Praxis is about people: reflections after the launch

When I initially drafted the Ivanhoe launch announcement, my goal was to make it communicate in as concise a fashion as possible what Ivanhoe was and where people could download it and learn more.  I completely forgot that Ivanhoe has been as much about us, the Praxis Fellows, and our learning, as about software development.  It wasn’t until Bethany pointed out that everyone might not know who we were and I might want to include a paragraph describing the program.  It then occurred to me: just as Ivanhoe is ultimately about the players–encouraging self awareness through role playing–Praxis, too, is about the players.

I am dazzled when I think about how our group has evolved over the course of the year.  Those of you who have been following our blog will have seen countless posts about teamwork.  Francesca’s post “Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing,” a reflection upon Bruce Tuckman’s theory of group development, was in many ways a response to our experience drafting our charter.  That was a turbulent time for our team, as it required making decisions about the somewhat nebulous question, what did we want to get out of Praxis?  Then, the next difficult question: what did we want our Ivanhoe to be?  A series of heated debates ensued, until we began drawing out our ideas, which as I discussed in “Stephen Covey intervenes in wire-framing Ivanhoe,” greatly assisted our communications.  The second we began putting ideas on paper, conversation flowed better, and we started being able to make decisions more quickly.  Shortly after our concept pitches in November, Veronica mused on our group dynamics, highlight several problems in her post “Sticky Situations: Lessons in Group Cohesion.”  She targeted not having defined roles within the team and not knowing how to articulate our ideas to one another as major problems.

Once we all had our roles, teamwork went a lot more smoothly.  Everyone had an individual purpose, and beginning in December our posts became much more skills oriented.  Several posts by Veronica and Scott, our developers, focused on coding and breaking things (clearly, this self-reflection was helpful, as the breakages were fixed and we now have a working game), and posts by our designers soon focused on learning CSS.

As project manager, I too had more specialized tasks, although it would take a bit longer for me to get a clear picture of what exactly my job entailed.  This process entailed learning important lessons, like how not to create more work for the team than was necessary, and how not to micromanage.  I was confused about my job: I thought I was supposed to be managing the team, when really, I needed to be managing the project, which at that point required me to be chief publicity person, keeper of the timeline, and stewardess of the Ivanhoe vision.

Our division of labor and assumption of roles certainly increased productivity, but it was most important for how it helped us get along as a group.  Being busy graduate students, of course we were still stressed, but personal group stress was much lower once we all knew what we were doing.  We even got to the point where we rearranged tasks to fit better with individual members’ personal lives, and workflow and communication continued to improve.  We knew we had to continue getting things done, but we would move forward only in the best way possible for our members.

My conclusion from all this is three-fold: 1) that human beings always function better when they have defined tasks before them, 2) that the development and happiness of those human beings are more important than any project itself, and 3) that the story of our Ivanhoe is also the story of our Praxis cohort.  In Ivanhoe, players keep role journals to reflect upon the evolution of their roles.  This blog is our Praxis role journal, and our learning experience this year has been our Ivanhoe game.  It thus seems appropriate to closely follow the Ivanhoe launch announcement with a photo gallery representing the great times we’ve had together this year:

 

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Thanks to the entire Praxis team, Fellows and SLab mentors, for a wonderful year!

This past May, 2014, I completed my M.A. in English at the University of Virginia. As a graduate student I focused on American literature, textual studies, and learning as much about digital humanities as possible. I served as project manager for the 2013-14 Praxis cohort, rebuilding the Ivanhoe Game. I now work at Rare Book School and the Washington Papers doing bibliographical research and social media. In my spare time I enjoy jamming on my violin, researching family history, and having movie nights with friends. I love ballroom dance, can't get enough opera, and enjoy making gourmet pizza at home.

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