The “Loafer Effect” and Project-Based Learning
There are many studies that describe the ‘bystander’ effect and the ‘good Samaritan’ effect. This research basically suggests that when you are in a crowd, there is a ‘diffusion of responsibility’. There is a well-documented ‘lack of individual responsibility’. It seems that you don’t take action for a variety of reasons. People expect someone else to step up and take action. They may be hesitant to interfere or be bossy and so not take control. People might not want to get involved and so are happy to dissolve into the crowd whereas, if that person was on their own, s/he might step-up because there is a need for someone to do so!
So how does this ‘bystander effect’ relate to students working in teams in a classroom?
As I said in a previous post, Gavriel Salomon suggests that teams do not always function well. Perhaps when you think of kids collaborating on a project, you might see all the kids in any one group negotiating every decision and producing one artifact together. This is often a challenge as you well know. There are many teamwork issues that arise. Gavriel Salomon speaks of the ‘free-rider’ or ‘loafer’ effect where a team member leaves it to others to complete the task. Consider the ‘sucker effect’ whereby a more active member of the team is taken for a free ride by other members. Or think about ‘status sensitivity’ where high-ability or very active members take charge and rule the roost in spite of the others. Others have talked about ‘ganging up on the task’ whereby all team members just divide up the task to get it done as quickly as possible! These are all very common.
What do you do?
So, I am wondering how you design your classrooms, and more specifically, your team-based projects to accommodate these phenomena.
How do you support and encourage individual agency?
What tips and techniques do you have to help others to deal with this ‘loafer effect’?
What might you do at the ‘classroom culture’ level to address this?
Do you teach kids about the impact of crowds on individual behaviour?