Blog and opinion
13 April 2018 • Rosa Groen
“But, Ma’am, you’ve got to understand!”
I began a teaching log back in 2015, a sort of ‘diary’ filled with teaching experiences. It helps you learn as a teacher because you can read about past experiences and use these experiences to deal with new, comparable situations.
March 2018. A group of students finish a project after five months and turn out to be in serious disagreement among themselves. Groupwork is difficult, especially when the topic of research and group composition are not chosen by the group itself. In this project, the differences of opinion are severe. In the group of five students, it has ended up as ‘boys against girls’ and, on the day of the deadline, the accusations fly back and forth. The group leader is furious with two other group members and, consequently, with us. Luckily, I’m not alone in this matter, since there are two supervisors for the project groups per class. We’re trying to keep the dialogue between the students going. The voice of the group leader cries out, “But, Ma’am, you’ve got to understand! They did nothing and I’m trying to get a passing grade!” But this is not what they deserve since the assignment was not carried out correctly.
April 2018. The group decides to do a retake. During the evaluation, it becomes clear that half of the group has submitted work, while the other half has not. None of them knows what the others have done. We also receive a group report from the other half on the same day. All in all, the group process has been one big disaster, but the results just barely make the passing grade. What is positive is that the students have learned a great deal from this entire adventure and fully realise this. Afterwards, when several versions are suddenly e-mailed to the commissioning party, we receive a message from the quietest girl in the group: “Awareness, showing initiative and taking control (on time) are what I have learned and plan to apply from now on!”
Apparently, this little group learned more from all the internal problems than the groups that received a satisfactory evaluation the first time.
What lesson did I learn from this group crisis in which I was part of the team of process supervisors? Use an action plan, weekly feedback and monitoring of compliance with agreements to try to prevent group conflicts. Should a conflict arise, let it happen. Afterwards, make sure to ask the students what they would have done differently and what they learned. I think that, as difficult as things may get, students learn the most when things actually go wrong.
Rosa Groen teaches research skills, public management, external projects and globalisation in Business Management Studies (MER) at the Faculty of Management & Organisation. Since 2015, she has also been working on her dissertation at Leiden University and is a member of the International Peace, Justice & Security Research Group. The focus of her research is on Western European cities and their policies aimed at attracting and retaining international organisations. Her personal motto is: “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star” (W. Clement Stone).