Group Work: Dealing with a Free Rider

Decorative: Three people on a three-person bicycle -- two people are peddling hard; the third is not in the seat peddling, but sitting in the basket whistling, enjoying a free ride. Caption: "Free rider theory: The 'I don't want to be that sucker' effect when working in a group."


"Students Riding on Coattails During Group Work? Five Simple Ideas to Try" (online article) offers 5 practical strategies for responding to the question, "How should one deal with the issues that arise when members of a group are not picking up their share of the responsibilities during a group work project?"

The suggestions (expanded in the article) "focus on the persistent challenge of imbalance when not all group members contribute equally:

1. "Design a group project in which the students work in phases." 

2. "Develop an element of the project that allows group members to make their own choices.

3. "Within a group project, include a component requiring individual students to submit non-onerous individual work."

4. "Devote a segment (30 minutes or so) during class before all group projects begin to implement two important steps." 

  • "Step 1: Get to know each other."
  • "Step 2: Establish group norms."

5. "Prepare students to expect the unexpected."