Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Where It All Began

I was in school the other afternoon. It was just before class and I was sitting on one of the chairs lined off against the walls of the hallway, killing some time surfing the web. Someone called me and I looked up. It was Mr. B, my economics lecturer from early last year.

When I was in his class, it was just after the dust had begun settling from my untimely departure from banking. I was trying to find a permanent job and I was still in a bit of a mess. He knew I had just entered the oh so lovely state of unemployment transition and he asked how things turned out since then. I told him things were going much better and thanked him and assured him that things were getting back on track.

We talked a little longer and, soon it was time for classes to start. He went off to his next class and I to mine.

After that I began thinking (Yeah, I do that from time to time. I try not to make it a habit). Of late, I've been playing with this thought. Imagine that you are actually a meal being prepared. Your life experiences are like additional ingredients and spices that give you your own individual flavor. (Right now, I'm seeing myself as a ham... A big.corny.ham.) Goofy, I know, but follow me on this here.

If that were the case, it would explain the changes I've been noticing about myself. Without a doubt, my leaving that job would be one of these ingredients. But, added to that would be taking Mr. B's class last year.

Why? This is because of the journals he had us make. Sure, there were other classes that required you to write journals, but they generally kept you in the boundaries of certain topics within the course outline. Mr. B had a different approach. He didn't restrict us to topics on the course outline. Shoot! He didn't even restrict us to the course outline. He let us write about whatever we wanted – within reason, of course. Whether it was our hopes and fear about taking the class or attending the school in general. We could even write on a topic in the course outline too, if we wanted.

Out of curiosity, I went home and dug up my notes from last year and found those journals. I didn't know it at the time but this freedom actually rekindled the spark I once had for writing. It's safe to say I started blogging because of having to write these journals.

And I decided to share one with you:

Journal Entry IV

Group Projects: Face It, Some Things Are Just Here to Stay.

As is the norm, we've been assigned the obligatory group assignment again. Oh... boy. At the top of my list of computer geek tendencies is that I'm a gamer. If there's one thing I know, no matter how much you dread it, almost every game is going to have an escort mission where you protect someone as they get from point A to point B (if the programmer's really evil there might be points C, D, and even E too) and you have to just keep them alive long enough to make it to the end you can get back to the really important missions. Why I mention this is because most gamers hate escort missions. The party you're escorting either can't keep up or moves too fast, they don't stick to the route and everything usually goes south close to the end and you're left scrambling to the rescue hoping you don't end up having to start the whole thing all over. Unfortunately you just can't avoid them. Game programmers love them and so they're here to stay. That is the way most students here feel about group assignment projects. But, like the escort mission, you just have to shut up, take a deep breath and try not to kill the party you're supposed to be helping along before you get to the end.

Why, what's wrong with group projects?” one may ask naively. Well, one thing is that it is another assignment, after all. But you can't expect not to have to deal with that and, by itself, that isn't a real problem here. The real issue surrounding group projects is that it's the one assignment that puts a chunk of your final grade in the hands of other people. I know, I know, obviously the intention is to foster the ability to work as a collective on a joint project seeking a successful end result. To build a spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect and to be able to get past individual differences and focus on the task at hand. All very well and good... in theory. In reality, though, what you usually get is stress, fear, infighting, resentment and the lingering question, “Why did I agree to work with these people?”

There are a host of problems which arise from having to work in a group. The first thing is dealing with the – um – not-so-enthusiastic members. Gaming analogy time: Helpless escort parties (those who can't lift a finger to fight for themselves) leave all the work up to you while they do their best to get into harm's way... as much as possible! In group projects it's the same thing. Since they are usually the ones not contributing in group meetings and work – or avoiding them out right – with the intention of putting it off long enough for someone else will step in and do their part – their plan is to get a good grade without doing any actual work. [The College] tries to curb this by having the group members evaluate each other, but that's a two-edged sword that doesn't solve the problem completely. In video games if you're escorting a slow-poke you run the risk of having to fight off more enemies as they give the baddies plenty of time to stroll on over. And just waiting for them to catch up is an exercise in patience. Some group assignment members may simply have a lot on their plate and don't really intend to not pull their own weight. Still the same end result, though. Someone else gets some extra work. On the other end of the spectrum is the firecracker that runs past you telling you to keep up. This is no less annoying or less dangerous. They usually have some snide comment about your inability to keep pace and just accept that you will lose sight of them once in a while. But, of course, they are quick yell to you for help when they run headlong into an enemy patrol. If you don't get there in time it's still your fault they're dead. This analogy needs little translation. You're left frustrated... and tired.

I fall in between. I do what I believe is my fair share of the work. I communicate with my members and do my best to get to and participate in group meetings though. Admittedly, I never volunteered to lead any group, school or otherwise – I am happy being the grunt, leadership's too much work. I'm the guy who's usually stuck trying to keep up with the over enthusiastic while helping those who lag too far behind. So I get it coming and going, as they say – Wait! Is it narcissistic for me to think they're just characters in the game I'm playing? Forget it! Like I said, I'm the grunt. That's too deep for me. Back on track, though. As I said before, I get it. I know what the whole point of group assignments is. It doesn't make it less frustrating. But, truth be told, in writing this and articulating the merits I guess it's worth giving a shot – it builds character, after all. I'll probably learn to tolerate people better if I learn to deal with this. And, at the end of the day, I'd just better just accept that like it or not, working in groups is here to stay.


So, there it is. And, since you now who's to blame, I kept his real name secret.

Going back to the meal analogy, I'm not sure how it really works but the only thing I'm sure of is that new ingredients and spices are constantly being added (So I guess that means the simmering doesn't really end).

Maybe I should rethink this theory.


  1. I've always hated group projects. I was always stuck with the lazy asses who knew I'd be the eager beaver who'd do more because I didn't want my grade affected by their lazy asses.

    Does that mean with your food analogy that I'm beaver stew?

    p.s. hee hee, I called myself beaver stew!

    ツ my cyber house rules

  2. I'm fine with group projects as long as everybody does exactly what I say...picture me with a creepy German accent like the K.A.O.S. dude from Get Smart. (Are you even old enough to know who that is?) Foodwise, I guess I could be Sauerkraut or BratWURST.

    I can only work with others if they realize I am the supreme ruler of all project related things *evil laughter*. Maybe I'm devil's food but most likely I'm just a fruitcake.

  3. Vinny this is good!

    Whether it's a group assignment or gaming, the experience is only as good as the team cooperation and that depends on the players.

    Totally get it. Sometimes life is like having "Boomer" on your team.

  4. I never enjoyed group projects. I enjoy groups but I want to do the project on my own. I guess, using your food analogy, I'm a vegetarian surrounded by carnivores whose company I enjoy but I really don't want to watch them eat.
    (I'm not sure if I really have any idea what I'm saying but I'm going to press submit anyway. As usual.)

  5. I am not a team player so group projects were/are not my favorite.

    As for team building... the bitch was stupid in trusting I was going to catch her... everyone for themselves!

    Yup, I am THAT kind of a bitch.

  6. Dude, I love that you wrote that in a class journal. I've used journal assignments in all kinds of writing classes, including some courses in an MBA that focused on Economics. And I've NEVER had a student write something so smart, eloquent and awesome.

    Comparing gaming missions to group work is GENIUS.

    Just saying.

  7. @ Nikki: I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get me to talking about eating beaver. I’m not going there… Or am I?

    @ Heather (aka Sugar Free): Thanks. Like I always say, “When in doubt, go with what you know.”

    @ Nari: Would you believe I used to watch Get Smart every day? Then, would you believe, once a week? How about if I said I googled it & watched clips on YouTube?

    @ Antares Cryptos: Love the SOCOM reference. That suits it perfectly.

    @ dbs: I kinda see where you’re going. Unfortunately I might be one of those carnivores. Sorry.

    @ Nubian: I tried that team building thing once. I HAD to catch the other person (Mrs. C) for obvious reasons.

    @ Di Pi: Genius? I’ll take genius. Beats receiving quizzical & confused looks any day.

    Kidding! I actually think I got like 98% or something for the journal portion of the grade.

  8. Oh, I don't miss school at all right now...

  9. @ Meri: I'll be glad when those days are behind me too.


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