look bad while he was at
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                         TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR(SM) LISTSERV
               "desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"

- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The posting below looks at some very practical ways of dealing with
unproductive or disruptive members of learning teams. It is by
Barbara Oakley, Assistant Professor of Engineering, Oakland
University, Rochester MI, <>. A longer version of
this article, titled "It Takes Two to Tango," will appear in the
Journal of Student Centered Learning, Volume 1, Issues 1, 2003, pg
19-28. New Forum Press


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Designing and Assessing Course Curricula

                        Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

           ----------------------------- 1,603 words
- ----------------------------



You will usually find your university teammates as interested in
learning as you are. Occasionally, however, you may encounter a
person who creates difficulties. This handout is meant to give you
practical advice for this type of situation.

To begin with, let's imagine you have been assigned to a combined
homework and lab group this semester with three others: Mary, Henry,
and Jack. Mary is okay-she's not good at solving problems, but she
tries hard, and she willingly does things like get extra help from
the professor. Henry is irritating. He's a nice guy, but he just
doesn't put in the effort to do a good job. He'll sheepishly hand
over partially worked homework problems and confess to spending the
weekend watching TV. Jack, on the other hand, has been nothing but a
problem. Here are a few of the things Jack has done:

* When you tried to set up meetings at the beginning of the semester,
Jack just couldn't meet, because he was too busy.

* Jack infrequently turns in his part of the homework. When he does,
it's almost always wrong-he obviously spent just enough time to
scribble something down that looks like work.

* Jack has never answered phone messages. When you confront him, he
denies getting any messages. You e-mail him, but he's "too busy to

* Jack misses every meeting-he always promises he'll be there, but
never shows up.

* His writing skills are okay, but he can't seem to do anything right
for lab reports. He loses the drafts, doesn't reread his work,
leaves out tables, or does something sloppy like write equations by
hand. You've stopped assigning him work because you don't want to
miss your professor's strict deadlines.

* Jack constantly complains about his fifty-hour work weeks, heavy
school load, bad textbooks, and terrible teachers. At first you felt
sorry for him-but recently you've begun to wonder if Jack is using

* Jack speaks loudly and self-confidently when you try to discuss his
problems-he thinks the problems are everyone else's fault. He is so
self-assured that you can't help wondering sometimes if he's right.

* Your group finally was so upset they went to discuss the situation
with Professor Distracted. He in turn talked, along with the group,
to Jack, who in sincere and convincing fashion said he hadn't really
understood what everyone wanted him to do. Dr. Distracted said the
problem must be the group was not communicating effectively. He
noticed you, Mary, and Henry looked angry and agitated, while Jack
simply looked bewildered, a little hurt, and not at all guilty. It
was easy for Dr. Distracted to conclude this was a dysfunctional
group, and everyone was at fault-probably Jack least of all.

The bottom line: You and your teammates are left holding the bag.
Jack is getting the same good grades as everyone else without doing
any work. Oh yes-he managed to make you all look bad while he was at

                What this group did wrong: Absorbing

This was an 'absorber' group. From the very beginning they absorbed
the problem when Jack did something wrong, and took pride in getting
the job done whatever the cost. Hitchhikers count on you to act in a
self-sacrificing manner. However, the nicer you are (or the nicer
you think you are being), the more the hitchhiker will be able to
hitchhike their way through the university-and through life.

                What this group should have done: Mirroring

It's important to reflect back the dysfunctional behavior of the
hitchhiker, so the hitchhiker pays the price-not you. Never accept
accusations, blame, or criticism from a hitchhiker. Maintain your
own sense of reality despite what the hitchhiker says, (easier said
than done). Show you have a bottom line: there are limits to the
behavior you will accept. Clearly communicate these limits and act
consistently on them. For example, here is what the group could have

* When Jack couldn't find time to meet in his busy schedule, even
when alternatives were suggested, you needed to decide whether Jack
was a hitchhiker. Was Jack brusque, self-important, and in a hurry
to get away? Those are suspicious signs. Someone needed to tell
Jack up front to either find time to meet, or talk to the professor.

* If Jack turns nothing in, his name does not go on the finished
work. (Note: if you know your teammate is generally a contributor,
it is appropriate to help if something unexpected arises.) Many
professors allow a team to fire a student, so the would-be freeloader
has to work alone the rest of the semester. Discuss this option with
your instructor if the student has not contributed over the course of
an assignment or two.

* If Jack turns in poorly prepared homework or lab reports, you must
tell him he has not contributed meaningfully, so his name will not go
on the submitted work. No matter what Jack says, stick to your guns!
If Jack gets abusive, show the professor his work. Do this the first
time the junk is submitted, before Jack has taken much advantage-not
after a month, when you are really getting frustrated.

* Set your limits early and high, because hitchhikers have an uncanny
ability to detect just how much they can get away with.

* If Jack doesn't respond to e-mails, answer phone messages, or show
up for meetings, don't waste more time trying to contact him.

* Keep in mind the only one who can handle Jack's problems is Jack.
You can't change him-you can only change your own attitude so he no
longer takes advantage of you. Only Jack can change Jack-and he will
have no incentive to change if you do all his work for him.

People like Jack can be skilled manipulators. By the time you find
out his problems are never-ending, and he himself is their cause, the
semester has ended and he is off to repeat his manipulations on a
new, unsuspecting group. Stop allowing these dysfunctional patterns
early in the game-before the hitchhiker takes advantage of you and
the rest of your team!

                        Henry, the Couch Potato

But we haven't discussed Henry yet. Although Henry stood up with the
rest of the group to try to battle against Jack's irrational
behavior, he hasn't really been pulling his weight. You will find
the best way to deal with a couch potato like Henry is the way you
deal with a hitchhiker: set firm, explicit expectations-then stick to
your guns. Although couch potatoes are not as manipulative as
hitchhikers, they will definitely test your limits. If your limits
are weak, you then share the blame if you have Henry's work to do as
well as your own.
But I've Never Liked Telling People What to Do!

If you are a nice person who has always avoided confrontation,
working with a couch potato or a hitchhiker can help you grow as a
person and learn the important character trait of firmness. Just be
patient with yourself as you learn. The first few times you try to
be firm, you may find yourself thinking-'but now he/she won't like
me-it's not worth the pain!' But many people just like you have had
exactly the same troubled reaction the first few (or even many) times
they tried to be firm. Just keep trying-and stick to your guns!
Someday it will seem more natural and you won't feel so guilty about
having reasonable expectations for others. In the meantime, you will
find you have more time to spend with your family, friends, or
schoolwork, because you aren't doing someone else's job along with
your own.

        Common Characteristics that Allow a Hitchhiker or Couch
Potato to Take Advantage

* Unwillingness to allow a slacker to fail and subsequently learn
from their own mistakes.

* Devotion to the ideal of 'the good of the team'-without
common-sense realization of how this can allow others to take
advantage of you. Sometimes you show (and are secretly proud of)
irrational loyalty to others.

* You like to make others happy even at your own expense.

* You always feel you have to do better-your best is never enough.

* Your willingness to interpret the slightest contribution by a
slacker as 'progress.'

* You are willing to make personal sacrifices so as to not abandon a
hitchhiker-without realizing you are devaluing yourself in this

* Long-suffering martyrdom-nobody but you could stand this.

* The ability to cooperate but not delegate.

* Excessive conscientiousness.

* The tendency to feel responsible for others at the expense of being
responsible for yourself.

                A related circumstance: you're doing all the work

As soon as you become aware everyone is leaving the work to you-or
doing such poor work that you are left doing it all, you need to take
action. Many professors allow you the leeway to request a move to
another team. (You cannot move to another group on you own.) Your
professor will probably ask some questions before taking the
appropriate action.

                Later on-out on the job and in your personal life

You will meet couch potatoes and hitchhikers throughout the course of
your professional career. Couch potatoes are relatively benign, can
often be firmly guided to do reasonably good work, and can even
become your friends. However, hitchhikers are completely different
people-ones who can work their way into your confidence and then
destroy it. Occasionally, a colleague, subordinate, supervisor,
friend, or acquaintance could be a hitchhiker. If this is the case,
and your personal or professional life is being affected, it will
help if you keep in mind the advice given above.

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