A Policy for the Groups I Want

Three college students working on a project together.

Colourful by bigfarmer8 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The dreaded hour has come: Folks in my Tech Writing course have reported group members who they cannot contact or who are not responding and other group members who are not contributing to the projects.

Now I have to figure out how to respond. I have three basic things that I want:

  • I don’t want to create a lot of rules.
  • I don’t want to enforce a lot of rules.
  • I don’t want unhappy, frustrated students.

So what to do? I landed on this idea: What if I created guidelines for the best possible scenario instead of rules for the worst situation?

So I decided to try writing some group unrules. Maybe it’s too Pollyanna and doomed to fail, but I like the result far better than the rules and unbending policies that I could have come up with. Here is my humane-centered, caring guidelines for situations where a group member doesn’t do what the group expects:

Focus on these actions if someone does not do their part.
Whether someone disappears, can’t be contacted, or is having trouble with the work, your group can search for a way to collaborate and get the work done. Here are the steps I would like you to try if this situation comes up:

  1. Try to find out why. Things happen. Maybe the person is sick (physically or mentally). Maybe the person is swamped with work. Maybe the person needs help finding the resources to get the work done. Whatever the reason, your group should start by trying to find out. Being humane and supportive is more valuable than a perfect memo.
  2. Get them help if needed. In some cases, you can help them yourselves. In other cases, you might want to suggest other resources. The Writing Center is a great resource if someone is having trouble getting started or needs help with any part of the writing process. You can also let me know what I can do to help.
  3. Solve the issue among the group members. Once you know what’s going on and address the issue, your group should be able to find a way forward. Maybe you need to adjust the work schedule. Perhaps you need to have a working meeting where members write together. As much as possible, try to solve the problem as a group.
  4. Talk to me if you need more help. Finding your own way is a large part of what project management is about. That said, I’m not saying that you can’t ask for help. Let me know what you’ve tried and what you’d like me to do.
  5. Note what’s going on if it’s time to submit your work. Everyone should have until the Target Due Date for each of the assignments. If the Target Due Date is here however and you’re not sure when the missing person will deliver their work, add a note in your project that explains what’s going on. You can write something like this:

    This section is missing from our report. Tian Tian has COVID and is not able to do their part of the report for at least another week.

    Additionally add a Submission Comment to tell me what’s going on. Be sure to include details on when (or if) the missing work can be added.

Will this policy solve everything? No. I’m sure it won’t. I fear that I’ll eventually have to remove a missing student from a group. Right now, I don’t know where I’ll put them instead. But also right now, I like this policy that assumes we all support one another and that a missing student needs to be taken care of, not punished.

Visual Outline of Group Work for the Fall

Today is the last day of the second week of classes. I got my groups set up yesterday, using the Group Preferences Form that I developed a few years ago. I ended up aiming for five people per group, but I didn’t stress over having a few with four and one with three. I thought it better to team students who worked at the same time of day and in the same ways than to group students simply because five seemed like a good number.

With the groups set up, I wanted to provide a more visual overview of the projects that students would collaborate on. All of the projects are listed in the Short Guide, but that description focuses on what the assignments are rather than how students collaborate. I created the explanation below with Canva. The transcript is below the image.

There’s more that I need to communicate, but this is a good start. At this point, I want to help students understand that getting to know one another now and beginning the process of working together will make things go more smoothly when they turn to writing together.

Infographic outlining how you'll collaborate in Technical Writing

Image Transcript

01: Introductions

Once you’re assigned to a group, introduce yourself to everyone and begin getting to know one another.

Establish a backup plan for connecting in case someone is missing from discussions.

02: Group Discussions

Discuss technical writing concerns together, and decide on style and ethical guidelines for your group projects.

Share your second projects with one another for feedback before you submitting your work.

03: Teamwork Agreement & Schedule

Prepare for the group projects by composing a teamwork agreement to guide your collaboration.

Create the schedule for your drafts and meetings for the rest of the term.

04: Research Proposal

Choose a website to examine for your Recommendation Report.

With your group, compose a research proposal that pitches the website you’ve chosen and outlines your research and writing plans.

05: Progress Report

Assess the progress your group has made on the Recommendation Report.

Compose a Progress Report that tells me the project’s status and your plans to finish the work.

06: Recommendation Report

Collaborate to discuss your website’s usability and to identify how to improve it.

Together, compose a formal report that explains your research and recommendations.