Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Weasels: Love 'Em or Hate 'Em?

Let me preface this by saying that I am tired. Bone-achey, gritty-eyed, pre-carpal-tunnel-syndrome tired. It might have to do with the fact that I stayed up late last night emailing back and forth with Ms. Ashley (yay!!), and then got up in time for an 8 a.m. meeting (yeah, you heard me--8 a.m., beeyotches), and then met with an adjunct, and then co-moderated a panel discussion, and then answered 30,000 pre-advisement emails, and then "cleaned up" PR issues for a departmental event, and then posted a student meeting schedule, and then discussed the hasty triage draft of a co-written paper that needs to be posted by Thursday and now it's 6:30 p.m. Right, that might be the reason for the tired.

In the midst of this afternoon of sympathizing with hamsters on treadmills, however, I had the distinct pleasure of engaging in one of my favorite activities: negotiating with a student who has totally flaked on her group project and is now trying to salvage her grade at almost literally the last minute. Wheeeeee. I swear I get one of these every semester, and every semester I have to explain why it doesn't work. Strangely, however, this post isn't about that student; we all know this student, and I have nothing new to say about her. I want to talk about the OTHER student: the one who rats her out.

I find myself totally ambivalent toward the rat--or weasel--student, and it's not just because of exhaustion. On the one hand, she's giving me necessary information about the flaky student's non-participation in the project. After all, I'm not invested in letting flaky student get credit for other people's work. At the same time, however, I can't help but notice that the weasel herself spends far more time talking about her home life, her other courses, etc., during group work than she does about the project itself. In fact, 80% of the time that I check in with the group, she's reading the texts that they're working on, while two other students are inputting information and composing drafts. I should also note that this student began the group work complaining about a different member of her group who was too overbearing, but that she refused to confront because "she's not that type of person" and couldn't I just work it out for her and the other two people? Now that there is a new enemy, however, she's apparently willing to look past her original target's personality quirks and focus on the flaky student. Good thing she didn't confront the first group member!

Obviously, part of my ambivalence here comes from un-positive interactions with this student herself, and they're getting in the way of thinking about how I should react to necessary tattling. I've been circumspect about revealing my negotiations with the flaky student--FERPA, you know--but philosophically, how should I react? Do we want to encourage students to be honest about the work that other group members do? Should they instead just "Sack up" as the Fug girls say, and deal, since that's a more real-world scenario? And even as I try to position this particular weasel as the exception, I have to wonder if her pyschology isn't, in some ways, indicative of those who feel compelled to tell on their classmates. Are they refusing to take responsibility for their own participation, even as they harshly judge others?

Oh, how I hate the politics of group work. If only I weren't so committed to the possible results...



Blogger Ashley said...

If I had a good answer for this question, I would write a pamphlet, market it to harried faculty everywhere, and retire tomorrow on the proceeds.

What I have done in similar situations is try to get third party feedback from another group member. Leaves the weasel and her issues out of the loop and lets you decide how much stepping in you need to do. I do tend to default to the "work it out yourself, like you would at a job" model, though.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 7:39:00 PM  
Blogger MaggieMay said...

My experience with group projects is that they are either brilliant, or freaking disasters. Sadly, the brilliant-disaster ratio for me is about 1-5. Gah. I feel your pain.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 7:52:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Hmmmm, I'd say that this particular round of group work has produced a spectrum of projects that fall across the middle--none are horrendous, and likewise none are frickin' spectacular.

Here's my new thought: I'm going to try adding a clause to my group work assignments that says "I reserve the right to adjust an individual's grade due to obvious lack of participation."

No doubt, this will terrify students who participate and fail to register with students who don't participate in the first place.

Sunday, March 18, 2007 10:07:00 AM  

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