The pedagogical focus(es) of the case study and its/their rationale(s):
Aim for cycle 2 was student led and student directed as in cycle 1 this was predominantly decided by the tutors choosing to focus on their teaching.
Students were interested in the manner in which group dynamics and social interaction impacted on the learning that takes place during scheduled session. They were interested in the manner in which perceived fragmenting of friendship groups impacted on the success of sessions with respect to understanding.
Summary of Cycle 2 experience:
Two sessions were planned. Nick White (NW) delivered a more traditional ‘lecture’ focussing on the anatomy of the head and neck region, whilst Mark Holland (MH) delivered taught workshops which were student led but tutor guided (preparation for individual presentation work). Students acted as observers for both sessions (as did the tutors), although Katie Winfield (KW) was absent for the second Workshop.
We followed the observation model of pre-observation planning, the observation, then reflective meeting. Students acted independently within the workshops but met for reflective conversation and compared their observations thereafter.
A total of three sessions were observed. Each session comprised of tutor-tutor peer observation and two students also observing the session. In this cycle it was more clearly witnessed that the students were more clearly observing their peers and trying to assess learning.
After each session the student observers discussed their notes/observations as did the tutors.
Overall the dynamic between students and tutors was relaxed and collegiate. We feel this is not likely to always be the case. The success of this process has resulted from pre-existing strong relationship between the students and tutors. It would be interesting to see what would have happened if we a) had students were did not know and b) groups in which students were unfamiliarly worth their peers.
MH and NW described ‘no problems’ with respect to being observed and that they felt they did not behave differently although aware of both student and peer observation taking place.
This did not marry up with the students experiences who described difficulty with concentrating on their work/activity whilst acting as observers. As tutors it was clear that they were busy trying to observe and they were clearly distracted by the process. (within the lecture in particular)
Timetabling pressures and staff/student availability according to the programme design has been problematic. On courses such as ours more than half of learning takes place in practice. Obviously the observation process only addresses university- based activities.
We felt as tutors that the observation succeeds if students are 100% tied into the process- financial incentives to work as co-researchers should not be the principal motivating factor to participate. Our partners in cycle 2 were well motivated and helpful although a change of personnel was necessary between cycle 1 and 2. The success of the observation cycle depends on individual motivations.
Summary of Cycle 2 joint learning between staff and students:
Overall this cycle has helped us explore the effect that group dynamic has on the success of teaching and learning. Students reported keenly that this was an important aspect of their learning and that they felt tutors should be always aware of the effect of group dynamics. Students described a period of ‘working out’ what other students were about with respect to understanding, and described some worries about the effect of a very mixed ability range. Students described that a complex social and educational background leads to loss of cohesion within the group and this might prejudice the impact of learning. Students described searching for ‘students like me’ within the peer group.
As tutors its clear we need to be more mindful of this phenomenon as we underestimated the impact of this that arose from the observation process. Widening access and the range of students we meet leads to some very complicated social interaction within groups and clearly affects success particularly as we have predominately small groups.
Implication(s) of your cycle 2 experience on your teaching and learning (for staff members):
Never to assume all groups will be as successful as others.
Arranging groups for workshops may back fire and may actually hinder learning. We are more minded to let students self-allocate.
There may be some merit in allowing students to self-select. Stronger students are floundering where teaching and learning takes place at the pace of the students who are finding difficulties. This is a difficult situation as a more effective approach might be to allocate groups according to ability- were worried this isn’t particularly ethical.
We are more aware the subtle effects of social interaction within small group teaching. We have learnt to assume nothing! There is scope to reconsider how workshop teaching is organised from a practical sense.
We have highlighted the importance of understanding our students as individuals and getting to know them.
Reinforcement that where there are difficulties in delivering and learnring, students are often sensitive to barriers to learning along the same lines as tutors.
Students are very good at judging their own learning against that witnessed in their peer groups. They have described a range of styles amongst their peers and are critical of themselves using other students perceived success as measuring stick.