Education, Covid-19 and #BlackLivesMatter

Warning: This is a think piece. It is completely opinionated. It will also be short.

How many challenges to our mental and social peace, will 2020 continue to unleash? It feels never-ending, doesn’t it? Australian fires, locusts in Africa, shocking celebrity deaths, Covid-19, a suspicious outbreak (again) of Ebola in Africa, and now #blacklivesmatter.

As I sit at home in the beautiful Caribbean isle of Trinidad and Tobago, I feel as triggered as many other people around the world. I lost my job during Covid-19. That sent me into an emotional spiral that I never imagined I could experience. I cried when Kobe Bryant died. AND now, the public death of George Floyd has provoked many uncomfortable, painful, disruptive, suffocating, overwhelming, [add your own adjectives] feelings. Mostly because I am a dark-skinned young woman who can identify with the outrage of my brothers and sisters all over the world.

Covid-19 is trending, but it is now an underlying trend overpowered by global agitation. Agitation triggered by an unfair, undeserved, extreme consequence bestowed upon a human being. I know this feeling on a deeper level. My father was murdered. It was a robbery and the justice system failed us too. So, it’s safe to say that this spreading situation resonates with me in multiple life-shattering dimensions.

I have to confess, I don’t care for perfect grammar for this post. I am leaving some of my sentences undone because my thoughts become interrupted every time I measure what I want to write against what I should write.
I am angry.

Truthfully, every time something happens in the United States, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago brace for a spillover. We handled Covid-19 here. We handled it very well. Crime, on the other hand, not so much. But this, this is something else. This is raising a different kind of awareness; an empowering awareness.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER

Still, I’ve been able to derive one common, underlying, message from all of 2020’s events – education is key. Yes. Education. Is. Key!

Education is necessary to move beyond mental comfort zones. It is crucial in order to navigate through the obvious dynamical impact of globalisation and technological advancement of your present and future.
You need to make holistic education a priority.

Read between the lines.
Become media literate.
Learn empathy.
Learn to listen.
Learn to Shut Up!
Learn to ask the right questions.
Learn to seek the right answers.
Learn to pivot into cognitive dissonance, because everything just may keep disrupting your peace of mind.
Learn to be informed, even if it makes you angry and opposes everything you ever believed was rational and logical.
Learn empathy.
Research history, not only in the common places but also in the unpopular spaces.
Investigate unanimous messages (media reports) because sometimes the unity is a cover-up or a distraction.

Most importantly, learn that “The right knowledge corrects the wrong behaviour” – Anonymous. Because sometimes we live by other people’s values and for other’s approvals. What do YOU believe in? What are YOUR core values? What will YOU stand for?

Make education a lifestyle. In business. In health. The environment. In spirituality. Mentally. Just dig deeper than what you know. Do more with what you know. Encourage awkward conversations about matters that you feel strongly about. You learn most when your principles are challenged.

Education is key. It is also a saviour.

My name is Alette Liz Williams. I am a beautiful Afro-Trinidadian young woman.

I have no more words. Whether you agree or not with what I’ve written (as disconnected from all of my other blogs are), I would appreciate hearing your honest thoughts about it.

With emotional pain,
The Graduate Guru

The Best Ways To Deal With Challenging Group Members

Say it with me… I hate group work!

I’ve never met anybody that’s said differently. Group work is inevitable for many academic programmes. It’s one of the reasons that mature students choose to enroll in online courses. Most part-time [mature] students prefer to be in complete control over the quality of their project submissions and their final grade.

The truth is, it’s difficult to trust anyone other than yourself when your pass or fail depends on their contribution – or at least can be affected by it. This is a real issue for me. I am not alone in saying that I have trust issues because of group members 😥

Still, I’ve been in MANY group projects and I have always come out victorious in the end. Full disclosure, for every group project I have been involved in, I got an A; well, WE got MY A. I still hate group work though. I just found a way to deal with the group members and use my people skills to my advantage.

In this post, I’ll suggest 7 ways to deal with challenging, lazy or unresponsive group members while understanding how to deal with group dynamics practically.

Let’s go.

#1 Set Expectations And Determine Team Guidelines

From the moment you have your first group meeting, set your expectations. By this, I mean to be brutally honest about what the group should be aiming to achieve. You want to avoid or lessen any opportunity to encounter conflicts.
In group projects, conflicts arise for several reasons: personality differences, schedule clashes, poor or lack of communication, uncommitted or uninvolved group members… the list can fill up a scroll.
You should talk them out. You know, like the best ways, times and mediums to communicate with each other.
But here’s the deeper approach – expose your strengths and weaknesses. Yes, initiate the conversation about what (and how) contributions can be delivered. This will include the best ways, times and mediums to communicate with each other, methods to keep focused and overall constraints of the group. I also recommend that you discuss what the ramifications would be if someone does NOT meet their deliverables.

Here are some invasive, but insightful, questions to ask:
Who is the academic procrastinator? Who has problems citing references? Which one of you is very good at research? Are you a horrible public speaker, but good at graphics?

Read: How to beat academic procrastination in a practical way

These are the REAL questions that should be asked. Once the team knows what skills can be optimised and what shortcomings can be mitigated, there is a greater chance that people won’t feel “set up” when that final submission is compiled for submission.

And on that note…

#2 Create Group Roles And Responsibilities

Roles? Yes, groups have roles. Let me suggest some for you to consider:
Team Leader – Delegates, keeps everyone on track, does most of the correspondence between the group members and with the lecturer.
Recorder – The one who records agreements, ideas, submissions.
Time-Keeper – pays attention to deadlines for contributions, drafts and final due date.
Editor – The one responsible for refining the final version of the submission to meet the grading criteria.
Researcher – Someone responsible for compiling the information and data necessary to populate the document or support the presentation.
Lead Presenter – The person that can carry an oral presentation best.

Your group can create its roles and responsibilities. Also, if it’s a heavy project, members can accept roles and contribute to other aspects of the project. It’s a good place to start, especially after discussing expectations and hashing out the team guidelines.

Please note, that group members should also commit to giving constructive critiques and motivating other team members whenever possible. If someone falls short, never make assumptions. Always seek to know and understand a situation before jumping to conclusions. Remember, it’s a short time-frame for a group project, you most likely will not have to live with or work with these individuals after. If you do, ask the ancestors for strength.

#3 Delegate And Coordinate By the Assignment Rubric

It’s a nifty trick I’ve used since I discovered its magic! There is always a rubric for assignments. This is how your lecturer measures how to grade your submission. So, aim for the “A” block. Identify the key areas of focus and follow up with the roles and responsibilities derived from the set expectations and group guidelines. It’s a sure way to shoot for that A!

Here’s a little ninja trick. If you see someone not doing quite as good as you would like them to do, ask another group member (who you believe can deliver) to just do a little work on their part. Be civil. Tell them that a little bit more information is needed on X and ask them if they won’t mind giving you a paragraph or two on the topic (if they can). This can supplement the word limit for the project, with the right information.

#4 Use Teamwork Tools

To do your work, enter the virtual space that makes collaboration easy. Common platforms include Whatsapp groups and Google Docs.
There are alternatives, however.

Telegram is a great alternative for Whatsapp. It’s like Whatsapp on steroids.

There are nice alternatives for Google Docs. I recommend these two FREE options:

  • DropBox Paper – Uses a DropBox account, accessible on all devices, one of the best alternatives to Google Docs.
  • ONLYOFFICE – Compatible with Microsoft, connects with cloud storages like Google Drive and DropBox, can be used online, offline and on iOS and Android.

#5 Set Ghost Dates (and review dates)

It’s always a good thing to set what I call “ghost dates”. What’s that you ask? Well, don’t focus on your due date – ever. The due date should be considered a grace period date or an extension date. If your project is due in 2 weeks (14 days), set the group due date for at least 3 days before that date. Also, schedule the dates for reviews (check-ups). Within that time frame.

I propose that you use the review dates to solicit feedback for further guidance (if you can). This way, everyone’s submissions can be intermittently evaluated and refined. Use the feedback to measure the group’s progress against the assignment rubric and you’ll be well on your way to that A.

Read: Get a grade A when you do this surprising hack!

#6 Set A Draft Date And Then Take Control

This tip is for my twin – the one with the trust issues. I’ve done this where I saw the crash and burn coming rapidly. Sometimes you have to take over. If you are confident that you can get the project where it needs to be and you group members are not doing what they have agreed to do, then, give them a date to send drafts and complete the assignment by yourself.

At least, you’ll have a foundation to build on. At most, you’ll have control of the final submission.

Some words of caution though. That final grade will depend on you, so be ready to take the flack if there is a fail or a lower mark than is expected. Also, only do this once. DO NOT do this for a group that you may be assigned to be a part of for multiple projects. This could cause members to develop a habit of dependency and they could become lackadaisical. Everyone must be held accountable for their contributions. They should be reminded about the impact of negative peer reviews, or provisions for direct communication with the lecturer (if there is allowance to bring up issues with them). These are measures you can take if the situation is too much for you. But, that’s why you should follow the steps above FIRST – this is one of the “last resort” strategies I offer. The next step gives the other.

#7 Do it Yourself

You’d hate this one. But, sometimes, you have to do what you have to do – for YOU. I have had to do this a few times. You do this when all else fails. You do not ask for and/or wait on drafts to complete. Just do it. It will hurt, it will make you exhausted. You will be angry because that means others who do not deserve a grade, will get it.

But, if you want that pass, or higher grade, there are times you just have to suck it up and take complete control. Again, only do this if everything is falling apart. This is the last resort, last resort. Do your peer review and lodge that complaint if you wish, but meet that submission deadline at all costs. Do your best and be proud of your efforts.

Final thoughts: Group work is a simulation of what is to be expected in the workplace. Whether you recognise it, or not, group work is a representation of many scenarios in our lives. The methods you use to handle group work challenges can be transferred to real-life situations. The 7 tactics I presented can be used all together, or you can choose one or two of them. Some people are fortunate to be in groups that have high productivity and that’s wonderful (and rare). More than often, though, this is not the case. So, if you are on the verge of cussing out your group members, review my recommendations. If any of them seem doable for you, take your shot.

Quick note: If you are an introvert, speak up! Don’t be bullied into getting anything less than what you deserve, ok? Ok.

If you found the information in this post helpful, please feel free to share it 🙂

How to beat academic procrastination in a practical way

I’ll be honest, I often end up experiencing self-induced anxiety when doing assignments because of a worrying habit I have. I procrastinate too much. Ugh.

I know I’m not the only one that has this problem. In fact, it’s so common, it’s referred to as “Academic Procrastination”. The irony of the name!

Academic Procrastination is defined, by Senecal, Koestner and Vallerand, as: “the voluntary postponing of the academic tasks within the desired time and “Schraw, Wadkins, and Olafson defines it as the intentional delay of the academic tasks that must be done on time like examinations and researches” (Al-mehsin and AL-Rbabaah, 2015).

Sounds like something you do?
Well, one thing I know for sure is this, either you are an academic procrastinator, or you know someone who is.

I did a personal experiment for a project this week and let me tell you, it worked! I got so much more done than I could’ve imagined and I produced quality work in less time *happy dance*.

Read: 7 effective study techniques

So, I’m going to share it with you. I promise, it’s practical and all you need is a clock with a timer and a free app.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to banish your academic procrastination demon with this practical ritual.

First of all, you can use your mobile phone’s clock, and switch to “timer”. If you choose to use another kind of timer, perhaps a stop clock, you can. I use my cell phone, because I always have it close.

Now, if you’re like me, you can get distracted by anything connected to WiFi. So, the second thing you would need is my new favourite app. It’s called Freedom.

Freedom - Block Websites, Apps, and the Internet


Quick synopsis about this app: The Freedom app can be downloaded to ALL devices – Mac, Windows, iOS and Android – and it block all distracting websites and apps. You can block websites, mobile and desktop apps, and even the entire internet. Blocklists can be customised.

During a Freedom session, even if you receive a notification, you will not be able to access the app or website until the session has ended; on all of the devices you’ve downloaded it to. It’s completely free. It. Is. A. Life. Saver! Trust me.

Now here’s how to use these two powerful tools to your advantage.

Set your timer

One hour to 45 minutes is good enough. Productivity times vary per individual. But I find that for assignments and projects, this time-frame is sufficient to complete good work, or set a good foundation for a draft; at least. If you can do longer, or can only manage a shorter time (like 30 minutes), you can do that also. BUT, you have to be realistic about the amount of work you want and need to get done.

Read: Get a grade A when you do this surprising hack!

Set small wins, and time them too

Delayed gratification, if you may. But, controlled and structured gratification. Between your timed work sessions, time your reward sessions. I call them win-sessions. I started with 20 minutes because I set aside a full day to work on an assignment. It’s unreasonable to think that you won’t have other things to do, even if you’ve cleared your schedule. If you have a shorter time to work with, however, I recommend 10 minutes in-between sessions.

Activate the Freedom app

I activated my Freedom (pun intended, again) for the same amount of time as my work sessions; for obvious reasons. Honestly, I am always tempted to check my phone to get rid of those red dots (notifications), but Freedom gives me that good ol’ “get outta here!” that I need. I laughed the first few times it happened. I even called the app “rude”. We officially have a love-hate relationship. Ha!

Set different activities to do during your win-sessions.

Let me tell you how I did this. For the first three times I set my 20-minute wins, I checked my social media (10 minutes, because I scroll), WhatsApp, call log and emails (altogether 5 minutes). It was enough time for me to do enough of what I wanted in each time-frame. I also drank a glass of water and did some small exercise activity like squats, walked or did stretches – this was, surprisingly, the MOST effective part of the win-session.

My wins were SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). Sometimes I switched out one or two of those smaller wins with something else. Just to get away from monotony. I grabbed a bite to eat, watched a short comedy video on YouTube, or started another assignment. Once, I even took a power nap (which I’ve mastered). You can set your wins, however you wish.

Read: How to get the perfect thesis research topic in one hour or less

It is also important to note that, as you get closer to your deadline, you should shorten your win-sessions. I ended up reducing mine to 10 minutes before my last hour of work.

REPEAT

Set the time, activate the app, maximise those win-sessions!

That’s it!

WORD OF CAUTION

Whenever your timer is up, STOP! If you have to finish a sentence, fine. But STOP! The goal is to trigger a sense of urgency that tricks your brain into thinking you’re running out of time and need to get as much done as possible. It’s like you’re closing in on that real deadline.

Final Thoughts: I encourage you to try this. If you truly struggle with academic procrastination, you know it’s not healthy. You really don’t need that level of anxiety in your life; school has enough challenges. Try this method. You will be satisfied with the results. I guarantee this.

Feel free to share this blog with someone who needs it 😉

Full disclosure, if you use the Freedom app and upgrade, I will receive a small commission.