by Adam Schwartz (aschwartz)
Hello again, Hampshire Alums. I thought I’d take an opportunity to throw a question out to the crowd and get some reactions and potentially advice for current Hampshire students. I had the exceptional opportunity today (because I live so close) to pay a visit to Hampshire and sit in on a class.
In this case, it was a 300 level class on Artificial Intelligence. Generally, I think the class and approach is right on, but I found one thing about it of particular concern. The class is structured around two small (4 people each) teams of students who are working (theoretically) together on expanding the research in a couple facets of artificial intelligence. As I sat in listening, I heard an emerging theme – the focus that Hampshire puts on individuality appeared to be precluding students from actually working together. As each student gave his update on the project, I realized that none of them (despite being on a team together) appeared to have actually worked together on anything. Each person, to his capability, did what he could do to improve his own learning, but did little to nothing in collaborating with each other. So extreme was the result, that on one team, two individuals had coded complete “solutions” without having ever seen each others work. On the other team, two less skilled members of the team had been excluded from the learning experience almost completely, while the other two made personal (but not collaborative) progress on the project.
Now, I realize that opportunities exist that all the individuals may find their way into which don’t require collaboration, but for many (maybe even most) of us, we’ll be thrust into situation where we must work together. I, myself, now recall with shame an early experience I had post-graduation with trying to “work together” with another Hampshire student. Standing where I am now, and watching this unfold for another generation of students, I wonder, what can we as alums do to better prepare students to keep their individuality (I whole-heartedly believe I have not lost mine) and yet be able to work effectively with others?
My short list is:
- Plan to work together – at a whiteboard, in a shared space, whatever, to force collaboration as time permits… and sets the expectation that working together is expected.
- Write shared plans (what’s the problem, what’s the proposed solution), so that a cohesive vision of what needs needs to be accomplished is known to all and work can be assigned out, so when common time together doesn’t permit, you have something meaningful to work on and aren’t duplicating effort.
- Create space to collaborate online – without a source for the code you’re working on, the documents you are writing, etc., we forget that we’re sharing with others. (Plus, source code control is just a plain good idea).
I’m somewhat inspired by my experience with a group of NC State students I’m working with. NC State mandates a Senior Design project which brings groups of students together in a more structured manner and provides a clear opportunity for them to collaborate on a project. My $0.02 is that while Hampshire would never want to implement what NC State does, there’s something to be learned from what they are doing that could benefit our students as well.