Free Riding in Group Assignments


Amit Poddar received many excellent responses on how to stop or minimize free riding in marketing group assignments

 ARC: Community: ELMAR: Posting

[Amit Poddar gathered up all the responses he received. I have tried to format these for ELMAR, but some of the "tables" used for group member grades did not format well –ch]

Dear Amit:

I have attached (see immediately below, after the horizontal rule) a description of Team Member Expectations, Ideal Team Member Criteria, and a Peer Evaluation for Group Projects that I use for Principles of Marketing. I hand out this document when I assign the team projects and the students are dividing into teams. I have found it is helpful to fully explain my expectations before the group work begins.

Also, I like to set the bar high and show students an example of an excellent team paper and presentation from the previous semester. I tell the class that successful teams meet once per week.

I recommend that students choose their teams wisely. For example, students may be a close friends, but not the best choice for a group project. I also recommend that students look at their schedules carefully. If one person has a night class on Monday, and another student plays a sport that travels on Tuesday, and a third person has a part-time job on Wednesday and Thursday, then it will be difficult to find a time for team meetings.

I still have an occasional team that has an under performing student. If the team approaches me early I can help them correct the problem. If the team does not contact me or they wait until the night before a project is due, there is little I can do to help.

Lastly, I have a Project Day two weeks before a team assignment is due. Usually teams hand in a drat of the first half of the paper. I take 30 to 40 minutes of class time and each student proofreads the entire paper while looking at the outline for the assignment. Each student uses a different color to mark up and edit the paper. Once a student has proofed a page, they put their initials on the bottom of the page. Later I read over the draft and make a lot of comments. This submission is graded, say 10% of the final project’s points. This way students learn how to proofread, edit each other’s sections and give constructive comments to each other. They also see how I will grade the assignment. This especially helps teams that would procrastinate until the last minute for the entire project.

Feel free to contact me if you have additional questions.


Hope Corrigan
Department of Marketing
Sellinger School of Business and Management
Loyola College in Maryland
4501 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21210

MK 240 Marketing

Team Member Expectations

Why does this Marketing course incorporate team assignments?

"Many companies are putting employees into self-directed work teams as an important mechanism for dealing with today’s complex and rapidly changing environment. As a result, businesses recommended that curriculum and teaching methods be designed to develop students’ communication and interpersonal skills through the use of student groups in the learning process."(1) Students are finding that employers are asking prospective candidates to describe their experiences working in teams during the interview process. (3)

Collaboration is a current buzzword in business and students need to have experience and successful strategies for working in teams prior to entering the workplace. Possessing strong team skills makes courses that require group work easier and more productive. (2)

Some of the disadvantages of teams that the professor would like to avoid in this course are the free rider problem and the divide and conquer approach. A free rider is a person in the group who is not contributing or doing their fair share. Free riders lower group morale and adversely impact the timeline to complete the project. The divide and conquer approach is where the team project is divided up into sections and just before the paper is due it is stapled together. Teams that adopt this approach miss the opportunity to learn from collaborative group interaction and prepare for the demands of teamwork in the business world. (2, 4)

How will I be evaluated on my participation on the team assignments?

At the end of the semester each student will complete a Peer Evaluation for Group Projects. This assessment instrument will give the instructor feedback on how individuals contributed to the two group projects this semester. (Emerging Industry Presentation and the Final Marketing Plan Paper and Presentation)

Peer evaluations are designed to accomplish the following:

  • Instill individual accountability for the team assignments
  • Evaluate each person’s level of participation in the team projects

What should we do if our team is "dysfunctional"?

If your team is not making progress on either of the team projects, please contact the professor as quickly as possible. Waiting until the last minute with concerns about how your team is performing is not recommended. The professor is available to meet with teams to assist them with dividing up the group projects, having effective team meetings or other questions and concerns.

Ideal Team Member Criteria

Important items that contribute to being an ideal team member:

    1. Able to use the library resources to collect information
    2. Attends all team meetings
    3. Comfortable using PowerPoint
    4. Communicates well with other team members
    5. Respectful of other team members
    6. Displays an analytical business style
    7. Gives constructive feedback
    8. Has strong presentation skills
    9. Meets assigned deadlines
    10. Open to ideas from other team members
    11. Organized
    12. Enthusiastic attitude about the team assignments
    13. Productive team member
    14. Volunteers for tasks
    15. Sets realistic deadlines
    16. Shares the responsibility for team assignments
    17. Submits quality work
    18. Takes on a leadership role
    19. Comes to team meetings prepared
    20. Writes well and can edit other student’s work


    1. Siciliano, Julie. "A Template for Managing Teamwork in Courses Across the Curriculum." Journal of Education for Business, May/June 1999.

    2. Vik, Gretchen N. "Doing more to teach teamwork than telling students to sink or swim." Business Communication Quarterly, December 2001.

    3. Brooks, Charles M. and Janice L. Ammons. "Free Riding in Group Projects and the Effects on Timing, Frequency, and Specificity of Criteria in Peer Assessments." Journal of Education for Business, May/June 2003.

    4. Dyrund, Marilyn A. "Group projects and peer review." Business Communication Quarterly, December 2001.

MK 240 Marketing

Team Number _______________________

Peer Evaluation for Group Projects


In the attached table, please note the extent that each member of your group participated in both team projects (Emerging Industry Presentation and the Final Marketing Plan Paper and Presentation). The professor will use your rankings to evaluate each person’s contribution to the team projects.

Feel free to provide additional comments on the reverse side to mention specific aspects of your own performance and/or to explain your rationale for the rating you have assigned, especially where an individual may have contributed disproportionately (or failed to participate sufficiently).

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback,

Mrs. Corrigan

MK 240 Marketing

Peer Evaluation for Group Projects

Person completing this form: ______________________________


Names 1
Poor 2
Fair 3
Good 4
Excellent 1. Yourself

Please answer the following two questions.

  1. What were some of the positive aspects of working in a team for these two assignments?
  2. What would you do differently the next time you have a team project to make it a better learning experience for you and your team?

  • There’s a JME dealing with exactly this issue. They conducted an experiment trying different approaches to controlling free riding; not clear any of the approaches worked.
  • Right now, I’m reducing the size of my groups in an effort to place more pressure on each person to contribute and to give the hardworkers an incentive to evaluate the slackers more objectively and less "politely". Not sure that it will work, but I’m trying it.
  • One thing that has helped: Once we’re about 50% along in the semester-long project, I ask students to complete informational, ungraded peer reviews. Slackers seem shocked that their peers are unhappy, and generally respond by starting to contribute.
  • Finally, not to make it too simplistic, but there are probably three types of students: hard workers, slackers, and the gray area in between. The pure slackers are probably the easiest to deal with, as students are more likely to give them poor peer evaluations. Figuring out the gray area, and motivating those students to contribute fully, is more complex.

If you summarize the responses you get, I’d love to get a copy.


Ann Mirabito
Asst Prof of Marketing
Baylor University

Hi Amit,

I use the attached (below) form. Furthermore, in the first class itself I announce very clearly that free riders might lose 5-10% or might even fail if they don’t work. I kind of put it little more threateningly and it has worked for me for the last 7 years. Moreover, I keep reminding them about this every month. I never faced that gang up scenario but if that happens you can surely call the person who has worked and show them a futuristic scenario as to tomorrow when they will be part of an interview, this person who has not worked at all and have got same grades as them might get chosen and they might not. Small things like this lead to big things and I am sure if they are using ‘united we stand’, there is no counter strategy to ‘divide and rule’.

Best regards,


For each member in your group, determine how much you feel he or she contributed to the development of your group project throughout the course of the semester. Below, write down the name of the group member, and then rate the individual’s contribution from 0 to 100, where 100 is the best possible score. You are responsible for evaluating the effort each member invested, and not the intellectual abilities of the member.



Next there is a table with the following columns:

Team member(s) name, Conceptualization, Project execution, Other, Overall contribution

If you gave a group member an especially low rating, please briefly explain why

Dear Amit,

I use a peer evaluation form and use the average for all members (including the one being graded) to assign 5% of the course grade. The peer evaluations are (theoretically) based on the grade that the respondent believes each member of the group earned on the project. I’ve frequently been impressed by the honesty evidenced: students assigning themselves the lowest grade among their group, or not giving anyone in the group an A because they don’t believe the product was an A effort. (I do not disclose the peer evaluation grades.)

I’ve never had a situation where multiple slackers ganged up on the one doing the work — I guess if I knew that was the case I’d use my discretion to reallocate the grades based on my own observations.

What I have experienced is students seeing this as a chance to earn an easy A for 5% of the course, even when their project was only worth a B or lower. Or (frequently) the slackers assigning everyone an A, while the workers give differential grades. Based on years of seeing this happen when the "all A’s" evaluations come from students who don’t participate in class, do poorly on exams, etc., I’ve almost come to regard this situation as a "tell" (not to be confused with entire groups who give each other all A’s and add write-in votes that they all worked well together and had a great group experience).

The most disturbing experiences I’ve had are when the group splits into "in" and "out" segments, and those given poor ratings complain that they couldn’t contribute because meetings were set when they couldn’t attend, they weren’t kept in the loop, etc. I’d love to take the position my professors did that "managing group dynamics is part of the learning experience" and stay out of it, but it’s not in my nature. Luckily this has been a rare occurrence, so I haven’t had to mediate (probably unsuccessfully) frequently.

I do try to give the students some time in class during the term to work on their projects while I’m there to consult with them. It gives me a little sense of the dynamics of each group to inform my interpretation of the evaluation forms.

I’m attaching the form I use (below – next). While there is room for 10 names on the form, the groups almost always have 3-5 students. It’s never been tested for reliability and validity, but I settled on it after years of trying other versions like constant sum scales to weight individual group members’ grade for the project, etc. I found, for example, that most students had little sense of how such a weighting would impact grades, while at least they know what they’re doing when asked to grade each other and themselves. It’s imprecise, but seems to work fairly well.

Hope this helps at least a little. I’d be grateful to find out what you learn from the combined wisdom of Elmar.

Regards and sympathy on grading,


Marcia H. Flicker, Ph. D
Associate Professor of Marketing.
Fordham University
113 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023
Phone: 212-636-6194
Fax: 212-765-5573


This peer evaluation is designed to correct possible inequities in grading your group project. You are asked to rate your team members according to each person’s contribution to the team effort. The ratings should reflect a team member’s time, effort, ability, and willingness to work things out with the other members. It should not reflect the grade you think your group paper/presentation should receive.

Please take your time and follow the instructions below. Try to assign grades that accurately reflect the extent to which you and the other members of your group contributed to your learning and/or your group’s performance. This will be your only opportunity to reward the members of your group who actually worked hard on your behalf. If you give everyone the same rating you will be hurting those who did the most and helping those who did the least.

On the other hand, if all the members of your group contributed pretty much the same amount, you probably had a very positive experience. That situation is to be commended and celebrated, and should be reflected in the Peer Evaluation Grades. Don’t be petty!

1. On the lines in the left column below, list each member of your project group, including your own name. Use last names as well as first names.

2. In the right column below, please rate each of the members of your group, including yourself, by giving him/her a letter grade from A to F (A+ is not allowed).

Evaluations should be turned in individually and confidentially on the day the project is due. The Peer Evaluation Grade will be computed as the average grade assigned each class member by all members of his/her group (including himself/herself).


Title of Project (not course name):________________________________________________________________

1. (Your name:) (Grade yourself:)
2. (Other Members)

Dear Amit:

Toward the end of the attached (see immediately below) assignment I describe how I handle free riders.

Would you kindly summarize what you learn and post to ELMAR? That would be wonderful!

With thanks,

Geoffrey P. Lantos, Ph.D. (Praising Him daily)
Professor of Business Administration
Marketing Program Director
Stonehill College
Book Reviews Editor, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Journal of Product and Brand Management
Box D55

Peer Evaluation – If a team member does not complete the assigned duties or does not do a fair share he or she will suffer the consequences, not the other team members!! The procedure is as follows:

  1. I will grade your advertising campaign team project. Grades will be numerical based on the above criteria and weights.
  2. Each team project must be accompanied by a rating from each team member handed in the last day of class indicating the contribution of each individual member. You may not rate yourself.
  3. Contribution must be indicated by percentage and must average out to 100 percent for the team.
  4. The percentage given to any participating individual member can vary between 80 percent and 120 percent. 100 would indicate an expected level of contribution meriting the team paper grade. For example, a 110 would add 10 percent of the team grade to the student’s grade, and a 90 would subtract 10 percent of the team grade from the student’s grade.
  5. A percentage of 0 must be given to team members who do not participate, for any reason whatsoever, in production of a particular team project. This is the only reason which can be used to assign a 0 percentage for individual contribution (i.e., you "fire" that member). If your team fires a member during the semester, you must immediately notify me. This must happen at least thirty days before the final due date.
  6. If a 0 percentage is assigned to a team member, the average of 100 percent for the team will be determined by excluding the absent member. (100 percent will be averaged only for active participants.)
  7. The team grades will be returned with the grades assigned to individuals, the latter being determined by multiplying the team grade times the contribution percentage assigned to the individual or averaging individual ratings.

You may wish to use the following criteria in your peer evaluations:

  1. Number of meetings attended and prompt attendance at meetings
  2. Amount of work contributed
  3. Quality of ideas and work contributed
  4. Cooperation/contribution to the team effort
  5. Time contributed
  6. Timeliness and consistency of work contributed
  7. Inspiration, leadership provided to the team
  8. Enthusiastic and positive attitude about team activities and fellow team members


Team project grade = 90
Individual Individual Team Individual
Team Member Contribution % Grade Grade
Robert Goulet 95% 90 85
Lady Bird Johnson 100% 90 90
Jerry Falwell 95% 90 85
Evel Knievel 120% 90 108
Luciano Pavarotti 80% 90 72
Liz Claiborne 110% 90 99

600/6 539/6
Average 100% Average 90

Columns 1 and 2 will be filled out by each team member for his or her peers and will be handed in the last day of class. The instructor will grade the project and return the form, averaging the individual contributions in column 2 and filling in Columns 3 and 4.

Interim Peer Evaluations – Feb. 27. Each student is to fill out the peer evaluation form discussed below. Although these ratings will not affect your final grade in any way, they will provide constructive feedback to team members on how other team members perceive their contributions to the project so far. Each student’s peer evaluation sheet-to be filled out anonymously for this interim report-will be photocopied by me and returned to other team members. Those doing a less-than-average job will then be forewarned to improve their efforts so that their final grade does not suffer as much as it might otherwise.


Firstly, I simply set a limit to group size – no more than 3-members. Free riding virtually disappears.

Secondly, I encourage groups to manage problems (with my help if need be). In particular, I ‘give them permission’ to fire offenders. Three email contacts with a recalcitrant group member, and no response? Send a fourth telling them their services are longer required! Email is better than phone, etc. ‘cos it can be demonstrated.

Thirdly, I DIScourage peer evaluations. Mostly it is used to ‘punish’ the free-riders without any noticeable benefit generally accruing to the workers – ie, it drops the grade of the lazy ones, but does nothing for anyone else in the group. I have toyed with the idea of implementing a grading system that allocates a grade, and where the working peers gain points at the expense of the free-rider – but that might encourage ganging up and bullying.



Dr. Stephen Holden
Associate Professor, Marketing
Faculty of Business, Technology
and Sustainable Development
Bond University
Gold Coast, QLD 4229

Dear Amit – I do a lot of group work as a pedagogical preparation for the real world where nearly all business is done in teams or requires team work of some sort – two strategies that I have used in the past that have worked extremely well are:

  1. Very authoritative – tell the students that every assignment must be handed in with a peer evaluation (e.g. how much work did everyone do) which is signed by all members
  2. Very hands off – the students are told that all members of the group will receive the same mark and it is up to them to ensure other groups members tow the line equally

1 is more suited for undergraduates or large classes while 2 seems to work best for more mature or postgraduate students in my experience – the key is to be 100% upfront and explicit about your approach from the start and dispell the chance to free ride before groups are even formed and that group work issues should be dealt with sooner rather than later – don’t wait till 2 days before the hand in date to tell the lecturer that your group isn’t working

Hope this gives you some ideas


Dr. Ekant Veer
Lecturer of Marketing
School of Management
University of Bath
Bath BA2 7AY
Tel: +44 1225 386 202
Fax: +44 1225 386 473

In most of my courses, I create essay questions on the final that are strongly correlated with the knowledge one must gain by doing the project. While I provide peer evaluations, I do not use them in the grading process. I save those for when the students feel the grades were not fair.

The challenge with my strategy is when I teach a course where I can’t correlate the project and the final exam. This is rarely the case, but I am struggling in sales management at the moment. I also signal in the class room, several times during the semester, that the purpose of the final is to ‘catch’ free riders. I tell my students that I would prefer to not have a final and have their project be the major focus of the course, but that I must have the final to catch the free riders. These essays are not short answer and require substantial thinking by students and most students quickly identify themselves if they didn’t contribute substantially to the project. I also grade very aggressively, average score on essay questions is below 50% as there are usually several free riders per group. So far, I have observed a correlation between essay scores and peer evaluations.

The down side: It is possible for a student to enter the final with an A grade and exit the final with a B in the course. This can cause some flak after grades are posted and be costly from a time perspective, but the strategy is usually very defensible.

I have used this strategy in the following courses:

Marketing Principles
Professional Selling and Sales Management
Marketing Research

The sales course has been the most challenging and I am still developing the right combinations of project type and essay questions.

Howard Dover

Howard F. Dover
Instructor, Marketing
Perdue School of Business
(410) 677-0161

Dear Amit,

I’ve discovered that the best way to deal with free riding in team projects is to have each student turn in multiple peer evaluations during the semester. Team members who get bad evaluations early on get a signal that they have to change their ways. If their contributions don’t improve, you have a paper trail supporting any penalties you impose on their grade.

Hope this helps.

Sincerely yours,
George Franke
University of Alabama

I tried to prevent problems rather than punish poor performers. When I did take off points, it was always based on my judgment rather than a formula based on average evaluations. I rarely took off more than one letter grade. Given the weight I assigned to team projects, that had a pretty significant effect on the student’s grade.

The following statement is in my syllabus. I used more severe deductions in previous semesters, but I felt it was too severe.

*****Team Member Evaluations***** Each team member will be evaluated on their contribution to each team assignment by all other team members. Team members will use the following 3-point scale to evaluate each member:

  • 3-Good Team Member-Contributed roughly the same amount of work as the other team members.
  • 2-Bad Team Member-Contributed very little work, or their work was so poorly done or turned in so late that another group member had to do (or re-do) their work.
  • 1-Absolutely Horrible Team Member-Contributed nothing except standing in for the presentation.

Your team assignment grade will be deducted from the initial team assignment grade as followings:

  • If all team members give you evaluations of 2 or lower (except all 1s), your grade for that assignment will be 75% of the initial team grade. For example, if your team’s project grade is a 90, and team members give you evaluations of 2, 2, and 1, your grade for the project will be a 67.5.
  • If all team members give you evaluations of 1, your grade for that assignment will be 50% of the initial team grade. For example, if your team’s project grade is a 90, and team members give you evaluations of 1, 1, and 1, your grade for the project will be a 45.
  • Your grade will not be deducted unless all team members give you an evaluation lower than 3. For example, if your team’s project grade is a 90 and team members give you evaluations of 2, 2, and 3, your grade for the project will still be a 90.

So far, I’ve only had to reduce one person’s grade by 25 percent. They did not argue with me about it. I think reducing grades is much easier if there is consensus among the other group members.

This method may not work as well if you have several team assignments, as some students may be hesitant to give low evaluations to team members because they will have to continue to work with them.

Hope this helps,

Julie Anna Guidry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Marketing
E. J. Ourso College of Business
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
225-578-5596 (phone)
225-578-8616 (fax)

Have the team or group gather the data and have peers evaluate the efforts each individual provided (A small part of the grade). But then require each individual to submit a reporting ANALYZING the data and the experience.

Eugene H. Fram
J. Warren McClure Research Professor of Marketing
E. Philip Saunders College of Business
Rochester Institute of Technology
108 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, New York 14623-5608
585-475-2360 fax 5989

Amit – I use peer evalutions, then adjust an individual’s point total by that.

It is a good idea to do a "midterm" evalution so that people are not surprised at the very end.

Here is the text I included in the syllabus:

When all group members have contributed equally to the project (both the written portions and the Trade Show) all members of a group will receive the same grade for the project. However, group members do rate the efforts and participation of each other, and these evaluations may result in adjustments to the project grades based on peer reviews. "Free-riding" does lead to significant grading penalties for "slackers," and bonuses for those who pick up the slack. In fact, course grades have dropped by as much as two full letter grades (e.g., B to D) based on project peer evaluations.

Eric J. Karson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Marketing
Villanova School of Business
Villanova University
Ph: (610) 519-4365

Your Name __________________________________ Group Product/Service ______________

SECTION: 11:30


Since this was a group project, you will now have the opportunity to evaluate the contributions made by each of the members of your group.

Your own contributions:

On the back, please describe any parts of your group project in which you participated. Your contributions may include conducting library research, assembling materials, creating the ad, typing, etc., etc.

Contributions of your group members

You now have the opportunity to evaluate the contributions of each member of the group. Please list the names of all group members (including yourself) in the space below. Next, please allocate 100 total points among to the other group members based on your perception of their contributions. For example, if you had 5 members in your group, including yourself, you will be evaluating 5 people. If everyone contributed equally to the project, you would give each member 20 points. In people did not contribute equally to the project, you may change your allocation accordingly.

Name Points

______________________________________________ ____________

______________________________________________ ____________

______________________________________________ ____________

______________________________________________ ____________

______________________________________________ ____________

______________________________________________ ____________

_______________________________________________ ____________

make sure the point total is 100!

Give details of any exceptionally high or low ratings here and on back:


How are you doing?

To avoid free riding, I do the following.

Each group member evaluates every other group member on a 10 or 100 point scale.

All ratings must be explained.

Anyone receiveing lower than a 90% average rating has their grade weigthed by that rating.

I always notify the lower grade recipient to give him/her an opportunity to respond. In doing so, I send that person the groups’ ratings of them (with identifiers stripped out) If there’s a possibility that it’s really a personality issue…I contact the group and ask them to clarify their ratings. It works pretty well…although you will run into people reluctant to affect another’s grade.


* People tend to give very little thought to this at the end of the semester.

–Free riders tend to be predator types taking advantage of non-predators…so the non-predators are iintrinsically reluctant to "dis" lthe predator unless he or she is a total jerk.

I have now decomposed all group projects into 3-4 stages, and might begin asking for evaluations at each stage. These would get shared (anonymously) with each person so they have the opportunity to respond and improve before the semester is over.

Hope all goes well. David

Please note the new phone number

David L. Nasser, Ph.D.
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department of Marketing
J. Mack Robinson College of Business
Georgia State University
404-413-7672 (Office)
404-247-0511 (Cell)
Atlanta GA 30303-3083 USA

HI Amit,

You’ve certainly asked a compelling question! Here’s what I do, although it’s decidedly not perfect.

Groups are required to prepare and sign a group contract that covers everything from designating a project manager, indicating a target grade (and resolving their differing goals), schedule of work, and grounds for firing. I ask them to be very explicit about the latter so that it makes it easier on them later to actually fire a member. Most firings that I’ve had occur have been for total lack of participation, however.

Groups have to meet with me 4 weeks before their presentation (which are spread across the semester). I ask that all members be present, not a representative. That initial meeting gives me at least a feel for how any one individual is participating (even via eye contact with me).

Three weeks before their presentation date, they must turn in a reference list of what they’ve found so far. This can be pretty rough but I’m looking at both the quality/type of references they’re seeking (so I can steer them in another direction if necessary) and the sharing of workload. The reference list must have the indication of who contributed each individual reference. Where there’s an imbalance, I point it out to the group and suggest that they resolve this imbalance or let me know if they cannot.

Two weeks before their presentation date, they must submit a draft outline (full sentence/thought format). This doesn’t give me individual-specific feedback but the emerging group leaders (if any) usually let me know at this point whether people are pulling their weight. This by itself doesn’t go into my evaluation of individuals, but it is something I can file away in the case that someone protests their eventual peer evaluation.

Once all groupwork is done, they are asked to individually submit peer evaluations on a series of 10-point questions, the total of which sums to 100. I keep to myself the specific target scores that can affect their grade, but essentially if they average a peer score of 80 or less, they get only 80% of the project grade. I’ve had a few really bad examples (peer scores in the 30’s for example), and recently added the bar that a score of under 50 gives them only 50% of the project grade. It’s a decidedly imperfect method but it goes in the right direction and allows for wiggle room in the accuracy of their peer scores. Further, if there’s a huge disparity in any individual’s peer scores, I look to see what happened. That may have been a personality conflict. Usually that situation doesn’t result in a score under 80 anyway but if it did I’d try to dig into it a bit with the students.

I think this method does away with the concern that the rest gang up on the one that did all the work. I can usually tell by then who has been in the leader role throughout the process. Most important is that I try to have that connection with the group from the word go. I can’t control everything nor view everything but it helps a lot in feeling confident about the grade impact!

Good luck with this!

Julie Stanton

Dr. Julie V. Stanton
Department of Marketing
Haub School of Business
Saint Joseph’s University
5600 City Avenue
Philadelphia PA 19131
(610) 660-1624
(610) 660-3239 (fax)

Hi Amit,

I actually am dealing with the aftermath of one such problem from last semester. The key to dealing with these things is that the faculty member has to be willing to expend extra resources (time, energy, etc.) to both prevent and mitigate social loafing (or free riding as you put it). Here are some steps that I take, and some strategies I have used in the past:

  1. I explain in the beginning of the semester, what social loafing is. Gets them all thinking about the last time they were in a group and had this happen;
  2. I assure them that at the end of the semester I will have no problem failing them should social loafing occur, though I certainly do not want to do that;
  3. Then I explain the procedure to be used to monitor this situation. Here is where I have tried different things, all with differing levels of success. Here are two of them, with the accompanying difficulties they present:

Allowing groups to "fire" non-performing members. I give the students until the 11th week of a 15 week semester to do this, with the understanding that it must be justified and documented (offenses must not be personality driven, for example). The "punishment" to the fired student then is that they still must complete the project, but must do all the work alone yet be held to the same criteria for grading. Problems: the "fired" student then comes to the instructor to ask for help in completing the project, which requires much extra work on the instructor’s part. If the instructor does not help, then the punishment is doubled, and any Ombudsman would have a problem with this. I.E. if the instructor is assisting the other groups, he/she really is obligated to assist the single-person "group."

Providing a review form for each of the members of a group to evaluate the performance of each other group member at the end of the semester. Problems: The main problem with this method is that if the grade of a student is lowered (relative to the group’s) based on this evaluation, then the student is in effect being graded by peers. This may violate grading policies at universities. I have worked for a public U where this was the case, and at a private U where it was not.

Overall problem no matter what method used: the student whose grade is lowered due to group problems (caused by the student’s own social loafing behavior) often does not see things the same way as their fellow members. The way I get past this first of all is to ask the student IF they contributed, and if so to provide to me proof of that. This should take the form of a Word document or something which is tangible (I will give an example of this in a minute). If they say they did not contribute due to problems with the group (e.g., meetings were only when the student worked; one (or two) member(s) did all the work without allowing anyone else to contribute; etc.) then I ask the student why they had not come to me and told me this; why would the student place their grade in the hands of other students?

Regarding the production of work actually completed, here are two common situations, both of which occurred last semester (in the same group). One student said that she had been unable to make the final meeting to pull the whole paper together because of a personal obligation (coaching a youth basketball team). When asked to provide the work which she would have contributed during that meeting, she was unable to do so…finally admitting that she had not actually done anything prior to the emergency. The second member had done her part, but a roommate sat on her laptop that day and broke the screen. So she could not see to retrieve the document…. I asked why she had not simply taken the laptop to a friend’s house or the University and plugged a screen into it to retrieve the document? She had not thought of that, but felt that she still should be given credit for having done the work. I asked why she could not have re-written the part, rather than forcing her group-mates to re-write it? Ooops, hadn’t thought of that either. So I finally asked her to send me what she had done, with the file date-stamped to show when it was actually created. She did so, sending me a file with a four-sentence-long paragraph…her sole contribution to a 16 page project. In both cases, the "F" was not changed.

Anyway, a complicated situation almost always ensues when trying to deal with social loafing. You have to make a decision if you want to expend your resources to do so.

Best of luck,


Rodney C. Runyan, Ph.D.
Graduate Director
Department of Retailing
College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208

Dear Amit,

I ask my students to keep meeting minutes and individual time sheets of their contributions and submit them several times over the course of the term. I also have them submit peer evaluations, but with the caveat that I will only look at them if a member of the group does not submit a timesheet. Timesheets and meeting minutes remove the problems with peer evaluation (emotion, primacy/recency) and give me full control over interpreting the documents submitted. It also takes more time to fake these documents than it is worth.

The benefit of this technique is that the group members learn to keep paperwork that is standard in business and I am able to see clearly who was assigned which tasks as well as who completed them. I adjust grades both up and down based on any major discrepancies in work. Should one person do more work, their grade is increased on the grounds that had they been in a group with similarly motivated students they would have achieved more. I also grade students down for not having contributed to the same level as other group members, again on the grounds that if everyone had contributed as much, they would have achieved less.

I hope you find this useful.

Kind regards,

Dr. Lisa Watson
Assistant Professor
Paul J. Hill School of Business
Faculty of Business Administration
University of Regina
phone) 1 306 337 2389

Thanks for bringing this up. I’d really be interested in learning what you find out about this important topic.

I also find it difficult to gauge how students are doing in the group work.

I’ve tried some things that have helped but these techniques are still somewhat flawed. (1) I always try to have students work with a lot of different people, so I always rotate group assignments 4-6 times per semester. That way they get to work with almost everyone in the class at least once and the top and bottom performers usually end up clustered in the same group at some point so I can more easily track who consistently is on the best teams, and who always seems to be on the worst performing teams. (2) I ask students to name the top performer in their group and the worst performer, and over the semester, some people’s names start to come up over and over so I get a flavor for who is really working hard.

If you learn anything else from others, please let me know. I would love to learn some more tricks to deal with this.


Daniel Korschun
(617) 817-5101

Hey Amit,

I set up the assignments in which the outcome of project represents 75% of the grade and 25% is the result of peer evaluations. It is a mathematical calculation in which the decrease of one group member actually raises the grades of the others that did do the work. So if one person did not contribute and the project gets a be, (assuming that it comes out in the peer eval), the free rider’s grade decreases as the others increases. I have the students email me their peer eval to keep it private and it input it on a spreadsheet. If you want to know more, let me know.


Edward Nowlin
Doctoral Student
President, PHD Project Marketing Doctoral Student Assn.
Department of Marketing
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

I have to admit that I avoid group assignments for almost all my classes. If the only true purpose of the groups is to reduce grading, I find some other option (another topic). I start by asking myself, "What pedagogical benefit does grouping contribute? If I can’t find a persuasive answer I don’t group students. When I do have groups I discovered one practice that has cut problem student issues dramatically. When there are no outside constituencies available (class consulting projects in my case) I allow students the option of resigning and doing a parallel assignment solo if they feel they are unfairly carrying the load or getting ganged up on by the others. I allow groups to "fire" free loaders by unanimous vote of the others, so the free loader has to do it solo. I have never had a fired student ever show up again for class. The word of mouth keeps it from happening for a couple years into the future. And, I keep groups as small as possible. I have also required time sheets documenting specific contributions during group work time. This doesn’t work quite as well. After 37 years in the game I have to say this doesn’t always work or solve all the problems. Every class, course, and group has a different dynamic and the nature of the department, chair, and college affects the options available. Good luck.

Gary McCain, Chairman
Department of Marketing and Finance
Professor of Marketing
Department of Marketing and Finance
Boise State University
1910 University Dr
Boise, ID 83725-1630

Hi Amit,

I’ve been using group projects, cases, and other assignments for many years. I’ve tried everything and nothing is perfect. But, I have developed one approach that students appreciate, gives them more control, makes the process more fun, and eliminates many of the headaches you talk about.

Long before the apprentice, I abandoned peer evaluations and instituted "firing" options. Here is an excerpt form one of my syllabi.

A Note on Teams

"Well Pete, I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought. But if that ain’t the consensus view, then hell, let’s put it to a vote." (Ulysses Everett McGill, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, why he should lead)

As the quote suggests, the person with the most ability may not always be the leader in a team. In fact, (think about it), the person with the least interest has the greatest power (think about it again). Sorry, that’s life.

Thus, there will not be any peer evaluations of teams. It never works well. Students don’t want to betray friends and they often strike deals with each other. And, when on a real team in business, you will rarely get the chance to evaluate team members; it is assumed that all members work hard and if not, other members will do something about it. So it goes in this class for both the project and case teams. However, like in business, a team can "fire" a team member. If a team member is not making an acceptable contribution to the team effort, then the rest of the team must vote to first put the member "on warning" which requires notification with reasons and stating what the person must do to correct the situation (copy me in on it). If the team member does not take corrective action within a reasonable period (at least 1 week), then the team can notify the member that he or she has been fired from the team (copy me in again). This team member must then proceed individually with the project or cases for the remainder of the semester. Do not wait until it is too late to cite a team member for lack of contribution. I hear the woes every semester from one team or another who procrastinated and found themselves with 1-2 members doing all of the work. If that is the case (pun intended), so be it. I cannot help you unless you help yourselves.

As you can probably infer, the main point is to prevent the situation from even happening by instilling a certain level of fear. Also, I point out in class that if one is on a team where he or she is doing all the work, don’t give it away to the team; this person can act as if he or she is doing nothing and deliberately get fired. Better to get full credit for one’s work if one is going it alone anyway.

In probably 10 years of using this approach I’ve had only three "firings." The students fired are always amazed and often just drop the course since they were not really participating anyway. By the way, I also tell them that I don’t want to hear about any team problems except being copied in on warning and firing emails.

Just another approach. May work for you, may not.

Best Regards,


Larry D. Compeau, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Marketing
Executive Officer, Society for Consumer Psychology
Clarkson University School of Business
8 Clarkson Avenue, Box 5795
Potsdam, NY 13699

Hi Amit,

My group project paper is worth 100 points. There is a presentation worth 50 and a "peer evaluation" worth 50. I have had students give the free rider only 5-10 points out of 50. I have also had groups NOT put the free riders on the paper, so they got a zero on the paper.

As long as you make it clear at the beginning of class that you will stand by the groups’ evaluations, I have had any problems.

Hope this helps.

Diana Haytko
Assoc. Prof of Marketing
Missouri State University

Dear Amit Poddar,

I teach both at an undergraduate and postgraduate level and at both of these levels I have this (free riders or poor contribution) issue. Unfortunately, free riders always argue about peer-evaluation and better performing peers are often frustrated by the amount of work they have to do to bring a group assignment up to standards.

One useful move was to ask students to submit their parts to the group assignment to a tutor in advance (well before the due date). The problem with this that students expect a feedback before they submit their assignment, some particularly demanding students tried to involve their tutors in working on the assignment.

I would be grateful if you can share your solutions to this problem or what you received from other academics.

Best regards,

Dr. Bella Butler
Strategic Management and Business Policy
School of Management
Curtin Business School
Curtin University of Technology


Saw your query on ELMAR about free riding.

I have used group projects throughout my teaching career having taught team projects at four different universities, every semester and in every class I have taught except statistics and principles of marketing. The following are my observations:

The first consideration is team size. I see this as one of the most critical elements that can either thwart or give rise to a situation where freeloading occurs. A team of three is the ideal size for most projects. Fewer than three there usually not enough creativity/brain storming/outside of the box effort. At four or more there is nearly always at least one freeloader. Also the larger the group the less flexibility they have for team meetings, generally they meet less frequently and the quality of the output is less than in smaller teams. Part of this is that in larger groups more assumptions about it "not being my responsibility" keep students from taking the initiative and being responsible.

The downside of smaller teams is that it requires more effort on your part as the instructor. There are more projects to grade, sometimes more clients to recruit, and certainly more effort required to manage the different strengths and weakness that occur across teams. However, since I have primarily taught at "teaching" not research schools, where the mission of the University is based on increased interactions between faculty and students – through "lower" student/faculty ratio,… I have recognized that this is an assumption of my job and responsibilities. Yesterday, as an example, I had 17 students come to me throughout the day for advising, class team projects, and for individual assignments. I had 8 students waiting to see me at 7:00 – my office hours being at 7:30 – in theory since I have a class at 8 and one at 9:30. The last student left my office at 6:20 p.m. With the exception of teaching and the diversity commissioners meeting I had to attend I was never without students in my office yesterday. Today I have already seen 6 students. So yes, the smaller team size means more out of class effort. It is also dependent upon the class – Strategic has considerable more out of office meetings with students where when I have taught small business, promotions, advance theory, marketing research, … my office meetings with students is considerably less.

Fortunately, at GCSU, unless you make the error yourself to provide student overrides you will not have more than 50 students in a class. Though three is the ideal, I often allow teams to form with four students. Partly because of attrition and firings. It is typical that at least one team per class will lose a team member during the semester due the student withdrawing from the course or, because their team mates fired them. Thus a team of three can quickly become a team of 2 or even on a couple of occasions a team of one.

When I have classes of more than 45 students then I allow teams of up to five. In general, I don’t like to have more than 8 teams in a class – that works well for 24 to 32 students in a class. The most teams I have ever managed in a single course is 12.

The second issue that I have found plays significantly in regards to freeloading is team member selections. I use part of the first four class periods for team building/ice breaker activities that explore the strengths and weakness, skills and abilities, and personalities of the classmates. I discuss the skills that a team will have to have to be successful, we talk about what makes a successful team, the role of professionalism and ethics in teams, how to hire a team member and how to fire a team member (students are required to read "Team building and responsibilities") . Then I let teams self select. When 40 – 80% of a student’s grade is tied to team work, they generally do their best to find a suitable team to match their needs. Not all students want to work for an A, thus in larger classes there is usually a team that very clearly bonds on the notion that C is sufficient.

The third thing I do to help control freeloading is to get feedback four times during the course of the project. I have developed a ten item list that students rate each other and themselves and then must explain the ratings. These peer evaluations usually start out that everyone is doing perfect across all ten items, but by the third and fourth, the truth starts to be revealed. I stress at each collection time that it is not sufficient to simply tell me that a team member is not carrying their load, they must also tell the other person. They are future professionals; I am not their mother – they must take some responsibility for managing the group efforts. The grade for projects are always equally shared in my classes because in business an agency is hired as a whole not by its individual members. The peer evaluations are used to weight individual participation grades in the class. I have never had a student challenge their peer evaluations. I have on occasion had a student who rates a team member extremely poorly. In general, I average the team evaluations collected from all the team members, but if one member is particularly out of line as compared to the rest of the teams marks I look at the specifics and then determine on a case per case basis the appropriate strategy. These cases have been very rare.

The final thing I would add to this is that, unfortunately there will always be some individuals who attempt to freeload. If we make a serious effort to limit the ability to freeload and a students still freeloads, let it be. Why should the classroom be any different than the real world. Look around in your own work environment there are plenty of individuals who do not pull an equal share of their load. Those that "freeload", will never reach the kind of long-term success as those who do the work honestly and ethically. In the short-run they may appear to "win" but it doesn’t last. As for the individuals who were used by the freeloaders, they also learn important lessons.

Here are the links to the documents I wrote that I use in my classes:

Team building and responsibilities:

Peer evaluation form can be found linked to my class page as an excel spreadsheet:

For what they are worth, these are my thought and observations.


I don’t know the solution to the problem, but something I am trying is requiring teams to work out assignments on a Group Discussion Board on Blackboard. The requirement is that all members of the team have to contribute. I will know if someone doesn’t and they will receive a zero on the assignment. I can also evaluate individual contributions to team assignments and provide advice if someone is regularly off-base in contributions.

An upside is that the Discussion Board is electronic. The excuse of not being able to find a time to meet is minimized. I still suggest portions of assignments that are probably best handled face to face.

The downside is that it takes more time, both to create assignment instructions and to grade.

This is applied in a product development class.

Frank Franzak
Chair, Department of Marketing


I use peer evaluations, and I do reduce project and even semester grades based on those evaluations. If the project runs more than a couple of weeks, I recommend multiple evaluations (weekly or monthly). Also have every member describe their contribution in detail. The slackers often have a difficult time knowing what the project contains. If there is a conflict, you can bring the team into your office for discussion, or query each member to determine how much they really know about the project.

Another helpful tool is to require every member to participate in the group presentation, but you determine the order of presentation on the spot. You also insist that every team member answer questions from you and the class.

I also allow teams to fire slacker members. (You could allow a worker in a group of slackers to resign from the group.) Termination of a group member must be a unanimous decision by all other group members, approved by me, and must be done in the first quarter or third of the project. In more than a decade, I have only had two instances where a team even approached me about termination.

I have attached (see immediately below) the syllabus for an MBA class that used semester long team projects as the central focus of the class. There are a number of suggestions that might be helpful.

Group work is difficult, but it has its rewards.

Good luck.

Bob McDonald, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
United Supermarkets Professor of Marketing
Texas Tech University
Rawls College of Business, MS 42101

Group Dynamics: Each group will have up to four members, and every student will initially be part of a self-selected group. You can structure your group in any manner you wish. You can designate a single project leader (ala that New Yorker with the "Huge" show, ego, and hair), or you can have an equal partnership. You can subdivide the work in any manner that is effective. You can designate a single point person as the client contact, or not. I want every student in each group to give at least one in class report, and every student must participate in the in-class workshops and the final presentation. Except in extreme circumstances, I expect each team to resolve its personnel issues.

If a group member fails to contribute satisfactorily, then that person may be fired. This is an extreme measure and should only be taken as a last resort. The decision must be unanimous among the other team members, and must be approved by the professor. To fire someone, the team must submit a written request, signed by all of the other members of the team, to the professor, explaining why the student should be fired from the team. Any student who is fired will receive a grade of "F" in the course. Also note that poor participation, as assessed by the other group members, can significantly reduce the student’s grade on the project, and for the semester.

Group Project Log/Diary: Each group must submit a group project log or diary with the group project. This log is to track project input. Keep dates and times of meetings, attendance, assignments to individual group members, progress (and lack of progress) reports, etc. This is a tool for managing your group project, and your group members. It can help you and me to evaluate each member’s contribution.

Grading: The entire semester grade will revolve around your team’s project. Sixty percent of your grade will be based on your group’s grade. The other forty percent will be a function of the individual’s efforts. The service learning method requires a great deal of work outside of the classroom. To compensate for the expected work load, no exams or other assignments will be given this semester. Therefore, the workload should not pose a problem.

Each group member will submit four confidential participation grades (full/equal participation = 100%; non-participation = 0%) for every group member, including yourself. These are due: 2/1, 3/1, 4/5, and 5/3.

Hi Amit,

I teach at a private university in Mexico, and indeed I experience the same problems as you. Peer evaluation works relatively nicely for me; I inform students at the beginning of the course that I have peer evaluation forms (every student has to evaluate him or herself, and the other members of the group), and I also tell them that I will assign points according to their evaluations. However, I also tell them that I will talk to all members of the group in case that there are differing evaluations. What happens in the free rider case typically is that the free rider does not submit his / her form, and the other members of the group do. I then first talk to the free rider, and honestly I never had the problem that the free rider did not admit that he was not participating as much in the group as the other members. Maybe that works in my specific cultural (or university) context, and at other universities people would outright lie to you, but for me it seems to work. Cons: indeed it’s not perfect, and sometimes I feel that free riders are not reported because the other students in the group, although not satisfied with the free rider, don’t want to harm him to much. The opposite (like a conspiration against the free rider, or free riders "ganging up" on the person who did the work) apparently never happened to me (because I guess the "flamed" person would talk to me and complain).


To avoid freeloading in groups assignments, I have students complete the attached form after every group-related activity. I, in turn, originally got this form from my dissert chair. I find it is not that much work – most groups don’t report any problems. However, where there are problems, I learn about them quickly. Students lose up to 10 points off their own individual group grades. Those lost points are then divided up among their group members. This provides the other members with an incentive to report any problems. Students are required to hand in this (see immediately below) form. Otherwise, they lose 10 points. I hope this helps. – Blaine

Blaine J. Branchik, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Marketing
Quinnipiac University
(203) 582-3474
(203) 582-8664 fax

Group Member Evaluation
MK324 Consumer Behavior

Group #: _____ Exercise: __________________________________ Date: ______

Congratulations! For your fine performance this period your group has been awarded an annual bonus of $100,000. Divide the bonus among the members of your group based on their contribution to the team’s overall performance. Briefly explain differences in your evaluation of group members in the comments section. Do NOT allocate any bonus money to yourself, even if you believe you did all or most of the work. You may explain your contribution in the comments section.

Your Name ______________________________

Other Group Members        Performance Bonus
______________________________ $_________
______________________________ $_________
______________________________ $_________
______________________________ $_________
______________________________ $_________
TOTAL $ 100,000

Comments: ____________________________________________________________ ______________________________________

For additional comments add more pages.

I include member evaluations as part of the group final project. I tell them that I will, and then I collect an evaluation in which each individual member allocates 100 points among all of the group members. In the case when basically everybody in the group says that someone did not carry his/her weight, I reduce the overall grade for the project for that individual member. On the other hand, if everyone in the group points to one member as a real leader who went above and beyond, I raise that person’s grade.

I haven’t had any complaints. (I think that most people realize when they have slacked off). One time I felt there was enough lack of clarity that I needed to talk to all of the members of the group. Overall, I feel that this works quite well. In the majority of groups, points are allocated fairly equally. (I don’t do anything for small variations – I really only use it to keep people from free riding and to have the ability to lower the grade of those few who do).

Good luck.

Margaret C. Campbell, Phd
Associate Professor, Marketing
Leeds School of Business
University of Colorado at Boulder
419 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0419


Here is what I do in order to avoid free riding.

Imaging you have 4 group members: A, B, C, D.

You give to the students a peer evaluation form, and you ask each member to evaluate the other students. Example: A evaluates B, C and D B evaluates A, C and D And so on.

At the end, you make an average of the evaluation. For instance, if A got 100% by B and 50% by C, he got 75% Or something like that. I used that last semester and it worked fine. I am using that again this semester and I think it will work.

I attach to this email the peer evaluation form I am using.

I hope it helps,


TEAM MEMBERS OVERALL CONTRIBUTION Your Name: Section number (circle one): Group number: 01 02
Other Team members:

Research Process
Written Reports
Oral Presentation