A Horror Story in Universities: Free Riders & Drivers, Who Run the Car?

‘Then how about the controversy on global warming?’ Soon after the message is sent, blue ticks appeared, indicating that all group members have read it. My fingers pound against the desk, with same beat as the clock tick-tocks. I take a a deep breath, and send the last message, ‘Any thoughts? Anyone?’

Two blue ticks again with silence.

Most students have encountered the situation of being free-rided., if you haven’t, you are blessed. Free-rider is the scariest word to students, even scarier than deadline, because we have to fight for the deadline and also carry the free-rider(s).

Annie Jo is a senior student in the University of Hong Kong (HKU), majoring in psychology. Like many of her peers, she has encountered numerous free-riding situations. Now, she is used to handle the massive workload left by the free-riding group members(s).

“You should figure out the free-riders as early as possible.” said Jo. In the worst case she experienced, she was the only ‘driver’ in her group. Most of the work was done by her, from choosing the topic to finishing the last slide of the PowerPoint. Jo even eventually printed out the presentation scripts, which is written by her, and passed them to her group members – because team cooperation is a crucial part in grading this presentation.

Group projects and presentations are important assessments in the undergraduate curriculum. They are one of the crucial and fundamental methodologies to prepare students as a member of the society, through consecutive and constant interactions with others.

Certainly, there are responsible students who are willing to share the workload, leading to a successful group work. However, it does not always work out. No one specify the responsibilities of each group members, group members are the ones deciding it. If one (or some) does not want to contribute, other group members have to bear additional work. Or in the worst case, one member is finishing everything.

“Although I thought it’s unfair, I had to do it alone for my grades. If the car must run, then I have to drive it. Even though it is unjustified.” said Ha Kyung Kim, a senior student of the City University of Hong Kong.

In the case of HKU, the uneven work distribution dilemma renders stereotypes of students from a particular faculty, especially in common core projects.

There is a ironic joke among students, “Avoid MBBS students in your grouping.” This is based on the fact that MBBS students only have to pass the common core courses. Grading is not important for them because it does not affect their GPA, leading to a general stereotype of MBBS students being irresponsible.

“It is true that many of us, the MBBS students, do not put much focuses on common cores. Yet, not everyone does. Group members’ facial expression usually change when I  tell them my major. This is really offensive.” said Yuki Liu, a year two MBBS student.

Free-riding is hard to avoid, but not impossible. There are instructors paying efforts in avoiding such problems, and at the same time inducing social social competence and team spirit.

“I ask the students to email me whenever they feel unfair on workload or responsibilities. The free-riders are not negligible.” said Arthur Chin, tutor of the HKU Philosophy Department.

Dr. Hammers Roslyn Lee, professor of Fine Arts in HKU, said she stopped assigning group assignments after she suffered from continuous complaints from students. She said that she could not see the point of assigning group work if the majority of interactions is going to end with hatred and unfairness.

Despite the efforts by these instructors, group work is still the major component in undergraduate curriculum. the unfairness of drivers and free-riders will still be an ongoing problem.

“I don’t always see it as a bad thing though, I mean the unfairness” said Dr. Joe Lau, an associated professor in the Department of Philosophy.

“Well, the world is not ran by everyone. Instead, its the minority that runs it while the others almost free-ride. Maybe the students are getting to know how the world really is.” he added.


Writer & Photographer : Yoan JinSoul Lee

Copy Editor: Joy, Chung Wai Ling

Editor: Lynn Yu

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