I am marking (grading) student assignments today (and yesterday and the day before that….). This assignment is a group assignment. I divided the class of about 200 into groups of about five to six people each and they were required to organize themselves within each group to create a photo essay. They were to produce a single document containing one image at least per group member, an agreed theme that reflected the underlying themes of the course and have it submitted by a due date. Some groups managed to meet in person in the university library, but most worked together online, using Google docs, a forum set up on the course web site, email, Skype and so on.
A number of groups had great difficulty getting others to contribute. They learned what all instructors know, that some students do nothing until panic sets in at the last possible moment. I, myself, as an undergraduate pulled a number of all nighters to get an essay finished by the deadlline, but I was working alone.
What I found surpising was something else entirely. The groups were formed randomly by dividing the alphabetic class list into groups of six in a rote fashion. Thus a group would have six with last names beginning with ‘S’ for example. Yet this random group formation resulted in some groups producing very sophisticated images and analyses from every group member, and a nuanced thematic overview. Other groups produced work that was shall we say, lacking in nuance.
Perhaps some whiz of a statistician in psychology or sociology has a theory as to why this should occur. As for me, I wrote a blog post mentioning the phenomenon.