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The Problem Of Free-riding In Group Projects: Looking Beyond Social Loafing As Reason For Non-contribution

David Hall, Simone Buzwell

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The increase in popularity of group work in higher education has been accompanied by an increase in the frequency of reports of students not equally contributing to work within the groups. Referred to as ‘free-riders’, the effect of this behaviour on other students can make group work an unpleasant experience for some. Of most frustration to students is receiving the same mark as their fellow non-contributing group members despite producing much of the group’s work. Identifying free-riding behaviour early on in a project can help reduce the impact it has on other group members. What can also be identified is that free-riding behaviour is not necessarily due to apathy or a deliberate attempt to do as little work as possible. Numerous underlying reasons can lead a student to not contribute equally to a group even if he or she is willing. This study involved surveying students (N = 205) from all faculties of an Australian university and asking them of their attitudes towards group work. Free-text responses from the students were thematically analysed, and results showed that free-riding was the greatest concern across all disciplines.