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PJC Digest 2

PJC Digest 2

The second meeting of the PJC took place on 16th February in H3.56, which was a little off the beaten track for most of us, but which at least had the advantage over our first venue of windows and as much natural light as February could muster.

The subject was ‘Group Work’ and the papers reviewed were:

1. David Livingstone & Kenneth Lynch (2000) Group Project Work and Student-centred Active Learning: Two different experiences, Studies in Higher Education, 25:3, 325-345.2. Jane Burdett (2003) Making Groups’ Work: University Students’ Perceptions, International education Journal, 4:3, 177-191

The format as agreed at the inaugural meeting was:

1. Discussion of suggested papers for 30 minutes looking in detail at the methodology and conclusions of the research

2. 30 minutes where we ask our two fundamental questions

How could the research be translated into improved learning and teaching in our own discipline?
Should the research inform our teaching practice or our departmental learning and teaching philosophy?

3. The last 30 minutes will then be put over to open discussions for PJC members to develop research and to share best pedagogical practice from their disciplines.

The papers generated a number of interesting conclusions including:

While often initially sceptical, students generally recognised the benefits of group work for their learning and for the ability to create different responses to problems.Students expressed concern with ‘fairness’ of assessment.Formalising roles had potential to avoid exclusion of some group members from the process (either through their design, or through the agency of others).

There was a general comment on the somewhat anecdotal nature of the papers, which seemed largely reportage to some of the group.

Members shared their experiences of group work and an interesting dichotomy emerged between the practice of some colleagues in sciences, where group work always had an element of summative assessment; and colleagues in humanities, where it did not. This appeared to markedly (and not unexpectedly) affect the attitudes of students attitudes to the task, even when the marks allocated were a very small proportion of the overall module mark. The addition of peer review practices which modify the group mark for individuals based on their colleagues’ assessment of their performance appeared to exacerbate gaming behaviours observed in the assessed group work. Interestingly, these behaviours were seen as ‘expected’ within the ‘science’ faculty paradigm and ‘not understandable’ by the humanities faculty.

It was felt that a key differentiator in outcomes was whether the focus principally on the task allocated (i.e. content led) or on the team-working element (i.e. process-led). It was suggested that team-working skills matrices – used in WBS and secondary education, for example – might be useful in directing thinking to the latter. In this context it was noted that some disciplines had greater expectations that, once employed, graduates would be working in teams. It was further noted that (according to HEA research) often what employers said they wanted from graduates was not what they actually wanted; asking for challenge and free-thinking, for example, when, in reality compliance and conforming to norms was required. One dimension of team work might be vocational transferable skills, and another; socialization (e.g. ‘who am I being in the context of the group work?’).

Reflective self-assessment and peer assessment were seen as important to make sense of the experience. For example, the often mentioned issue of ‘free-riders’ might, in some cases actually reflect exclusion or domination by other members of the group rather than a wilful lack of contribution on the part of the individual.

Student concern with fairness, it was suggested, centred more on effort than outcome; students appeared to be more concerned with equal reward for equal effort than with parity of reward for equivalence of outcomes.

Cross-cultural issues and rights and responsibilities of students involved in group working were briefly raised, but there was no time to discuss in depth.

A potential avenue of scholarly activity arising from the discussion was a deeper exploration of the ways in which group work is used, managed and evaluated in different disciplines. This might, perhaps, be considered as an aspect of discipline ‘Signature Pedagogy’ and the rationales for differing approaches explored in that context. Graeme and Kate would like to hear from colleagues who would be interested in investigating this further.

Finally, any comments on the content of this digest, any experiences or ideas around the subject, or any thoughts on how to explore group-work further would be gratefully received.

Until next time…