A Semester of Challenges and Accomplishments

January 27, 2017

By Anna Balas ’19

I have immensely enjoyed my semester in Bass Connections as a different kind of learning experience and research project. In most of my classes, research focuses on finding out more about an already known topic. However, in Bass Connections, we are researching to formulate recommendations that have never been made before—there is no perfect answer! This is liberating because we are free to think outside the box and make our own decisions on what our group should research and what is important to this multifaceted issue in the environment and public health.

One part of the class that I have appreciated is the opportunity to lead a discussion in our large group meetings. This is a different kind of assignment from the usual presentations in classes, as running a discussion requires more preparation than just memorizing facts to re-teach the class. Leading a discussion demands a thorough understanding of the topic to formulate critical questions that the group needs to consider in moving forward with research.

The group aspect of this project is something that I was looking forward to, and have enjoyed throughout this semester. I am working in a group with doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students who bring very diverse legal, scientific and historic perspectives as well as international perspectives to our group. I think the group has worked well to balance the differences in backgrounds and produce work that covers all sides of the complex issues surrounding animal waste management and production.

Despite our best efforts at organization, Bass Connections has brought out a lot of logistical obstacles I have not previously encountered in small group projects. It is difficult to coordinate research and communicate effectively in such a large group. We have used a new communication platform called Slack to manage communication and share announcements and information. However, at times it has been difficult to find a time when all 15 members can meet to work on the project. What results is a “tragedy of the commons” on our document in which certain people are very involved, others less so, and others hardly get on the document at all. Because we are all writing on the same document over each other, it is difficult to solve this problem since it would be hard to monitor the amount of work of each person. In addition, it has been difficult to communicate about the content of the writing because sometimes we feel like we must confirm that we are writing exactly what the group wants our argument to be, but since there is not any one person completely in charge of our message, there is never any way to confirm that we are on-message on the document without meeting to discuss.

Despite these challenges, for our final project, we are implementing a better-organized system of detailed outlining and planning so that each of our group members knows exactly what they are researching and writing, and are held accountable to workload expectations of the group. This plan is based on trouble-shooting earlier assignments, and we hope that it will help to bring our team together to create an effective final product.

Our biggest accomplishment of first semester was creating a framework that we plan to use this spring to drive research as we move forward with our project. In two smaller teams, we individually created lists of unanswered questions and potential answers and put them into a map as a team. We then came together in a large group meeting and worked to combine our research frameworks. This was our biggest task of the semester as we had to reconcile differences in ideas between the two teams and work to approach research from the same angle, rather than from competing philosophies. This achievement was so important because it came out of a semester of new challenges in learning, communicating and working together toward creating positive changes in the community and the environment.

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