Amy Finkelstein

Amy Finkelstein

Monday, October 29, 2012

Not All Group Production is Created Equal

             My freshman year at the University of Illinois I was assigned to a group project in an intro honors philosophy course. The project required the group to prepare for and participate in an in-class debate against another group of students; each respective group representing an opposing ethics theory/ ethics system. This group project really stands out in my mind as one of the most positive experiences I have had in a group-project setting. To this day I am still keep in contact with my group members. The group all clicked automatically in during our first group meeting planning our arguments and rebuttals for the debate. I remember our first group meeting being incredibly unproductive, but in terms of group bonding, we excelled. Our groups had been randomly assigned, and this project was for many of us the first opportunity for all of us to really socialize with one another. I think this benefited the outcome of the project because no one in the group had major predispositions about the other members’ work ethic or skill etc. There was no need to be concerned with cliquish behavior either, as we had all become acquainted for the first time. As well the group was very gender balanced there were 2 males and 2 females in the group.

                I will call my clan for this group project the “ethical environmentalists”, as this was the position we were arguing in the in class debate. The element that initially broke the ice for our group was the mutual agreement that we were all “lost at sea” if you will with this class, we could all level with one another that this ethics was one of the most abstract and challenging classes we were taking that semester. Connecting on that one element right off the bat already had us all making future plans to form a study group before the next class exam.  Another factor that benefitted the group, and made the dynamic so positive was that we were all James Scholars, as members of this honors program, there was an automatic understanding that academic success was shared priority.
                Beyond this the group was able to achieve a really good balance between productivity and socialization. I don’t know if I have ever laughed so much while working on a group project, except for this one. We had inside jokes, would share with each other our crazy, hilarious or embarrassing college stories, and we even had a competition to see which one of us would be “accepted as a friend on Facebook” after we all had sent our professor a Facebook friend request. We were all very comfortable goofing around. Yet, when it came to crunch time we all pulled through on our respective end of the project. We pulled together our strengths to bring the project together. We had one group member who took the initiative to organize the group he would set goals and deadlines that would guide the completion of the project. His leadership was fundamental to the operation of our group. As a group we divvied up the work and did the majority of the “hard work” separately and then would come together to show our progress and we finally met to put the final touches on the project. Separating the work into individual components that we were each responsible for, and then holding each other mutually responsible for completing the task maximized our productivity and efficiency and then allowed for “group bonding” (if you will) when we met- an overall recipe for success.

                Not all groups, and group projects are created equal, any college student can account a horror story of a group project gone very, very wrong. My own tale comes from my experience as an RA planning building wide programs with a staff of 10 other Residential Advisors. The program was geared toward social justice education and was called “Little Restaurant of Horrors”. The basic premise of the program of the program was that the RA staff would cook and serve a spaghetti dinner for the residents who came to dine at the “Little Restaurant of Horrors”, while the residents ate RAs would act out common scenarios of prejudice and intolerance that a college student may encounter, following each scenario would be discussed and debriefed with audience of residents.

                  I was the central coordinator for the program. When the program was first being discussed the overall sentiment among my staff members was one of eagerness and excitement. Tasks for the program were divided up in and assigned to committees of two to three RAs, such as food purchase and preparation. The actual event was a success, but the preparation leading up to the event, was nothing short of mayhem. Part of the downfall in the organization of the even was in my managerial style. I gave each committee a general idea of what their responsibilities were and sent them on their merry way. I trusted that each committee would follow through with their responsibilities without setting deadlines or checking in on the committee’s progress until right before the event, this led to a last minute scramble on my part, with some assistance to fill in the gaps where the committee’s had a fallen short. 
                  Another major downfall of this event was the lack of commitment to the program from several key members of the staff; on the day of the event several people arrived late to set up, while others goofed off during the event- this individual ended up dropping several liters of drinks which erupted like Mauna Loa all over him and the staff kitchen. There seemed to be a general lack of dedication to the program- so staff members just did not come to understand the amount of work, and coordination and cooperation a program of this magnitude would require. Some of us came ready to give it our all, while the rest hung along the sidelines thrusting the majority of the work onto just a few individuals. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trials and Tribulation in Team Production

Just this fall, I was a co-chair of my sorority’s annual fall philanthropy Mud Olympics benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Mud Olympics is a team event where Sorority and Fraternity chapters and RSOs compete in events in mud against other teams, including mud-tug-of-war and mud human bowling. Both the organization of the event and the actual execution of the event required major team production, starting first from the planning committee and extending to the women of the sorority. The relationship between team production and reward is a bit of a far cry from the psychology experiment recounted in the New York Times article, primarily in the sense that the reward of the philanthropy event is more intrinsic, intangible, and altruistic in nature.

                I want to discuss of the planning process for the event. I as well as three other members of my sorority ran for, and were elected into our leadership position to organize the philanthropy Mud Olympics. In essence we were the hub of the production team directing and guiding other members as we prepared for the event. Huge levels of collaboration were required in the planning process, to coordinate the designing and ordering of t-shirts, to advertise, and register teams, as well to design the relays and obstacle races that would part of the event. Lacking a direct incentive and relying on individuals to hold true to their commitments, the organization of the philanthropy event was a challenge. I along with one other co-chair ended up bearing the brunt of the work in organizing the event while our other co-chairs did not uphold their responsibility as they should have. Much of this was due to lax communication and minimal initiative taken by the other co-chairs. The results of the imbalance, really did affect how the “reward” was distributed, because my co-chair and I had been the main contributors before the event to place, much of the work required to wrap up the even after it had occurred was assigned to the other co-chairs. Whereas, had the efforts to put on the event been equitable at the start, the work required post-philanthropy would have also been dispersed more equally.  My and the other co-chair who was my partner in crime- who had busted her butt alongside to make this event a success, while our other co-chair remained mostly in the periphery- were not inclined to “share the spoils” after the event because the other women had not upheld their end of bargain in the team production. It was their “just desserts” to take on more of the work post-philanthropy.   

                On a more general note, it seems to me that the benefits of collaboration and collective efforts are most prevalent in situation where and individual cannot complete a tasks single-handedly, and when the rewards or gratification are material, or immediate. For example, I find that groups of individuals are most willing to make a team effort and “share the spoils” in activities such as in sports or when each member possess a special skill that other members depend on to complete the given- this matches the results of the experiment.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Illinibucks: Buying Tme

Illinibucks may be useful when incoming freshman students are first selecting University Housing, rather than utilizing a random lottery system as is currently in place. Illinibucks may also be a major help whenever students are in a bind and need to get somewhere very quickly such as to cut to the front of an extremely long line at the grocery store or when running late to class to take the fast lane to the front counter when you need a caffeine fix and there’s a line out the door at a coffee shop.
            My ideal Illinibuck would be used to extend time and deadlines. Throughout my college career I have struggled to manage my time efficiently and effectively. To be quite honest, I’d prefer that the days we 48 rather than 24 to fit in more activities, classes, research, a job, that swing dance class I have always meant to take. Per se I had an incredibly hectic week, and was scraping by just barely finishing assignments, forced by the t-me crunch to do the bare minimum just to fit every class, extracurricular and life commitment in to the narrow bounds of time! This epic mental battle of the quicksand hour glass- racing against the clock on a day to day basis; at some point or another this is every college student’s reality! We want it all. Could you blame us though? During the college years the world is truly your oyster if you choose to take the initiative, strive for it, and make so. Moving on from that slightly impassioned rant, the power to control time and deadlines, to buy extensions on homework or an extra day to study on an exam could make all the difference in a college student’s life. Rather than acting as a direct route to the “front of the line” using Illinibucks to schedule your time would allow you to get ahead in terms of the “quality of work” and would enable you to truly put forth your best efforts when “lack of time” is your primary adversary. In the realms of test taking and exam preparation, buying that extra day could easily mean the difference between an “A” and a “D” and give the student a opportunity to excel in the class as well as to devote enough energy to other commitments.
            If the administration price was too low, students may approach the Illinibuck system opportunistically to their short term benefit and detriment in the long run. In the case of buying time on exams and homework, Illinibucks could encourage students to slack or promote the formation of habits of procrastination. Cheap Illinibucks would remove the pressure to excel and work hard and destroy the entire purpose of deadlines to motivate student progress and create academic stagnancy. If the price of the Illinibuck was too high most students couldn’t afford it and its benefits would only be reserved to the wealthier students. This unequal distribution may build negative sentiments in the student body and give wealthier students and unfair advantage academically over those who could not afford to “buy” and extended deadlin