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Date: 2017-08-08 03:08 pm (UTC)
jenett: Big and Little Dipper constellations on a blue watercolor background (Default)
From: [personal profile] jenett
Most of my group work was unsatisfactory (of the "I ended up doing most of the work and also having to put up with a whole lot of annoying waiting around for people who were not doing their part") but I had one class in my MLIS program that handled it beautifully. (This was in the fall of 2006, so a while ago.)

What he did really well:

1) Expressly discussed the "You need group skills in future jobs in this field, but the way those work in the workplace are different than they are in class. We can fix some of that with some explicit agreements, but we need to recognise that there's an artificial layer of weird here."

Notable differences he brought up being things like that in the workplace if you have persistent issues with someone not doing their share, there are multiple solutions, there are ways to document what you yourself are doing (1:1 with your manager, email trails, etc.) so you don't necessarily get unduly penalised and usually the tasks are more divided by roles so it's more clear what part each person is doing.

2) He split us up into groups, told us we could swap groups after the first round if we wanted. (Almost no one did, because it turns out the other approaches he used work really well)

3) We had *lots* of group projects: I think it worked out to 8 for 12 weeks of class. Most of them were of the form 'make a presentation to the class about X' with supporting materials. (It was a class in collection development: i.e. how libraries select new items for the collection and remove outdated stuff.)

3) The group work grades mattered in the sense that he had to be able to see you were participating - but he cared a lot less about whether something we tried was 'successful' or came off perfectly than that we had a chance to try things out. And told us that, repeatedly.

I don't remember that we had to do the "how much did people participate" thing routinely (though there was a way to signal if someone really wasn't pulling their part as an optional question) but he did ask for brief reflection on what we'd tried that was new for us this time, and how we thought the presentation went, and what we'd try doing differently in future for something like that.

We sort of started at a default B for this (on the standard US system where a B is perfectly competent but not brilliant) but taking risks even if they didn't work out (but we thought about them after, applied what we'd learned in future weeks, etc.) got us better grades.

He told us that he did this expressly so we could try out different approaches of doing the group work, and take some risks on presentation styles. He let us know after each presentation how we'd done (in plenty of time to adjust for the next one.)

The core of our total grade was based on other individual work: you would damage your grade if you ignored the group work, but not if you gave it a fair shot even if it wasn't successful on an absolute level.

4) He also let us divide tasks up as suited the group - if that was uneven, but everyone was okay with it, that was fine (this is much more normal for job things).

If people wanted to do the same tasks week to week, that was fine as long as it was fine with the group. If people wanted to swap up and try a new skill, that was fine. (He encouraged us to try swapping up occasionally, because it was a low-risk time to try something.)

In other words, he gave us the kind of week to week control you'd get at work in many places. My group definitely had a few rounds of "Next week is really lousy for me at work, can I do X which I find easier for this next presentation?" and we were all fine with it, because those people pulled their weight at other times, or would go "Hey, I don't mind doing this annoying task I can fit into other things, in exchange."

My group settled into a "I like doing X, anyone else want it this week." pattern pretty comfortably, with occasional "I'd like to practice Y, can I do that this time?" once or twice for each of us.

5) My classes were in a program where most people were working at least part time, and getting together outside of class was very difficult (most of us were only on campus for our classes). He gave us enough time in class to coordinate what we were doing so we could do the rest of it online.

We'd meet for 30 minutes (or whatever) at the tail end of class with the time he gave us, divide up tasks, and meet for 30-45 minutes before class to pull it all together, with email and online file sharing in between. But that meant usually one person did the slides, etc.

This was huge - recognising the other stuff going on in our lives that meant we weren't going to go to campus to meet up, or were not going to all be free at the same time except for the actual class time we'd agreed on. This is a thing I think a lot of other group work has failed at for me. It meant people could work at their own pace and in their own best way, with a little time for coordinating provided in class. It took out a lot of the frustration of group work for me, because I wasn't waiting around for people to read things, or process through them.
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