Saturday, May 3, 2014

Magically Imperfect Groupwork

Team Limitless Project Prototype. Source:
Group work in Tina Seelig's MOOC was a rewarding high-impact learning experience for me. In this post, I describe why it was so. 

We faced quite a few odds. Communication was a significant problem along a few dimensions. Night is day to my team mates. I want to sleep and they want to discuss potential project solutions. We used Whatsapp for synchronous and asynchronous communications after our MOOC message boards failed dismally. [I noticed that Whatsapp is popular with my international friends, but not so among my American friends]. My Whatsapp alerts were buzzing off constantly during those 2 weeks.

Five out of seven of us in the group lived outside of the USA. They do not use English most of the time. We all had fulltime jobs or school. I told my team-mates I could only communicate during pockets of time in a day when I wasn't working or sleeping.

We had different expectations about participation. Based on my earlier experience in this MOOC, I expect to put in about 5 to 10 hours of work per week. On my team members' profiles, I found out that they expect to contribute about 3 to 5 hours. This signaled a mismatch?

Despite these challenges, I deem our group work a success because of a few reasons (commitment, and willingness to work hard), but the top one is WE NEEDED EACH OTHER TO SUCCEED. If I can do everything myself, why would I need to be in a group? Teachers should seriously consider designing assignments where students are interdependent upon each other for success.

Our first group project required that we find a problem that would have a musical solution. We had to brainstorm at least 100 solutions. The second project required us to implement the best solution. We were ambitious - our best solution entailed the following:
  • rewriting a song - Jason Mraz's "Make It Mine"
  • singing the song
  • spinning a story creatively about the solution
All in in less than a week's time.

We got to work in different time zones.
  • My Armenian team-mate rewrote the LYRICS with me.
  • Two singers recorded the tune with new lyrics - Aditya from India and Ani from Armenia. It wasn't without challenges -- we tried to find an accompaniment track but the pitch was too high for our male singer! Two audio tunes were recorded but I realized they were in MP4 format, so they had to be converted before I could merge them in the video-production software.
  • I had to work with our sound engineer, Jeremy, who would merge/edit/mix the audio files from different continents together. I got them to him but sound alone does not a video maketh.
  • We needed images. Our Mexican team-mate Jonathan volunteered to take pictures. He took a few black-and-white pictures and that meant the rest of the images we use had to be converted to black-and-white ones.
  • With the deadline creeping up on us (we each had jobs to do, school to attend), I tried to put everything together. Someone has to coordinate all the work across all the continents and time zones! Without the sound files merged, I couldn't produce the video and it was getting late on my side of the world. I needed help!
  • Jeremy, 3 hours behind me, dashed home from school in time and asked how he could help. Help he did with the production of the video after merging the sound files from India and Armenia. After some discussion about video hosting and text overlay, the video was made.
  • Ani submitted the assignment. 
  • Aditya gave some more feedback to tweak the product for clarity. 
  • It was done.  
The end result may not look as sleek as other folks with professional graphic design and video production expertise. But the teamwork process was magical. I am glad to have this learning experience. I will always treasure it. Blogging about it is my way of archiving this with the other major learning experiences in my life. Someday I will look back and read this again with gratitude.

In the most unexpected of ways, my team rose to the challenge. We all brainstormed and came up with ideas (including other members above - Rathna, Arman), bounced them around, took on the roles of image editor, songwriter, storyboarder/script writer, singer, photographer, video editor, sound editor, and came up with this prototype. Sure, it could be more polished but I'm still proud of it. I couldn't do everything myself and that is the secret to group work that works!

Thank you, Team Limitless for the learning experience. This song from Wicked the Musical -- "For Good" -- is dedicated to you all!


Ani Avdalyan said...

Yin, thank you very much for great post and mentioning! Thank you Team Limitless for such an amazing experience :-) Keep in touch, guys! Miss you much! Greetings from Armenia!))

Anonymous said...

Yin, Thanks for writing and sharing. A good blog entry for rest of the team as well to visit at a later time in leisure.