Statistics and Statistical Programming (Fall 2020)/Working groups template

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Working groups overview and goals[edit]

As described on the course syllabus, you will be assigned to a small working group at the beginning of the course. This will be a group of 2-3 students (exact numbers will depend on the final enrollment) with whom you may meet outside of class time to discuss, complete, and/or review your weekly (minor) assignments (as well as some of the research project assignments). The groups will rotate at least once during the quarter to ensure that you get to work with different members of the class.

The goals of the working groups are to support collaborative learning, peer support, and accountability throughout the course. This page provides some ideas for how you might approach your working group to help create a constructive and useful experience for everyone involved. Below, we have a list of suggestions that you might adopt or ignore depending on the preferences of group members.

Suggestions for effective working groups[edit]

Setup a time to meet (and make it recurring)[edit]

Inertia works both ways. If you have a meeting, you'll probably keep a meeting. Making that a standing meeting will ensure your group actually convenes regularly and holds you accountable to yourselves.

Set aside some time in the first meeting to get to know each other[edit]

In many settings, people join groups for instrumental reasons, but only stick around and get something out of the experience when they build relationships in those groups. How do you build those relationships? Get to know each other. Take the time to share some things about yourself, like things you value deeply or aspects of your experiences and identities that might not be obvious at first. You might even include something that feels a little bit risky or "too honest."

Also, and maybe even more importantly, ask questions about others and really truly listen to them when they speak. This is all the more crucial in the context of remote instruction where we don't have access to the sorts of higher bandwidth and multi-channel communication that happens when people come together in physical space.

Establish clear goals, norms, and expectations[edit]

Groups that work together effectively also create shared goals, norms, and expectations. Some of this will take time as you get to know each other and develop routines around working together. Some of it you can talk about and clarify early on. Here are some questions you might consider talking about during your first meeting(s):

  • How often will you meet? In what channels/venues?
  • How do you plan to use the meeting times? Will you work through assignments together from scratch or try to work on them on your own first and bring your work to the meeting to discuss/revise/refine?
  • What media/materials will you use to work together?
  • What strengths and/or weaknesses do you each bring to the group? What can you do to anticipate/overcome any shared weaknesses?
  • What constraints and concerns do you have about working in a group like this? What strategies can you develop to address them?
  • If/when people realize they need to miss meetings or fail to arrive how will you respond?

Arrive on time and prepared[edit]

When you meet, try to show up on time, ready to start with whatever it is you plan to do together. This will help ensure everyone feels respected and confident in the value of your meetings, which will generate a positive feedback loop leading in more/better meetings in the future.

Be patient, empathetic, and adaptive[edit]

Even when things aren't working or you don't seem to be able to make progress, it's crucial to assume other group members are doing their best and acting in good faith. Nothing undermines cooperation faster than a loss of trust. Building and sustaining trust often means extending others the benefit of the doubt, sometimes in the absence of evidence that such a benefit has been "earned." The more you can extend patience and empathy to others and adapt to circumstances when things aren't going well, the more likely you'll find a way to make it back on track.

Give and receive effective feedback[edit]

You will also be asked to share and discuss your research project ideas in these working groups. These conversations are opportunities for feedback, which is an underappreciated aspect of effective collaboration. It turns out that giving and receiving feedback is a skill and you can cultivate it. Check out Liz Gerber's trifecta of feedback for some helpful starting points.

Discuss problems if/when they arise[edit]

This last one might be the hardest. In the long run, most attempted collaborations don't work out for one reason or another. You should try to be honest and direct with each other when things break down and seek help resolving tensions and frustrations when they arise. The first and best course of action is to try and have a conversation with the other group member(s). If that fails and/or things turn toxic in any way, you may want to reach out to a member of the teaching team for additional support and suggestions.