Addressing free riders in collaborative group work: The use of mobile application in higher education

Source of Publication

International Journal of Educational Management


© 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited. Purpose: Free-riding behaviour may threaten the success of teamwork, when one or more group members receive the benefits of other members’ achievements with little effort or cost of their own. The purpose of this paper is to investigate students’ collaborative behaviour to address the problem of free riders (FRs) in university settings. Design/methodology/approach: The research is an 11-week field study of three senior finance classes and incorporates mobile learning employing Quip and Google Docs applications to facilitate group work. A comprehensive set of quantitative and qualitative methods analysing students’ perceptions, instructors’ reflections, peer reflections and mobile learning methods are used to answer questions pertaining to group work, the work experience, FRs and ways to minimise the last. Findings: In this paper, the author shows that students at the university level have positive views of group work despite the presence of FRs. Students like to form their own groups; consequently, peer evaluation appears to be unreliable. The study points to free riding as a serious threat to academic productivity and calls for actions and strategies from institutions and instructors to eradicate this behaviour. Mobile applications enable instructors to track FRs and to some extent discourage their behaviour. Originality/value: There are limited studies that focus on FRs in higher education and, to the researcher’s knowledge, no such investigation has been applied in the Middle East and North Africa. Likewise, there is little research available on incorporating mobile learning to assess group work in higher education. This study aims at exploring the existence and associated experiences of free riding, along with methods to curtail the problem. The findings of this study provide a good platform for inquiry into the FR phenomenon in higher education and its impact on student learning, as well as the possible roles of instructors and mobile applications. The findings of this study could be developed further through more research with a view to providing a broader perspective of the situation in Middle Eastern and North African cultures.

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Author First name, Last name, Institution

Suzanna Sobhy El Massah, Cairo University