Posts Tagged ‘groupwork’

Further to my post of April 19th, I put my idea’s of formative feedback into action. Yesterday the group of 2nd years whom I am teaching in a module on ‘Group care’ participated in some formative/peer feedback. The module is intense, and runs over 2 weeks, so there is little room to go away and reflect. Yesterday (day 6 out of 9) the group came in with some work they had already prepared. I had asked them to consider the essay title and spend some time planning (using bullet points at the very least) what were the important aspects to include in their assignments. The intention was that this would give me a chance to see how they are consolidating their learning, and whether they were engaging in deep level learning or surface learning (Biggs 1999). I mixed up the group and separated them into 6 groups of 3, and instructed them to engage in a kind of ‘timed talk’ where they each had a 20 minute slot to share their ideas with their 2 colleagues and recieve feedback and engage in idea sharing. The only rules were that feedback had to be respectful and constructive.  Myself and a colleague floated round the room, joining in groups as required (I put Chrissi’s ‘flag’ idea into action and it worked well!) we were able to answer questions, provide clarification and listen to some of the discussion that was taking place.

The intention was to ‘probe students’ knowledge as it is being constructed, so that any misunderstandings can be set right… to do this requires a climate where students feel free to admit error’ (Biggs 1999 p75). I felt as though the session was incredibly productive. The groups worked well together; they asked for help when needed; individuals went away with a clearer idea of how to approach their essays; and we gained some insight into what they are grasping and what they are struggling with. At the end of the session I asked the students verbally to give feedback on how well they thought it worked, and they were all very positive. I am conscious that they are completing the module evaluation tomorrow so didn’t want to overevaluate with them. I’m not sure how well they each took it in turns to discuss their work – I got the feeling that mostly the group had a general discussion. If I repeat the exercise I think I might get the person who’s turn it is to be interviewed by the other two about their thoughts, then it means each individual gets the same proportion of time to discuss their work/thoughts. (A1; A3; A4; K2; K5; V2)

Biggs J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. OU Press; Buckingham.


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I was observed by my colleague, Carlo, delivering the second part of the Moving and Handling session. This part of the session was a practical workshop, whereby the students are taught safe techniques to use when out in practice, and have the opportunity to have a go with the equipment and practice the techniques within a lab environment, before actually using them within the workplace.

An example of the types of techniques taught in this session – hoisting:

Feedback and discussion

I felt that the session went okay – it wasn’t brilliant, and it wasn’t a awful. I struggle with the fact that it is difficult to be creative delivering such a session, therefore the the driver that makes the most difference within the classroom is me! Biggs (1999) talks about creating intrinsic motivation, that students need to value the topic they are learning about for its own sake, rather than because they are going to be assessed in it. He comments that teachers who love their subject and show it can be inspirational to students. If teachers percieve great value in the topic they are talking about, then this will have the knock on effect of causing students to be curious because they wish to seek some of that value. I do believe in the importance of teaching students about safe moving and handling, and I am committed to seeking out ways to deliver it in the most interesting way – but ultimately I hope that I am able to enthuse them.

I felt that the session was a little disorganised, as I split the bigger group into smaller groups and they rotate around the equipment practising new skills and techniques. I move among them, being available for answering questions and clarifying tricky techniques, as well as to observe and provide on the spot feedback to individuals and groups in action. When I met with Carlo to hear his feedback, he felt that the session did not appear disorganised. He thought that I came accross as ‘in charge’ and that I worked well with the groups. He acknowledged that the nature of the task requires students to take initiative, and he noted that they were working but looked relaxed. He gave some positive feedback about the way I handled a question asked by a student who approached me saying that she had what was probably a ‘stupid’ question. I reassured her it wasn’t stupid at all, and Carlo thought I gave an excellent reply, but he also liked the way I answered not just to her but to the whole class. This is one of the methods I always try to utilise to encourage contribution, and to get students to speak up. Another method I used during this session (in this and much of my other teaching)  is to encourage students to share their own experiences from work or practice, to try and give the subject some meaning. Light and Cox (2001) state that this is one of the elements of the deeper approach to learning, where students are able to relate what they have learnt to their own personal experience. They go on to note that an important aspect of learning is that experience is valued, particuarly for more mature students, of which we have quite a high proportion on the Joint Programme.

Carlo and I had a discussion about how one can assess what students have learnt in a session such as this? They are helping and commenting on each others practice within the group, plus I am available to support and guide if needed and assess at quite a superficial level, though not equally with all members of the group (A3). But ultimately it is hard to assess what people have learnt and this is problematic – furthermore, Moving and Handling is a good example of a skill that once learnt will be forgotten if its not being used regularly. Glasser (1988 in Biggs 1999) note that most people learn:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they see and hear
  • 70% of what they talk over with others
  • 80% of what they use and do in real life
  • 95% of what they teach to someone else

This list, although obviously providing approximate percentages as these will vary hugely from individual to individual, does give us as educators an idea of how people learn effectively and the strategies that need to be developed to support such learning. A practical session such as Moving and Handling, where students actually get to ‘have a go’ will hopefully aid learning. (A1; A2; K2; K3; K5)

Overall I enjoyed being observed, particularly by someone from a different discipline, as I appreciated the objective perspective Carlo would be able to bring to the exercise. I enjoyed the discussion afterwards where Carlo probed me somewhat, seeking clarification about why I did some things the way I did them – always a useful exercise in maintaining and improving quality. (K6)

Biggs (1999) Teaching for quality learning at university SRHE and OU Press; Bucks.

Glasser W (1988) quoted by ‘Association for supervision and curriculum development guide’ cited in Biggs (1999) Teaching for quality learning at university SRHE and OU Press; Bucks.

Light G and Cox R (2001) Learning and teaching in higher education: the reflective professional Paul Chapman Publishing; London.

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Holding up the mirror… thoughts around my first observation

I recorded some thoughts about how I felt my first observation had gone – Chrissi came to observe me delivering a session to a small group of 3rd years on reflection. These are my post-observation musings, recorded before I had recieved feedback from Chrissi:

Chrissi’s feedback mirrored many of my own thoughts, which in itself was encouraging, as it means that I am able to consider the way I work in a critical manner. Ramsden suggests that in the selection and appointment of teaching staff a ‘lively interest in improving teaching through reflection and action’ is one of the three imperative criteria that prosepective staff must be able to meet (Ramsden 2005, p216). On the whole she felt that it was a good session, and that I came accross as relaxed and friendly. She pointed out the faux pas that I made right at the start, when I told the class (cringingly) that I didn’t know much about the topic. This really isn’t true, and I felt the words tumbling out of mouth as I spoke them. (K1)What I wanted to get accross to the group was that it wasn’t a specific topic I had taught before. I’m not sure why I felt the need to share this – probably because I was delivering the session on behalf of a poorly colleague, so I wanted to cover myself in case it didn’t go to plan and I came across sounding like I didn’t know what I was talking about! This brings to mind Kembers continuum (1997, cited in Light and Cox 2001) where conceptions of teaching are categorised under five dimensions – from the teacher centred/content-oriented through to the student centred/ learning-oriented conception. Realising that as teachers we are not expected to be the fonts of all knowledge, spouting forth to a silent and pasive audience has been one of the most liberating and enlightening aspects of this module for me. So why did I say that to the students..?! They are equally responsible for their learning, as long as we provide the right conditions and I believe the session provided those.


The main area for discussion between Chrissi and I was around the facilitation of group work. I use a lot of group work in my teaching (A1;A2) , and Chrissi asked some pertinent questions and made some helpful suggestions. One perpetual issue I have is how much to ‘stand over’ or interact with groups once I have set them a task to do – I want to give them the space to develop thoughts and speak freely, but equally I don’t want them to get bored, go off the point or misunderstand the task. Jaques and Salmon (2007) provide numerous leadership tactics, acknowledging that the tutor has an important role in creating a secure environment with an open and trusting atmosphere where individual contribution is valued and people do not have to fear making a fool of themselves. However, although they address interactions with student groups, and in particular verbal interaction, including effective questioning, they do not suggest how to overcome the issue of ducking in and out of groups, of physical proximity. Chrissi suggested a simple flag system, where a group member raises the flag if they require the help of a tutor. I am going to implement this during my next module. (A4)

During the session I used PowerPoint and previous to it taking place I had asked students via Blackboard to read the capter out of Jennifer Moons book A handbook of reflective and experiential learning, informing the group it was available as an e-book. I didn’t explicitly ask who had read the chapter – perhaps I could have carried out a short quiz based on the chapter, to see if anybody had indeed read it? I use PowerPoint in most of my lectures, but am conscious not to use too many slides – the phrase’death by PowerPoint’ springs to mind! I would like to explore the use of other technologies that I am learning about within the PGCAP such as webinars, clickers, blogs, wiki’s and so on. (K4)

In addition, Chrissi commented that I should have spent more time feeding back on the group activity to encourage the students, thus demonstrating appreciation to groups for the work they had done and providing some formative feedback. This is something I feel I am usually quite good at, and agree that I didn’t facilitate or provide as thorough feedback as I normally do, so shall be conscious in the future to try and ensure there is enough. (A3)

Jaques D and Salmon G (2007) 4th Edition Learning in Groups: A handbook for face-to-face and online environments: Routledge; Oxon.

Kember D (1997) A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptins of teaching Learning and Instruction 7 (3): 255-75 in Light and Cox (2001) Learning and Teaching in higher education: the reflective professional Sage; London.
Ramsden P (2005) 2nd edition Learning to teach in higher education; Routledge Falmer, Oxon.
Light and Cox (2001) Learning and Teaching in higher education: the reflective professional Sage; London.

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In memory of an inspiring young doctor who mused about life & death through her terminal cancer illness. Her husband, Chris now keeps the page updated.


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