Small Groups

No, hey… It isn’t all small groups I hate. Just the school ones. I like when you and I are together with a couple of other people we like. I like when other people are in small groups nearby. The classroom small groups are what I hate. I always repress how much I hate these things. When I remember, I usually try to talk myself down from that particular ledge. I say things like, “It’s probably not at all like you remember.  These people are all close to my age and will have mellowed.” or “You’ve gotten older and more confident, it will be fine” or better yet, “Even as bad as you remember it, what’s the worst episode you’ve really experienced? what’s the worst you can realistically imagine happening? You’ll get through this fine.”

Well the worst thing I can usually conjure up is some sort of unmitigated stress and interpersonal conflict, the ensuing inability to function as a group and resulting bad grade. My group mates were all over 30, so that was a plus. I breathed a little easier. The topic was one I knew something about, having studied it before. The due date was towards the end of the semester, so we had time and were able to watch the examples of other groups.It probably would be fine.

We had our first meeting Jessica’s parents’ house. It was conveniently located just blocks from my own home, on Summit Avenue. The house was a mansion, beautifully appointed. We retired to the kitchen to work. My spirit sagged when Jessica didn’t turn off the e local pop station’s morning show while we discussed the  project. She confided in us, “This is one of my few guilty pleasures. I love this morning show.” I think many people wouldn’t get the sense of doom I got upon hearing this. I happen to be miserably incompetent paying attention to the correct auditory stimulus when there are competing options. I get dumber and crabbier the longer I’m in this type of environment. I rallied my self and looked hard at my notes while Dave and the Morning Crew yucked it up about some off-color or culturally insensitive skit.

The second sense of impending disaster was when Jessica opened up her computer and started to talk fast, “I’m just learing how to do this new format for presentations. It’s really cool. I spent hours with it yesterday after work. I input a bunch of the information you sent me. Let’s just take a look at it, Ok?It’s called Prezi. You’re going to love it. It is so cool. I’ll do all the input and arrangement, if you just send me information.”  Ann and I looked at each other and shrugged. I asked, “How will we help do the presentation if we don’t know how to use this program?”  Well, it was really cool! Jessica would handle putting our info in. We just had to give her the data! Plus, she had already entered all the data we had sent her, and some of her own. She was calling up the presentation she had so far.

Prezi is kind of cool. If you like slide presentations. And you’re not prone to motion sickness. And you like flashy presentations and special effects. She showed us what she had so far. The slides zoomed in and out from one to the other, spun into a spiral, faded in and out, twirled and wobbled. I started to feel sick when the first slides started to spin and disappear as if the information was going down a drain. The next few zoomed up and away, in and out. It was surely flashy.

Ann and I decided (this was possibly a mistake) to let Jessica handle the Prezi aspect of the project. What could go wrong? By the time we left her house, we had divided up the subject and went off on our way to analyze our parts and send them off to Jessica to be swirled and popped into the powerpoint deal. She explained that she worked a lot and so might not get stuff done until late at night.

We had a week and one more meeting before our presentation was due. We fired stuff off to Jessica, looked at each other’s data on  google-docs.  Every email from Jessica had at least one reference to her having to be at work, come home from work, leave for work or get up early before she worked. We discussed contradictory or repeated data and sympathized with Jessica about her work schedule. About 9 pm before our last meeting at the library Jessica sent  an email with an attachment linking to what she had entered into Prezi so far.  The next morning we all met at the library, laptops and notes at the ready. Jessica asked if I had gone through the presentation  yet. I hadn’t. I said no, but I was looking forward to going through it at this meeting.  We sat in a small meeting room in the library and started to talk through the planned presentation.

There was a sticking point regarding a video clip. Two video clips, actually. Together they were about 15 minutes of our 30 minute limit. Ann and I thought we should try to pare down the video clips to about 5 minutes. Jessica stiffened a little, but kept smiling. “I don’t really care, but I think it covers really important stuff.” We agreed that it did, but that our actual slides and narration covered the same data. We went though a few more things where Ann and I needed to correct something or point out where data was duplicated. We shuffled stuff around and came back to the video clips.

Jessica kept saying she didn’t care about how we did it in the end, but she wasn’t actually making any changes. She looked at the screen, then pursed her lips. “I don’t want to be rewd, but I think it kind of sucks that neither one of you watched the presentation last night. I worked really hard on it and it hurts my feelings that you didn’t even look at it.”  Ann apologized immediately. “I’m sorry. I had no idea. I thought that was what we were meeting to do this morning.”

I explained that I thought the same thing. Ann said, “But as long as we’re clearing the air. I’m pretty bothered that you didn’t even include the 4 graphics I made. I worked hard on those and they aren’t even in the presentation. I don’t really care, but I sent them to you for a reason.”

Ahh, yes, the armpit tingle and facial flush. Nobody cares, but everyone is upset. We were supposed to present the following day. We Had To Work Together. Jessica was on the verge of angry tears, Ann had her arms crossed. We pulled ourself together and got our game plan set up. Jessica had to leave early so she could get back to work. She assured us she’d work on it after she got home from work at ten that night and before she had to work at 7 the next morning. The following day we were going to present to the class.

Class started at 430. We were the main event.


One thought on “Small Groups

  1. emily says:

    ugh. i share your dread of small-group work. i once had a group member storm away in tears because our city planning hypothetical included the word “skyscraper”, and she couldn’t bear the thought of buldings scraping the sky. we changed it to… wait for it…


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