Dealing with Free Riders in Group Work

Group work, and the problems associated with it, is a common topic at PACE.  This week’s communication piece from the Faculty Focus newsletter talks on the issue of free riders in groups, those people riding on others’ coattails:;s=FF180920;utm_term=FF180920&utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Students+Riding+on+Coattails+during+Group+Work%3F&utm_campaign=FF180920

This short article gives 5 tips to reduce this from happening.  It’s worth a read to look for some ideas on how to address this issue in our classes.   Things like plotting out group work so that sections are due over the duration of the course, designating class time to establish rules on day one and then regular check ins thereafter, and having an individual component to the group project.  All worth giving consideration to in planning your next course.

New Students, Same Fears

This week wraps up orientation for our five fall programs, with 130+ students starting with PACE this month. As part of prep week, we talk with students about their expectations; expectations for their fellow students, the PACE office staff, and their instructors.  As we’ve done these sessions with each new group for a year now, it’s interesting to see that students consistently bring up the same concerns or fears about instructors.

Whether it comes from past experiences or being in a new country, students always express concerns that they won’t be graded fairly, or will be graded based on racial biases. As instructors, we should be alert to that concern and share our grading scheme with students up front, be open about how grades are achieved, and be consistent over the duration of the course in the application of those grading schemes.

Students also express that they want instructors to be clear. Some of it seems obvious, students want clarity on assignments, on expectations, on exam content and meaning (how long is a long answer?  What does short answer mean?).  But they also express concern about clarity in the classroom: will instructors speak at a speed they can understand?  Will instructors use words the class can understand?

As an example, during orientation I used the term “sounding board”, as in “talk with the person beside you as a sounding board on your answer”. Students didn’t know what the term meant.

Our student body is so diverse that it is important to take the time during the day to regularly ask the group if there are concerns, is everyone on the same page? Checking in to see if there are questions about language.

We all want our students to be successful. Part of that means ensuring they expand their understanding of Canadian English, and part of that key to success means that instructors reduce classroom anxiety and fears.


A classic to start to a typical training course is to have participants introduce themselves.  This is great in a corporate setting where participants may not know each other, or even in a small university class that meets once a week.  In a full time PACE course, this simple item can hinder making a connection with a class.

PACE full time students are in class 5 days a week with the same group of classmates every day.  They meet each other in orientation, standing up to say a few words about themselves, and then very quickly they start five courses.  Roughly six weeks later, five new courses.

Imagine introducing yourself six times in your first six days of classes.  Then doing it five more times six weeks later, and again six weeks after that, and six weeks after…. I’m sure you get the idea.

With our full time courses the students don’t change, the instructor does, so it becomes important to think about how you want to handle introductions.  Consider where you are in the program to see how much info you want to get back, think about a different way to do it: ask them a question like favorite movie or favorite ice cream instead of where are you from.  Consider the time it takes to have everyone speak, and think about how you want to handle introductions in a way that won’t cause students to cringe at the prospect of another new course starting up.