As a historian, I am not particularly well-versed in the ways of doing collaborative work. It is not common practice in my field -- for teaching or research -- but I've been dabbling in the world of other disciplines and pedagogies of late and for a few very specific things, group work makes sense.
The project on my mind this afternoon is for a women's and gender studies course. I've done some version of this project twice before and had some great projects and some disasters. In most cases, the disasters came from the composition of the group. So, in a bold and unprecedented move on my part, I am assigning my 24 students to groups with no input from them.
On the one hand, this runs completely counter the values of the social movements and leaders we are studying in this course (on women leaders in 20th century social movements). On the other hand, I think I have the knowledge to build better groups than they do. I know more of the whole group and I have the experience of working with two other classes.
I suppose that I could work to build concensus for me to choose the groups... get the students to buy into this vision... help them to see why this will work for them.... but really? This isn't a social movement where the price of me not building concensus would be my constituents leaving the movement. Nope, this is a class and I'm the prof and I give/assign their grades. Instead of this being a lesson in organizing around a concensus model, this will be a lesson in recognizing power relationships.
So I set to work: boldest students into different groups, but each of those also has someone there who will not let them run away with the show (no two confrontational people together, though, otherwise they'll just argue while the others do the real work); students who've had me in more traditional courses and are better trained up on historical research and citiations are distributed across the groups; most groups get a quiet but studious student (not enough to go around); workhorses go in with "medium" talkers-doers.... I'm going for no one either running away with the group or having to do all the work themselves. I did break up several friend pairs so new social dynamics would have to be built amongst all the members. Damn, this was fun! I can't believe I waited this long to try. These are good, good groups. And yes, you can come back in March and ask me if I still think this!
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