Author(s): Minna Lakkala
Affiliation(s): University of Helsinki
Date of publication: March 24, 2015
The Educational Problem
The reason for implementing group work, project work and collaborative writing task in educational settings are twofold. First, such ways of working are proven to be more effective for learning the content under study than students’ passive knowledge acquisition from books or lectures. Second, through participating in such practices, students are expected to learn skills and competencies required in these ways of working, such as social and collaboration skills, critical thinking, knowledge management and production skills. However, many students do not succeed very well in group work or progress expectedly in finalizing their products, and teachers lose their faith in the power and benefits of these working methods. The reason usually is that students are left too much alone in managing the new ways of working; they have to learn the critical skills spontaneously or through trial and error.
Therefore, it is not enough just to make students work in the new way, but they need good models and instructions from the teacher as well as time and repeated opportunities to practice the new skills, so that they can learn the complex skills gradually through multiple experiences and constructive feedback. Here are some examples of pedagogical solutions for supporting that:
- Give students first a smaller and less challenging exercise for practicing new skills before they have to be able to use the skills in a challenging, real course task: e.g. make students produce a small text from a limited topic in groups before they are engaged in a more long-term and challenging group production process (writing concept definitions in wiki before producing longer wiki articles about open-ended questions or themes); or make students give peer-feedback first in pairs, before they have to do it in bigger groups or publicly.
- Include repeated opportunities for practicing the central skills also inside one course or study unit. For instance, instead of one large inquiry or project work assignment that lasts the whole course, the course could consist of several smaller inquiry or project tasks, where the whole working cycle is repeated multiple times (e.g. weekly or bi-weekly). Similarly, instead of having peer-commenting only in the final presentation phase of the process, it can be included in every meeting or every phase so that it becomes a routine practice and gives students regular feedback from their work, without burdening the teacher to much.
The solutions can be applied in any educational context, but the duration of the course or study unit should be long enough so that there is enough time for repeated practicing. This type of repeated practice is useful and beneficial especially in introductory courses or basic studies where the students are introduced to the new working practices for the first times.