To group or not to group…

That was the big question. My Research Seminar has been trying to decide what to do next. After their first research project of the year, where everyone did what they wanted, there were mixed thoughts about what to do next. We spent a day talking about a variety of ideas, grouped around three basic premises – everyone should do what they wanted, everyone should agree to do something together – working in groups or around a common theme, or students should all research the same issue for discussion. There were variations – we should research things in Baltimore, we should go to museum for inspiration, and we should take field trips. We were talking about what next, but we were also thinking to the rest of the course, since we had hit the halfway point. I did my best to clerk the discussion, letting all voices be heard and keeping mine out of the mix. By the end of class, students had decided to take the next class to decide on a controversial topic, research it and come in the next day prepared for a roundtable discussion/debate. That led to an interesting discussion about Edward Snowden. It was a lively, informed and spirited conversation. That resolved the “what next” question for two classes.

Today we were faced with the same question. Opening up the discussion it became clear that students were expressing the same opinions as last time we had the conversation; in fact it looked like we were destined to have the same discussion. Some people wanted to work in groups, others wanted to work alone. Some students thought people should do whichever they wanted. Others wanted everyone in groups. Then, one student had an idea that gave us a way forward. Each student would propose a topic, and anyone who was interested could do it. Groups would form based on interest. A student might find an idea proposed by someone else more interesting than their own. There was some energy around this idea. For this to work, everyone had to be open to working with anyone who wanted to do the same topic. I told them that they needed to realize that if they envisioned working alone and someone else wanted to do the same thing, they needed to be open to grouping.

The students took about 15 minutes to think of topics to propose. They wrote them on the board. We went through each one. If someone wanted to hear more, the student who proposed it explained. Then, the students went up to the board to sign up for what they wanted to work on. There are several pairs and some people working alone. They had about 5 minutes at the end of class to strategize and plan what their first steps would be over the weekend. The feeling had shifted from contentious and frustrated to positive and energized.  And – the solution came from a student, not me. I. Love. This. Class.

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