Introduction

How I came to like group work

How I came to like group work

There are many things about a syllabus that can scare me on first sight – a reading list that never seems to end; an exam worth 60% of the total grade; a warning about pop quizzes… but there is little that worries me more than those two fateful words: group projects.

(Did you just hear “dun dun dun” in your head and the sound of a scream and maniacal cackling and maybe even a burst of thunder? Because I did.)

The most largescale group project I did at U of T was through Cook the Books, the fourth year English seminar where you spend one lecture a week discussing readings, and the other eating a meal with your classmates. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But here’s the catch – the meal is made as a group project, and you’re graded on the menu and the experience.

Me eating a plate of food made by my classmates.
Me eating my classmates’ creations. I tended to prefer the eating over the cooking.

The final project for the course was a class-wide (yes, you read that right – class-wide) cookbook. We were all given different roles which divided us up into committees, but together, we had to build a publication from scratch.

I was a managing editor on the project, so I had my hands in every aspect of it –  conceptualizing the book, gathering recipes, writing everything, testing recipes, taking photos, laying everything out, editing it all, and planning our final class celebration, including making a meal using the recipes in the class cookbook.

The project was crazy – organizing our group of 25 or so classmates to put together a cohesive, quality cookbook was a challenge, but it was tons of fun, and everyone pulled together to create something we were all proud of and throw an awesome farewell bash.

 A picture of the class party with everyone sitting at a table with drinks with crazy straws.
Our final class party! Among many joyful touches, crazy straws were a must.

We had a blast testing all the recipes and we were able to make adjustments that took them all to new heights of tastiness. I thought it would be really hard for us to come together as a class to come up with a concept for the cookbook, but there was really strong consensus on doing a publication around the idea of “home”, since it had come up so much in our reading and resonated so strongly with everyone’s conception of food at its best.

I remember working with the layout team on the final version of the cookbook using design software at Robarts, laughing over class-wide shared jokes and memories from throughout the year and scrambling together to get the final product good to go before the deadline with the whole class relying on us to finish.

Apple pies cooking in the oven before the class celebration.
Apple pies baking before the celebration. The recipe is my grandmother’s (but I adjusted it to use locally sourced ingredients). You can find it in the cookbook and the story behind it on pages 47-48!

After going through Cook the Books, group work doesn’t scare me like it used to. In fact, it’s kind of exciting – it’s an opportunity to become real friends with your classmates and to learn how to work with others. As we worked together, we came to recognize each others’ skills and shift around responsibilities based on those so that everyone was doing their part and doing something that made sense for them. I used to get bogged down in the feeling that I had to do everything in group projects – working with my classmates in Cook the Books made me realize that I was missing out by not letting others contribute and bring their unique talents to the table.

My fourth-year seminar was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my time at U of T. The syllabus introduced me to some wonderful authors and thinkers, and the unique course model introduced me to new recipes and new friends. And if you want to try some of those recipes, you can check out our class cookbook online!

A collage of memories from throughout the year in the course that was used as the back page of the cookbook. At the top centre is a quote from Michael Pollen: "At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind."
The back page of our class cookbook, which was called “Home is where the food is.” I love this collage!

Tell me about your experiences with group work on Twitter at @lifeatuoft.

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