At some point in our lives, we find ourselves working in a group to accomplish something. Group projects and collaborations are becoming more and more prevalent in academia and the professional sector. I played basketball growing up and joined the Marine Corps after high school. Many of the teamwork and collaborative skills I picked up during my formative years are super useful to me today in academia and the professional work setting. Here are some pointers:
Get to know your teammates. I can’t tell you how many times ‘personalities clashed’ in a collaborative work environment. The funny part is, everyone in the group generally wants the same thing: the successful completion of a task. Getting to know your colleagues means learning their personality traits, their strengths, and weaknesses. It’s here when you learn the most effective (or ineffective) way to communicate to them.
We had a new person join our D Center tutoring staff. This individual was generally quiet in a group setting. One on one this person opens up and shares new ideas and asks question. I am an outgoing and loquacious person. I know that because of my personality I have a tendency to talk over others. Listening was one of my weaknesses. By working on my weakness, I was helping my teammate with hers. In a group meeting, I made it a point to engage her directly three times. Whether it was a question for her, her input, or check in with her I made it a point to talk to her and actually listen to what she had to say. This, in turn, made her feel more included and part of a team. It can be difficult joining a team late in the game that is already close-knit.
This interaction not only benefitted the individual and me; it benefitted the team as a whole. This person brought new ideas and perspective, and a fresh set of eyes to the group dynamic. This ties into my next point:
Think beyond you, think about the team and the goal. What happens when the team doesn’t go with your plan or idea? What happens if they don’t take your advice or suggestion? Move on. The will of the team is not always the will of a particular individual. Understand this and moving on becomes a bit easier. As along as the team is headed toward the goal, does it matter if they chose a different way of doing the same thing? No? Then move on.
Group disagreements are natural. This is the fundamental nature of groups. How you work through a group disagreement is what makes or breaks a group. Read the group, listen to your colleagues. Don’t over-talk or disrespect anyone. Remember the goal as a whole, and remember that disagreements are supposed to happen. Negotiate and compromise.
Everyone one should have an assigned task or job with a clear deadline. How the tasks are assigned is just as important as assigning them. It’s probably not a good idea to bark orders at everyone in your environmental science class or your internship. First, as a group, identify all the tasks that need to be done. If you’re writing a paper as a group, the outline should suffice. Then ask everyone what they would like to do. Make sure the tasks are evenly distributed. When people pick their duties, that is a form of ownership and accountability. When you ask them ‘When do you think you can have that done by?’ that is another kind of accountability and ownership.
When do you leave the group? Sometimes groups formed to complete a specific goal, i.e. volunteers for an event or convention or school project. Once the goal is met and the project is over the group naturally disbands. What about organizational committees, work, and other group settings where goals change but the collaborative element doesn’t? A thriving group is one that is always adapting and growing. Each individual contributes something to the whole while simultaneously getting something in return; i.e. developed skill, compensation, network connections, joy, personal satisfaction, and growth, etc. When an individual is no longer contributing to the group, that person is sand-bagging or dead weight. When an individual is contributing the to the group but is not getting anything out of it, address it. After careful evaluation and reflection, perhaps the needs of the individual and the needs of the group has changed, in any case, it may be time to leave.
You shouldn’t have to compromise who you are to be a team player. If you’re an introvert, you don’t have to be suddenly outgoing to be a ‘well rounded’ team player. Someone with a bubbly friendly disposition shouldn’t have to shrink themselves in a group setting. The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. You are what the team needs.
So, It’s 2am, and I have to wake up at 8am, and I cannot sleep. You might laugh, but it is because I’m thinking about the D-Center. It is true, the CDVL thinks about digital literacy 24/7. But it’s not just about WordPress, it’s my summer and how lucky I have been to work with the people I’m working with because, genuinely, I love my job. The hours are great, the pay is great, I have no real bills to worry about, I have a casual dress code, the coffee is good, and best of all, I work with creators. I’m really in a sweet spot of my life.
Now, you may be asking ‘What does this have to do with this weird title?’. Well let me introduce Naomi Smith (’18). Naomi and I met to talk about setting up their domain naomismith.agnesscott.org and building a website, and what came out of it was great.
You see, Naomi and I didn’t just have a ‘I teach you everything there is to know about building your website’ type of session. We had a conversation about digital literacy. It started off with me asking if they knew a lot about WordPress. When Naomi said no, we then went to ‘Well, what do you want your site to look like?’ and instead of some version of a shrug or 20 minutes of us staring at one another, we talked. We made a plan and I curated the meeting’s outline to what the end goal was. Naomi was very engaged to what I was saying and same vice versa. We ended the meeting, emailed each other a couple of links to great resources, and Naomi now has a really dope website. I really can only take credit for helping build 0.5% of it.
I write all this because that meeting and what came out of it is a prime example of great collaboration. There is a paradigm shift from high school to college about how humans interact and our social responsibility. In high school, everything is very structured. Assignments are given out with a clear rubric and guidelines. The social structure is also very set and after-school-special-ey. Where the students are not friends with teachers, and tutor meetings work as a bulleted list. The word peer means the same as taxes. It exists as a concept but in reality no one really gets it. So collaborative work is doomed and/or dreaded. But now, in the ever-changing land of College, the system of power is changing from ‘power-over’ to ‘power-among’ and ‘peer’ is something we can grasp and mold. “Which is pow-wer-ful.”(Nell Ruby).
When we get here, there are conversations like the one between Naomi and I, where collaboration is not shied from. Where no one really cares about looking dumb or maintaining a level of authority. Because each person involved gets out more than what they put in. Learning from one another is powerful.
So I strongly advise taking a look at WordPress, and thinking about what you don’t know. Take advantage of resources, especially us at the D-Center. You don’t have to have a plan, you just have to have a drive to get something done. Even if you hate everything technological, don’t know what ‘Digital Literacy’ is, or believe everything I’m saying is stupid. Ask questions, listen to each other, and learn something you didn’t know before. Make connections!
P.S. Did I mention go check out Naomi’s Site? I mean honestly, it’s great.
I’m quite fascinated by Mark Zuckerbergs usage of Facebooks “Live Video” feature. These videos to show the inner workings on Facebook campus, pictures of Mark & Priscilla’s newborn daughter Max, as well as showing off latest technologies and social initiatives. I came across a video of Mark discussing with Engineer Matt King on creating an AI that will allow blind users (and anyone) to use Facebook in a way where the image would be “read” by the software and then vocally read via the computer to the user. This was groundbreaking and fascinating to me! I’ve always had an interest in how technology can assist disabled users, and this video made it clear to me that, I am in a position to do something about that. This video was the catalyst for various discussions and collaborations on what we can do to increase technology and accessibility on Agnes Scott’s campus. Check it out!
Summiyah A. Siddeeq
Do You Speak Visual? – This question is posed by the Toledo Museum of Art in their in-depth Visual Literacy brochure and website. The ability to read and interpret and construct meaning is visual literacy. Being visually literate means that you have the ability to construct meaning from everything you see. We are traditionally educated using Textual Literacy, where we read and interpret the meaning. Yet, images are all around us and even more in our current social culture where we create and use visual content daily. So how do we approach visual literacy even-though it may seem subjective or illusive? Here are a few points on how you can be visually literate:
- Take an inventory of what you see in the image. Those concepts include: Space & Texture, Principles of Design: Emphasis, Balance, Proportion, Rhythm, Movement, Variety, Unity and Harmony.
- Use Visual Thinking Strategies: Ask yourself: What is happening in this image? How can I find out more about the image? Analyze the image by using the principles that you’ve seen in the image and think about how all of those elements can create a story surrounding the image.
Here are some resources on Visual Literacy:
Summiyah A. Siddeeq
“Home Gallery.” Toledo Museum of Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. <http://www.vislit.org/>.
images via www.vislit.org
Tracking Changes: Why Process Matters
by Dr. Lauren Upadhyay, Instructor of French
The 2013 film Jobs tells the story of one of the most innovative technology companies of our century: Apple. The creation of the Macintosh computer in the1980s and its mass marketing in the 1990s changed the way we communicate and live, and yet we don’t really see much of that in the movie. The main focus of the movie is what happened before all of that happened, the lead-up to the paradigm shift. The movie gives us a glimpse of something we rarely think about or even care about: the how of the final product. How did Steve Jobs even get the idea to create the Apple computer? It didn’t just come to him in the middle of the night – it was the result of years and even decades of collaboration, trial, failure, and reformulation. It required thinking not just in terms of a final product, but also imagining how to exceed that final product, almost as soon as it was “finalized.” The story of one of the greatest pieces of technology of our era is not the story of sheer, magical genius, but rather of a simple human being and a relentless creative process.
If we don’t keep track of our process, it can be hard to recall how data fits together when dealing with a large volume of information. I learned this the hard way while doing archival research in France. At first, I was so focused on collecting as much archival data as possible that I failed to record the thoughts and ideas I had along the way about the information I was collecting. Oftentimes, after a few days’ or weeks’ absence from the archive, I would return to find that I couldn’t remember where I’d left off. Very quickly, I began to understand the importance of a research journal. I opened up a separate Word file and began to record everything that came to my mind as I was collecting data. I entered the date in bold and underlined it so that I would easily be able to find my thoughts from a particular visit to the archive. I usually didn’t worry about spelling errors or style, just about how the data I was collecting from the archive fit in to my dissertation project and to the research I had already completed.
To my surprise, I ended up using this journal much more frequently than even my transcriptions (my data) while I was writing my dissertation. It was my road map to the more than 1,500 digital pages of archival materials that I transcribed over a four-year period of numerous trips back-and-forth to the archive. Without it, so many of those ideas would have been lost, and I wouldn’t have known how everything fit together because there was no way to go back and re-create the process I had followed.
There is also another reason why it’s important to pay attention to our process, and this is one I’m sure every tech company has learned the hard way. If we place too much emphasis on the final product, it is easy to lose sight of some of the critical elements along the way that have contributed to “getting it right.” Imagine an iPhone upgrade that is missing a key feature of the previous model, one that engineers neglected to include in their new version because they didn’t realize it was so important. Luckily the previous model would still exist so that engineers could re-trace their steps and see where they went wrong. Our own work – writing, digital creation, invention – is no different, but so often we don’t keep multiple drafts, or think about the steps we make along the way. That is why I ask students in my French 201 and 202 classes to write their journal entries using Google docs. By clicking on “see new changes” at the top of the document, students can view the record of changes to their journal entries, including my corrections over two drafts and their own responses to those corrections. Students who started studying with me last fall and continued on this spring now have seven journal entries that they can compare, allowing them to literally track their improvement in French from beginning to end. Since it can be hard to realize the progress one makes along the way while learning a foreign language, these drafts provide written proof that their language skills are improving through this process. It validates the efforts students have been making over the last year.
It can be tedious to go back and study our process to see if maybe a previous version was better, or to understand how we have improved. But this “meta-data” – information about our data – can save us time in the long run by linking the progress we make with the thoughts and ideas we had along the way, and by helping us to understand that there is no such thing as a “final product,” just a point at which we decide to stop in the creative process… for now.
Lauren Upadhyay teaches French language, literature, and culture in the Department of French and German at Agnes Scott College, and at the Alliance Française d’Atlanta. Her favorite French expression is, “rien ne sert de courir,” which loosely translates as “slow and steady wins the race.”