Looking back on a second year; final reflections

Self-Direction:

My self-direction has definitely developed since the start of the course. This being the end of my second year participating in What’s the Story?, I was able to use my previous knowledge of the program to help me identify and pursue questions with greater efficiency. This prior experience helped me stay organized and more easily develop a course of action. During the blogging phase, I was also able to generate a list of resources and potential interview subjects that would help me in later phases. Managing learning was a key skill throughout this year as I balanced coursework that included three AP classes, college applications, and an art portfolio on top of finding time to dedicate to What’s the Story?  Assignments and independent exploration of my topic. These skills of balancing work without specific deadlines and understanding how to best prioritize and schedule myself to maximize productivity are ones I will greatly depend on in the next chapter of my life. As I move on from high school to pursue very distinct fields of study the skills of managing my learning, taking initiative and being responsible for my own outcomes will be essential to my success.

 

Responsible and Involved Citizenship:

A desire to grow in the area of responsible and involved citizenship was a major factor in prompting me to take on another year of Whats the Story?  Issues surrounding the meat and dairy industries have become very import to my personal worldview and lifestyle choices over the past four years. Before the start of this year’s course, I had already researched enough on the topic to define my own beliefs and justify my views. My main purpose this year was not to generate more knowledge on the topic itself, but rather to fully understand the perspectives of others and how to relate to people with differing views by understanding the underlying psychology of these issues. This approach to the project utilized all the elements of responsible and involved citizenship. The proposal for positive change was to highlight parts of the issue and perspectives that modern activism on this subject rarely includes, thus bringing wider accessibility and nuance to a pressing ethical issue. Analyzing and engaging points of view are tied to the moral and empathic imperative in that it was a key goal of mine not to create a villain when telling the story.  While this vision for involved citizenship was carried through the majority of the project and led to a talk during UVM’s philosophy week, I don’t feel that this vision was as present in the final product as it should have been.

 

Informed & Integrative Thinker:

Integrative thinking was crucial, especially when evaluating possible directions once forming a team. Our team ended up being a conglomerate of three separate topics all relating to animal rights. Shannon focused on the treatment of pets such as cats and dogs, Lena stuck with her previous focus on the dairy and veal industries and I entered the group with an idea of incorporating the human side of these industries. We agreed that it would be difficult to create a documentary that cohesively addressed all three topics while providing beyond a mere surface level of information and analysis. Especially considering that these topics have been debated in length by activists, a new angle was crucial to create an effective product. The initial plan had been to create separate five-ten minute documentaries addressing each issue separately. I questioned this idea because this approach seemed very limited both content and message-wise. I felt that these topics could still be synthesized into one using systems thinking. I had the idea to focus on the phycology behind these issues as well as the diverse reactions among consumers of these industries and the general public. This idea ended up becoming the direction our project took, exemplifying how integrative thinking can solve problems that arise when analyzing and synthesizing different areas within a larger issue.

 

Clear and Effective Communication:

Communicating is essential to any team but it proved especially important as we tried to take on the task of combining our separate topics. Difficulties in communication pushed me to reach out and be avid in sharing my own progress. Our team struggled to have google hangouts that included all members and frequently I was on a hangout with only one other member while we waited to see if the others would join. Because of this challenge I had to make sure I was communicating clearly through other methods, such as email, google chat, and text messaging, in order to share my ideas and ask clarifying questions of others. Beyond intra-team communication, the message that the product was to communicate had to be very clear and easy to follow. This prompted important discussions of organization and storytelling addressing how we would introduce each topic and clearly display its relevance and connection to the overall theme. Interviews and other footage had to be carefully planned in their incorporation so as to avoid giving the audience too much information at once without a logical sequence.

 

Unexpected learning:

Even though I began in the fall already with a year’s worth of experience in What’s the Story? I still experienced many instances of unexpected learning. While these were not always entirely positive experiences each of them was of value. The major area of unexpected learning that this year brought me was how to deal with dysfunctional collaboration and having things not turn out quite as planned. Dealing with these situations and resolving them maturely and responsibly are skills that will help me avoid and manage future difficulties that arise from simultaneously working creatively and collaboratively.

After we established a team and began to move forward with the project, one group member was consistently absent from meetings and was unable to maintain consistent progress and communication. As a result, she became alienated from our project causing Lena and I to condense and streamline the focus to account for her absence. The revised focus consisted of sharing a non-traditional and more nuanced, philosophical perspective on animal rights in food industries with an audience of varying beliefs and lifestyles. As a group of two, Lena and I were able to have efficient communication and contribute equally to team progress. Throughout the phases of collecting footage, storyboarding, and organizing ideas we communicated and shared workloads efficiently and effectively. However, when it came down the final month and a half of the project the dynamic shifted. Editing equally became challenging as Lena had sole access to the media kit, her father, and brother who would act, and the footage from her previous year which the new documentary heavily relied on. I fought to remain a relevant member of the team, checking in frequently, providing lots of feedback on her work, and outright asking her for ways I could contribute to editing. I continued this struggle by requesting access to the video she hadn’t put in the shared folder and going through hours of interview footage, both hers and mine, trying to devise a way in which I could contribute using the few resources I had available to me. I managed to do this and put together an “opposing perspectives” section of the film. I created this ten-minute section using an interview she had done last year with a lawyer who represented a slaughterhouse during a case of animal rights violations as well as an interview I had conducted with a UVM philosophy professor and stock B-roll. This section already existed in the storyboard and was all set to be incorporated into the main video, all I needed to complete it were some clips of her father’s acting to serve as B-roll and smooth over the transitions and cuts in the interviews. I repeatedly asked her for these clips and explained that I had made notes on the video of what B-roll I wanted and where, however, these requests were not addressed. When I viewed the finished product I saw that she had chosen to omit the part I had edited meaning that none of my work was reflected in the final product. This ended up being a huge source of frustration for me because I signed up to be a teammate, not an assistant and I’m leaving this year with no tangible product.

Despite this somewhat negative conclusion to the year it did prove to be a valuable learning experience. Real world (outside the classroom) collaboration takes much more effort in order to maintain the balance of teamwork even when both parties are dedicated and invested. Now I understand the importance of explicitly addressing this balance throughout the process of collaboration. I have also gained experience in how to resolve or address these issues after the fact. I wrote a long, formal email to Lena expressing my concerns and reflecting on my experience and we were able to have a mature and empathetic exchange, discussing for the first time real problems and miscommunications that led to this outcome.

Kati Tolgyesi

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