Leading indicators of group performance

It’s week 3 of semester here, and my module on Negotiating Politics is building up to its applied phase, where I stop talking and the students start getting stuck into exercises and sims.

This is a module I’ve run several times before now, so I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on how any given group will perform. And this year, I’m a bit anxious.

Simon had the entire class gripped with his lecture…

It started with the opening session, where we played Victor’s state of nature game twice. I’ve talked about why I run it twice before, but it suffices here to say that given the prevalence of defection from a cooperative outcome in the second run, I felt that I was likely to be working with a group of students more willing to pursue perverse strategies than usual.

That feeling was reinforced in yesterday’s class, where it transpired that a significant minority hadn’t done the reading for class (Fisher & Ury’s Getting to Yes). This hasn’t happened before, not least because I make a point of keeping such prescribed reading to a minimum and I emphasis what a quick and simple read the book is. One student said that they had trouble getting hold of a copy, but when I asked if they’d got in touch with me about this, they hadn’t thought to do that.

The final piece in the picture is something that I’ve not had before: tracking data in our new-upgraded VLE. This lets me see how long each student has spent accessing each individual item in the online resources. Short answer: not many and not for long.

I can accept that this last element might be specious, in that most materials relate to later sessions and that our general experience has been that students do not burrow very far into the VLE resources for any module.

I’m also aware that this might be confirmation bias: I have a narrative in mind of ‘how this class is” and I only look for evidence that reinforces this narrative. Thus, I discount that there has been a trickle of students setting up twitter accounts (for an exercise in several weeks’ time), even though I’d not insisted on them doing it yet. I also discount that the questions and comments that have come so far have been thoughtful and engaged. In addition, the pre-module survey I did, didn’t show any unusual patterns of beliefs and behaviours, compared to previous years.

The questions that occur are two-fold.

Firstly, does this difference actually exist? Readers of this blog will know that we still lack a full set of evaluative tools and that we have to be very suspicious of ‘feeling’. Certainly, I’m very aware of how I feel and of how that might be wrong, but I lack more objective evidence on which to progress.

Secondly, does this matter? Will it affect how I interact with the group and the feedback I give them? Will it alter the dynamic of the module? Is it permanent, or simply part of the process of the group forming?

At this stage, I don’t know.

I have some anticipations about several things. I expect that less than half the students (less than in previous years) will submit the formative work I’ve offered to mark for them in a couple of weeks. I expect that the trust game in a month will be relatively low in trust. And I expect that the preparation exercise (which highlights the problems of preparation) will not lead to substantial improvements in preparation in subsequent exercises.

However, I also am very happy to accept that I might be wrong about this. Let’s see what the next weeks bring and I’ll let you know how it pans out.

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