I learned that I could count on the following:
If there were 15 people in the group
- Most would listen to what I said, look at what I'd put on the screen, and work with it.
- 1 or 2 would have clicked ahead instead of listening to me, gotten themselves stuck, and frantically be waving their arms for help.
- 1 would have been sitting in the back, talking (not in low tones) to the person next to her, chatting away, cracking jokes, and laughing while I gamely tried to explain things at the front of the room. (Yes, a few times I stopped talking, stared in her direction, and waited, just as I do in class. This worked for about 90 seconds until she started up again.) As soon as I stopped talking, her hand would shoot up and she'd say, "What was that? What did you want us to do?"
I've seen this in small group committee meetings, too, where people will deflect conversations to irrelevancies, interrupt the chair, interrupt others, talk aloud to themselves, and so on. Again, this isn't malicious; if anything, it's just high spirits and the sense of a small committee meeting as a social as well as a work occasion. I think that sometimes they act this way because they're used to being the one doing the talking (see above) and sometimes because they believe it helps to kill time in the meeting. My take is a little different: if we stay focused and get the work done early, we can leave early.
Professors like to complain about their students' inattention in class, but what these experiences have taught me is that we're not so different after all when it comes to being task-oriented when sitting in a confined space.