OPINION: The beatings will continue until morale improves

by | Feb 2, 2024 | In The Mag!, Opinions | 0 comments

The struggle and dread of mandatory group projects

Okay MacEwan, I get it. 

It’s important to learn how to work on something as a team, in the spirit of preparing for the real world. Most, if not all of us, will have to collaborate on something too big for one person to handle. This is a truth of the real world — one that most people, at some point, will have to accept. Collaboration makes the world go round, especially in creative fields.

HOWEVER.

If we are trying to, in some small way, simulate reality outside of these walls, some critical differences are at play. 

For one, the working humans of the real world generally want to be there. They applied for it, they know how to do it, AND there are consequences for not being there. For another point, it’s someone’s job to make sure that members are regularly present and contributing to the overall goal of The Thing(™). This managerial element helps direct any given project but becomes less necessary when people are really on board. 

In my experience, group assignments are assigned arbitrarily. You don’t get to choose who you work with, or get much agency in what you’re working on or how it should be done. Sometimes it feels like a pedagogical draw out of a hat: “This will be the group project.” Very often, I will question this instructional choice. “Why?” And the answer has often been “because.”

Great.

Then, you end up in a patchwork collection of people sitting across from one another, looking around awkwardly for someone else to take the reins. As a bossy know-nothing from the internet, this is an anxiety that I simply cannot tolerate, so I will often take the reins on projects. As people inevitably drop off or get overwhelmed, it very quickly becomes my project. At that point, instead of spending the subsequent weeks herding cats or getting ghosted on all channels by some group members, I end up doing most of the damn thing myself. So, why not save the time and do it all by myself in the first place? 

In the real world, this, flat-out, has not been my experience. People collaborate, fill in, pick up tasks, set timetables, and are upfront about their needs and desires in the outcome or vision of what WE are trying to achieve. Together, we want to get it done. If the goal is to get people used to working together, then why do we accept this prescribed and collectivized punishment as real, and representative of the professional world? An absent collaborator once in a while is a normal thing — and you learn to pivot around that. But, in the context of students left to figure a project out on their own, absence, frankly, has become the norm, not the outlier.

Don’t get me wrong — I get it, I absolutely do. I understand why people drop off. It’s scary, it’s hard, it’s weird, and it’s new. I’m not mad at the people who no-show, underperform, or don’t engage. I’m mostly mad at the institutions of the world that do not stamp the importance of that person’s presence, perspective, and desire to take up space in a project. Most of us are born screaming, but at what point does that voice begin to waver? 
These are questions that MacEwan could (and should) certainly answer. If you can teach someone leadership, narrative theory, control room operations, field recording, writing, framing, headlines — we can also teach them that they matter, and, by extension, that their group members and project matter.

So, for the love of dog, can we please do that???????????????????????????????????????

Zach Dafoe

The Griff

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