Scene 29: Virtual group project

In which kids from two parts of the country work together on a research project.

Students’ perspectives about the world will be very different when cross-geography group projects are commonplace.

"I'm so not looking forward to this -- I think he's a jerk," concluded Juanita. She and Izzy were walking to the meeting room, where their cross-country project team meeting was about to commence. The project assigned to the two groups was simply to develop a report on similarities and differences between their respective cities—"historical, commercial, and cultural"—while exhibiting respect and courtesy to each other at all times. Juanita's city was smaller and less affluent than that of their assigned collaborators. Which of course was part of the point.

"I agree," stated Izzy. "He's just… he just doesn't understand that anyone else might have a point of view." She did not add that she thought Lou Rossini was quite cute.

"He's just a rich kid," Juanita said distractedly as they walked in and took seats. In modern video rooms, everyone knew they were "on stage" at all times, and so poise was reflexive. The system tracked every face and kept it up on the display at all times; and since you could always see your own face on the display, consciousness was heightened about how others might be perceiving you.

As appointed Team Lead, Izzy invited contributors to show their newest contributions to the report, which included a mix of pictures, video clips, and fact summaries. Scott Joens had even contributed a little animated graphic of his own creation, "just as an idea." Their Team Mentor's brow was furrowed—he assumed that, at the end, he would have to tell them how to organize the mess, or, as likely, to do most of the organizing himself.

virtual group project

"So the population density here is a lot less, and so there's a lot more cars," said Juanita. "But taxes are lower, and the cost of living is less."

"And there's nothing to do," said Joe, Juanita's classmate. Always the joker.

Juanita ignored him. "And as you might have seen, I found this clip about the two big food companies that are the backbone of our city's economy."

"How long have those companies been there?" Lou asked politely.

Juanita felt the color rise in her cheeks. "What do you mean?" She suspected an unfriendly motive. Izzy sensed this, and even texted to Juanita, "easy".

"Oh, I just meant… twenty years? Fifty years? A hundred?"

Juanita shrugged. "I'm not sure." Her mind raced. She was certain Lou was looking for a way to laugh at her, to look down upon her city.

Izzy took charge. "We could look that up for you, Lou. What's the angle, why do you ask?"

"Oh, well… Just trying to get a picture. If they've been there a long time, I'm thinking the city is more stable, and less migration in and out of the city. Our city has a lot of people moving in and out all the time."

"We've got lots of retirees moving here from Chicago, that's about it," offered Joe with another snicker.

Juanita stewed. Couldn't Joe see what Lou was up to? Meanwhile, some of the students had gone to work on their computers.

"Cerdna has been here 92 years, and Brands moved here 65 years ago."

"Here's a presentation by a Cerdna guy about our city. Should we watch it?"

Again, most learning is social, and schools will have more and more group projects, collaborating with other students across the country and across the world.   The project approach itself is a win: students learn by working together to create solutions, analyses, or other artifacts.

Technology is falling away as a barrier to virtual projects.  The future improvements will mainly be in better meeting templates and better institutional support.

"Virtual" groups have their own challenges that must be managed. It's easier to "cheat" when others only see part of you. And there are often “backchannels” privately going on between participants.

Net-net, though, it’s a huge win! Kids won't notice or care about geographic boundaries. People in other countries are not much different from us. More transparency to all participants about cultural and social differences, and thus greater tolerance and respect.

Starry-eyed, perhaps.  Can kids from different socioeconomic strata interact? Won't there be strife in some of these interactions, for example, if rich kids from the big city are told to work with poor, rural kids?  Such pairings need to managed wisely.  But working across cultural differences has great potential for learning and growth, to the greater benefit of society.


cast of characters