The hive mind that we are has an enormous creative potential but works slowly, and for weeks we had been negotiating interview questions, artifacts, and the idea of a focus group where participants would be part of an event where they could write/draw/create a visualization of the ways they navigate and communicate across spaces in their daily lives as UWM students. Before class, Rachel had synthesized our ideas, so we were ready for a strategic revision of the following documents to get them ready for IRB submission:
We were eager and buzzing but also, I sensed, anxious about getting the details right for the IRB review. It is interesting going from conceptualizing the project and understanding the broader goals well to trying to whip all the smaller pieces into place. Words – who knew they were so capricious? As a writing teacher who routinely discusses with students the importance of word choice and phrasing, I found it instructive to observe how we struggled to wield the words to represent our collective ideas. This was challenging because, with some of the work we were discussing, we were still conceiving those ideas, so each of us was simultaneously molding and assessing ideas as we negotiated them in the group.
One item that caused the most debate was the focus group protocol, particularly the prompts for the artifact and the artifact itself. We wanted some type of map to illustrate the spaces students move across on a daily basis and how they navigate rhetorically across the different contexts. We started discussing the artifact but rather quickly determined that the specifics regarding the artifact (will it be paper or computer? Will we provide paper and markers? etc.) could be decided on later. The prompts, on the other hand, sparked a lively discussion: should we cast a wider net with open-ended prompts that would lead to more exploratory responses, possibly combined with a set of follow-up interview questions for all participants at the end of the event? Or should we have more streamlined questions on the prompt to aim at more consistency which, some of us thought, would be more practical for analysis of the data. With lots of IRB balls way up in the air, we had to make a choice between following our class agenda and covering the readings, which really help ground and conceptualize the project, or if we wanted to push through and finish the IRB documents. We voted; we were all hot to trot to continue, and we slowly reached consensus on the materials.
There was some storming which, we learned, metaphorically describes the stage in group development when group members push against each other’s ideas and sometimes against each other, but as Rachel told us, “we are all too nice”, so the storming became no tempest but rather a refreshing wind with ideas that were floated, some of which took off and some of which stalled.
At the end, I think we were all exhausted but satisfied with the work we had produced in accordance with our goals and our collaboration contract, and also relieved we had sorted through a lot of “mess” and our IRB documents were largely reading for submission to the IRB board. As CL described in “We’re Climbing – and Getting Stronger Along the Way”, we are still climbing and still have to overcome obstacles of an intellectual or practical nature, but it felt like we had reached a comfortable plateau to rest at over Spring Break while the IRB board reviews our materials. Fingers crossed out there!