Groupwork: the paradox of learning through aggravation

Long after marks have been forgotten, the lessons of some assignments will be remembered. When we get the expected satisfactory results, we often think no more of it: the outcome was as expected. If the good mark means we think no more of the assignment, then we may also never think again of the material we learned to be able to complete the assignment. Sometimes the very reason we do well is that the assignment required us to demonstrate something we already knew or a skill we already had, in effect, not learn anything at all. Of course, this is not the purpose of an assignment.

When we get¬†better¬†results than expected, we don’t ask any questions to find out exactly which goldmine we have struck, perhaps fearing that it was a mistakenly good mark. Let sleeping dogs lie! But when we get unsatisfactory marks, we often reflect on it, and ask what could have made a difference. That lesson will often stick with us longer. Those lessons are often about personal preparation, scholarly diligence, abstract reasoning and use of theories, and communication of our ideas, as much as the facts and ideas themselves. In professional careers, facts and ideas come and go, but preparation, diligence, abstract reasoning, and communication are enduring. There will always be new laws and regulations, new statistics on most prevalent hazards and injury types, so factual knowledge about those things is as perishable as the mushy goo in your crisper that used to be a head of lettuce.

Read more in the groupwork category for advice.

Author: Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (, and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.