I thought this Cafe looked really interesting. Lots of us assign
collaborative projects in our classes, so I thought other people might be
University of Michigan-Dearborn
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Dearborn, MI 48128
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 3 Sep 1996 01:05:11 -0400
From: Tari Fanderclai <[log in to unmask]>
To: Multiple recipients of list RHETNT-L <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Invitation to Netoric's Tuesday Cafe Discussion, 9/3/96
Please come to Netoric's Tuesday Cafe Discussion
September 3, 1996
8:00 p.m. EDT
in Netoric's Tuesday Cafe on MediaMOO
Valuable Learning Experiences, or Useless Pains in Students' Butts?
To join us:
Telnet to MediaMOO at purple-crayon.media.mit.edu 8888
connect guest OR connect your character if you have one
If you're new to Netoric and/or MOOing,
Netoric's Information and MOOhelpsheet is available from
Netoric's Home Page:
Netoric's home page also has logs of Netoric events!
Okay, this is a tad long, but think of it as reading a 120-line
article in preparation for this week's cafe...
Lately I (Tari) have been thinking a lot about collaboration
in writing classes. It all started (well, this time) a few
weeks ago over dinner with some friends, several of whom were
at the time taking a summer writing course. (Just to be
thorough about describing my admittedly-skewed survey group,
they were mostly 20-25 year-old exceptionally-bright computer
science students.) They'd been assigned a group writing project
and were ranting Ranting RANTING about how they hate collaborative
projects. I explained some of the theories behind using group
work in writing classes, and they agreed that they were very nice
theories, but in practice they weren't buying. So I asked them
about group work in general, not just in their writing classes,
and as we continued the discussion off and on over the next few
weeks, I came up with a list of their complaints, the most-often
repeated of which I'll list here (many of these aren't new, but
what I find significant is that they were adamant that teachers
are kidding themselves if they think they ever have overcome or
can overcome these problems). I'll try to list just "data" and
avoid interpretation--we'll interpret at the cafe.
---Most of them viewed a group project as a situation in which
they end up working *around* rather than with a group of people.
As one of them put it, "I end up taking over the project because
otherwise I think it won't get done right."
---One of them said he really hated being placed in a group with
people of varying ability levels. I asked about playing on the
strengths of the various group members and learning from each
other, and he said that students don't know how to do that, and
even if the teacher tries to encourage learning from each other,
there isn't enough time to become a group that can really work
as a team AND get the project done, so you end up right back at
the "whoever most wants the thing to get done right takes over"
---All of these people described group projects as "really
inconvenient" even when they had group members they were
satisfied could do a good job. They thought they could learn
more and do a better job working alone than "wasting time" on
trying to find a time and place to get together and figuring out
how to get things done and so forth.
---I asked them about the value of the projects they're usually
assigned in collaborative groups. They said that in most cases
they thought the projects were valuable but there wasn't anything
about them that warranted doing them in groups. I got a couple
of them to admit that they'd learned a couple of things from
people in groups they'd worked with, but they said they ask each
other questions anyhow and they didn't need to be in a group
---One person complained about a particular group in which he'd been
assigned to work with two goof-offs, plus his roommate, "who I'd
have worked with anyway." After talking about this for awhile, he
said he and his roommate often work together by reading each other's
papers and commenting on each other's projects and so forth, but
that's different because they know each other well and know how to
work together and what they can learn from each other. He concluded
that some kinds of collaboration help him learn, but that "forced"
collaboration with random classmates didn't do anything for him,
even when he got some say in picking his group members.
---They weren't buying any arguments about simulating the
working environment. (I should mention that their university has
a co-op program--every other term, instead of taking classes, they
go to work at a job related to their field--so they're in some
position to know what their future workplaces will be like.) They
said that when you work on a collaborative project at work, you
don't have to worry about when and where to meet; you don't have
to try to figure out who can do what because each person was placed
on the team to fulfill a specific role; you generally have a mutual
interest in getting the project done right; it's clear that there's
a need for whatever you're producing; you don't have the feeling
that you could or should have done the whole thing yourself.
---They didn't seem to care how the evaluation of a project was
done, though the two who'd been asked to evaluate group members'
performances said they didn't like it. As near as I could figure
out, they thought most students didn't have enough practice in
evaluating other people's performances, and ended up writing
evaluations that were too sparse and tentative to be useful.
I asked what should be graded, and they seemed to prefer having
the product graded. It seemed like they felt that then they had
control over the grade because they could make sure the product
was good even if they had to do it all themselves. They didn't
really bring up grades till I asked about them, though; their
complaints were more along the lines of "this project is
wasting my time."
So there you have some of the perceptions of a few Good Students
about collaborative/group work. Yes, it's a small, idiosyncratic
sample; yet it seems to me that if any students were going to
understand this business of collaboration and learning experiences
and all of that, these people would. After all, they're the same
people that roll their eyes and talk about this great discussion
this or that professor was about to get into in response to one of
their questions, only to be cut off by "some idiot who isn't
interested in learning anything who raised his hand and asked if
this would be on the test."
At this week's cafe, let's consider the above objections to
collaborative projects. Let's think about the collaborative
projects we typically assign and the ways we think they're valuable
to students. Let's talk about the ways we believe our students
are reacting to/learning from collaborative projects, and let's
wonder whether we're seeing what we hope to see while they're
really out ranting at their friends about the futility of group
projects. Can we design collaborative projects that really work?
Should we abandon the "project" idea and try to foster collaboration
some other way? When is collaboration useless?
See you at the cafe!
* * * N E T O R I C * * *
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| Tari Fanderclai | Greg Siering |
| Boston, MA | Ball State University |
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