On being a student again

So the online course in how to teach online continues; I’ve completed almost six weeks worth of work and have another three weeks to go. For the most part the class is a lot of fun. I enjoy being a student — doing my readings and completing my assignments and getting rewarded with good grades. There’s something very satisfying about the whole process.

But I’ll admit that I did not really enjoy last week’s group project. Or perhaps I should say that while I enjoyed working with my fellow classmates and felt a sense of accomplishment at the project we completed, I found that the most memorable things I learned are bad things about myself. I don’t think that’s what the instructors intended.

I learned, for example, that I am a control freak, or, rather, I was reminded once again of my control freak tendencies, a lesson I’ve learned many times before. I don’t like letting anybody else participate in work I’m going to get graded on. If I’m going to get graded on something, shouldn’t I have the right to do everything myself? I was reminded of my perfectionism, and how hard it is to see ways I could improve on someone else’s work but at the same time to fear that making suggestions would be entirely too obnoxious. I felt I knew exactly how the project should be done, and I had to keep reminding myself that other people’s opinions have merit too (or at least I need to pretend they do).

I was reminded of how bossy I can be. I pretty much immediately took charge of the project, making lists of things we needed to accomplish and signing people up for duties. I got annoyed at the two members (out of six) who did very little work, although I did resist prodding them to do their part. Whenever anybody asked for suggestions or ideas, I posted some right away, politely saying that people could take them or leave them as they wished, but secretly thinking they would be better off taking them.

And I learned once again how obsessive I am. I logged on to our class website constantly to check what other people were doing and to see if there were any new messages on the discussion board. I couldn’t let the thing alone. I spent way more time than necessary on the stupid thing — time I don’t have much of right now.

The class involves discussion boards and reflection assignments that are designed to get us to think about how we will change our online teaching, and this week’s lesson was obviously encouraging us to consider using group projects in our classes. But I have to say I didn’t learn that lesson very well. I do want to do smaller peer review-type assignments, but I don’t think my future students need to worry about a big collaborative project. They are just too painful.

13 Comments

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13 responses to “On being a student again

  1. Eva

    I’m awful at group projects as well: I’m a control freak like you. My professors loved to tell me that in ‘the real world,’ you have to do collaborative projects with coworkers all the time. Which is fine, but you don’t get graded in the real world, lol. ;)

  2. Group projects must be the pits. I’m sure I would respond the way you did! You could reframe this behaviour, though, as conscientious, organised, assiduous and goal-oriented. Sounds better like that, no?

  3. verbivore

    I am exactly like you if I have to engage in any sort of group project. A total control freak. I get very nervous about the idea of someone else’s work impacting my results. And I’m of two minds about the value of group projects for adults…I completely see why this is useful for children (very young children especially) but after that, I’m just not sure.

  4. Oh my Dorothy, I am laughing at your post because you could have been describing me and my group project for school last quarter! Will there be any other group projects in the class you are taking?

  5. Are you my lost twin? I know exactly how you feel regarding group projects. I always dreaded them for all the reasons you state here. Perfectionism can definitely be a curse.

  6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being conscientious about your project and wanting to do well. And I bet the other students in the group were probably pretty happy that someone took control and led the group–much better than no one wanting to do anything. I think group projects stress everyone out actually. Do ask your students to do a group project? At least you’re nearly finished!

  7. To tell you the truth, I love having control freaks like you in the group. It allows me to play the role I like to play: volunteering for the part I think I can do best and then getting to express my opinions as we finalize what we’re doing, about changes others might make in what they’ve done (the editor in me comes out to play). I’m not real good at organizing everyone else, especially if I don’t know them well enough to appropriately assign tasks, and would much rather someone else do that. However, I do have a tendency to be the one who steps forward if no one else is doing so.

  8. I’m just imagining an online (group) project with the wise and conscientious bloggers here (well, isn’t blogging a bit like that, except without the grades and the specific goals?) and laughing at all the attendant angst. I can definitely relate to your sentiments here. I agree with the positive re-framing. OCD traits are very useful and helpful ;-)

  9. I detest group projects because I don’t “play well with others”. I feel the same way you do about letting someone else’s work affect my grade. But at the same time I don’t like being told what to do, so I am neither good at letting someone else take charge nor at telling others what to do!

  10. Group projects are awful, for exactly the reasons you cite. Don’t blame yourself. I have the same control freak tendencies, too. But really, group project seem specifically designed to point out everyone’s flaws–whether it’s being a control freak or not contributing enough–either way you just feel badly!

    But if it makes you feel any better, I’m firmly in your camp–perfectionism may be a curse, but like my grandma always said, “if you want it done right, do it yourself!”

  11. Lovely to find so many kindred spirits here! I cannot stand group projects for all the reasons you mention. Being an OCD control freak makes doing even the smallest collaborations like the shelter newsletter so painful! I can only wonder what our political leaders go through when they attempt group projects like “global warming,” etc. No wonder it takes so long for them to get anything done. Maybe if we citizens graded them?

  12. I’m in the midst of trying to teach (i.e., coach) my kids to be control freaks with regards to their group projects–my standard lecture involves making sure that the project is outlined and scheduled…I can’t ever remember doing a group project in either high-school or college.

    BTW, I have nominated you for “One Lovely Blog” award. Visit my site for details…

  13. Eva — the whole “real world” argument doesn’t make sense to me. First of all, just because they make you do horrible things in the real world doesn’t mean you have to do them in school! :) Also, as you say, you don’t get graded in the real world, although I suppose you do get things like promotions and bonuses, which are similar. But still!

    Litlove — oh, thank you, for describing my personality that way! Those words sound much, much better, and I’ll happily accept your reframing!

    Verbivore — good point about age. I can see that children need to learn how to work with other people, but adults? Do we really learn at this point? Or do we just act out behaviors that are pretty much settled patterns? If we don’t work well with others, I doubt a group project will fix that …

    Stefanie — thankfully there will be no more group projects. That one was enough! But I found out today that we got full credit for it (we either get full credit or a zero), so yippee! The perfectionist in me is very pleased.

    Lisa — I could very well be your lost twin! There are good sides to being a perfectionist, but those good sides don’t really manifest themselves in group projects, unfortunately …

    Danielle — I think people were glad to have me taking charge a bit. I tried to make it clear what we had left to do, and people found that useful. I have my students work in groups, but only during class time and only for one-day exercises. And they aren’t graded for the work they do. So no projects like the one I had to complete.

    Emily — my inner editor expressed itself quite a bit, but I got worried that people might find it intrusive and overbearing. It’s hard to tell, especially online, if someone appreciates the help or resents it. But I think the group appreciated my work, and they probably felt like you described — grateful that someone was doing something to take charge.

    Couchtrip — now a group project with fellow bloggers wouldn’t be so bad — we all tend to have some similar qualities and would know how to work together. The group blogs people have done have worked pretty well. I like your point that blogging is like a big group project — just with no deadlines or grades!

    Melanie — I agree! I’d prefer not to have to tell others what to do, but I dislike even more when no one is in charge and nobody knows what’s going on. And I definitely don’t like being told what to do, particularly when it’s my grade that’s at stake.

    Gentle Reader — thank you! Good point that group projects seem designed to point out people’s flaws! Sadly, that seems true. I’m entirely unconvinced that a whole lot of learning goes on — at least learning about the subject you’re supposed to learn about.

    Debby — yes, it’s great to find so many like-minded people here! And good point about politicians. No way in the world would I have that much patience. I would be a terrible politician because I wouldn’t want to listen and would instead just tell people what to do, which wouldn’t go over very well.

    JaneGS — thank you for the blog award! I really appreciate it — how lovely of you! And good job teaching your kids to do their part in groups. I don’t remember many groups in school at all — maybe one or two in high school, but not many in college — thank goodness!

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