Saturday, May 17, 2008

Looking at the PW results some colleges have been able to achieve in the previous project work cycle, it's easy to get the impression that an 'A' grade in the subject is a dime-a-dozen, and that there's some kind of magic formula that when followed makes scoring top marks possible. Perhaps there is, perhaps there is a way to template the perfect project, and it's tempting to do so for the sake of the grade. But I don't see the point of following a formula as if there was only one single solution to every problem we're going to encounter in life.

A template is like a join-the-dots puzzle, success involves just pencilling a line from digit to digit. So the 'A' grade via template is just an acknowledgement of how well the kids followed their instructions. How difficult can that be, tracing a pre-determined path to create derive a pre-determined picture? What a surprise! When a toddler is able to do this we remark how clever it is. These are college students we are dealing with. What's an 'A' worth these days?

Which is why I get disturbed when I hear tell of students' proposals getting rejected outright and sent back to the drawing board because the proposal didn't live up to the super's pre-conceived expectations. We're supposed to be working with the students on this, not against them. So I'm not surprised when some kids eventually see the whole thing as a waste of time, because literally what amounts to hours of work gets summarily dismissed and there's no progress to show for it. They get bored, resentful, and lose confidence in their project. When it's time to make their presentations that's what gets reflected. Ironically, aming for an 'A' grade like this becomes counter-productive to both the grade and the learning behind it.

Fortunately, the groups I have seem motivated and have delivered creative and meticulously crafted proposals, so I don't have to worry too much over WHAT they are planning. I'll keep an eye on them to see HOW they are carrying out their plans, but at least they're off and running already. I can do my real job of supervision by managing group dynamics and being basically a cheerleader and resource for them, but I have firmly taken my hands off the micromanagement controls and am letting them run the nitty-gritty on their own.

I already have a group dysfunction to manage -- mainly a self-interest vs group-interest conflict -- but this is where the super's real work begins. Of course there will be conflicts; that's what we were hoping for when we threw separate individuals together to work as a group. How the different personality types learn to speak up and settle their differences, come to agreement and focus on a common goal, then work in cooperation with each other and build bonds based on the trust that accumulates as they pass milestone after milestone together. That's the most important lesson to learn from PW. If the kids learn this early enough, there'll be enough time to put together an impressive, professional presentation that deserves an 'A' from start to finish. That will be an 'A' to be proud of.

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