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Working in groups: the prelude

As mentioned earlier, I’ve had both good and bad team work experiences. Some of the worst occurred in school, some of the best occurred during employment. So I enter a graduate program strongly emphasizing teamwork with a mix of trepidation and eagerness. Fear of loss of control and fear of conflict: “They are not thorough enough!” or “Why won’t they respond?” or “Why must they be so competitive/desperate to get the top grade?” But, also: the joy of discussion; the sharing of ideas, information, interests, whether similar or differing; the possible enlightenment gained from interacting and participation.

But the big question for me is often how? Just what are examples of best practices? Or, more realistically, what choices do we have during the process of a team-based class project? I kept asking those questions while going through Dr. Haycock’s talk.

And I’m soon going be assigned to a group in my first full course this session. Tomorrow! Hooboy. How will that go?

I recently attended a web conference where peer mentors shared their war stories and advice. I had several moments of jaw-dropping empathy, at being aghast of real world, academic (near) catastrophes — such as fellow students, people they depended upon, disappearing without notice.

However, I left the meeting with some excellent tips, namely on ground rules to establish for teamwork:

  • Ask everyone: What are your grade expectations?
  • Schedule mechanics: How often/when should we meet together? How much warning to give if you’re unable to attend?
  • How would we resolve conflicts? At what point do we involve the instructor?
  • When a change is needed to the project, when will agreement go by majority decision versus consensus? When do we (or a given person) need to let go of a pet idea/issue/etc., in order for the project (and team) to move on?
  • Ask about everyone’s preferred modes of communications: email, instant messaging, audio and/or video contact. Not to be disregarded is also being aware of which tools people feel uncomfortable using.
  • Which tools to use? Google Docs, MS Office, wiki, email, or a mixture? How to coordinate file changed done by more than one person?
  • Who will edit which sections? Who will research which components? Who will write or draw up which parts? Who will lead? Who will present what? Who will act as a liaison to another group or resource? When should roles change?

And the possible responses to these? That they could, will differ from person to person, and from group to group. It could make the project challenging, sure, but I hope not a process with acute or prolonged frustration!

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