It sounds harsh on paper, but Penn’s really a jungle out there. Survival of the fittest rules. Penn students are busy people, with places to go and people to see, and we’re often only looking out for ourselves — after all, the top job or best graduate school depends upon it. So it’s easy to understand why, when professors say the words "group project," a collective moan rises from the seats. Between class, work, rehearsals and GBMs, it is almost impossible to find a time when all group members are free to meet. If the group does end up meeting, it’s at an absurd hour — 1 a.m. on a Wednesday or, worse, 8 a.m. on a Sunday. Often, more for convenience’s sake than neglect of the project, one person ends up with the brunt of the work.
To me, the most frustrating aspect of a group project is the lack of cohesiveness in the final product. Whether it’s a group paper or a presentation, writing styles don’t line up, PowerPoint fonts don’t quite match. It’s as if a neon sign is flashing, “New writer! New writer!” every time a new section begins. The transitions between sections are lacking, if existent at all. This issue arises because each person completes his part of the project individually, turns it in to a group leader, then washes his hands of the project altogether. It’s what is most convenient with our incompatible schedules. With this sentiment, there is little room for the true mixing of ideas — the founding principle of group work in the first place.
In Joseph Kable’s neuroeconomics course, students complete a final group paper and presentation, which comprises 30 percent of the final grade. In explaining his rationale behind assigning a group project, he wrote, “In science, the ability to work productively with others can greatly enhance your success — especially when you recognize where your weaknesses are and where they can be complemented by other people’s strengths.” The group papers that come out of science (and most other areas of study), however, are much more cohesive than the ones that have come out of my group papers.
The truth is, I don’t mind collaboration with fellow students. And I’m not alone. College senior Claire Choi mentioned that group work reveals “the best ideas and content.” The problem is that we students just don’t know how to collaborate effectively. We turn the group project into many individual ones that we then copy-paste together with a touch of editing and a prayer.
The way students collaborate, however, is about to change forever. Meet Google Wave. Wave is a real-time communication tool that melds features of e-mail, instant messaging and social networking into one platform. Though it’s still in preview mode, I have high expectations for what it can do for students. Google defines a “wave” as “equal parts conversation and document.” After creating a wave, users can invite collaborators, who can, in turn, make edits anywhere in the message — all in real time.
This means I can see what people are typing as they type it. Letter by letter. Gone are the days of chain e-mails attaching updated versions of the same document (that you never completely read anyway). With Wave, the capacity to collaborate will be fast enough for our fast-paced lifestyles. You are always looking at the most up-to-date version of a document without having to open or download a thing. Wave will allow students to collaborate for real. Each person will be an equal contributor, and each voice will be heard throughout the work.
Our classmates offer unique perspectives and we would be doing ourselves a disservice by overlooking the potential of group work. The good news is that we no longer have to ignore our group members because, no matter how busy our schedules, there will always be time for a quick wave.
Rohini Venkatraman is a College senior from San Jose, Calif. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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