Sunday, April 25, 2010

Intellectual stimulation

There are few things I like better than a good conversation -- one that is predicated on all participants being at minimum sufficiently versed in the topic so that everyone makes meaningful contributions to the discussion.

Of course, a college campus is a great place to see that in action. I had an unexpected opportunity to overhear one today.

One of my sons was taking part in a workshop at Carnegie Mellon University, where the aforementioned exchange took place. While waiting for my son to complete his program, I made a stop at one of the university's eateries. There, I sat at a table, munching my pretzel, and likely doing a poor job of pretending I wasn't paying attention to the conversation at the next table.

Four students -- three men and one woman -- were working on a project for a business class. As I sat down, I heard one of the male students saying something like this: "But the bigger question for us is how do we convince the client that we're not overcharging him?" Various ideas were presented, and the group seemed to settle on the idea that it had the right marketing plan and at the right costs.

Some of the terms the students were using were "above my pay grade." But even if I had understood what they were talking about, there was no way I would have chimed in. I appreciated the talent and the intelligence at that table, and I especially admired they way each group member made an important contribution to what was taking place.

Group projects can be a tremendous learning tool, if for no other reason that they force students with various egos and ideas of their knowledge of self-worth to work together. I have no idea how long the group I listened to today had been at the cafe; they were there when I arrived and they seemed to still be going strong when I left about 20 minutes later. Their time, at least to this observer, was well spent.

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