Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 36, No. 1, 84–96, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this research was to examine students’ views on the value of their own and others’ prior experiences in the performance and completion of the tasks.
They were also asked about how prior experiences might affect the dynamic of the groups they worked in and what improvements might make the tasks more effective.
The participants were a group of 23 postgraduate student teachers enrolled on the Postgraduate Diploma of Education (PGDE) at the University of Glasgow.
They came from a wide variety of international backgrounds: 10 students were UK nationals, eight French, one Spaniard, one Italian, one Irish, one Venezuelan and one Mauritian.
All of the students had experience of the workplace, either through pursuing a previous career, or in temporary ‘student’ jobs.
The students were surveyed at the end of the first semester and subsequently, at the end of the second semester, seven students, approximately a third of the cohort, representative of the three main groupings within the class, were interviewed.
The findings revealed that prior experiences, particularly those related to practical skills, were valued by the students as contributory factors to the successful completion of collaborative tasks.
For instance, certain types of prior experience were regarded highly by the students.
Students who had previous experience working in schools were seen to have relevant, practical, up-to-date knowledge of the classroom and the characteristics of the learners at different levels.
Foreign students found the experiences of the students who learnt at the Scottish education system as very helpful with regard to developing understanding of the Scottish education system.
However, the students saw little value in the contributions to group discussions of the students who had sound theoretical knowledge.
Furthermore, some of the students’ prior experiences led them to take a less active role in the tasks, while others led students to appear highly opinionated.
For example, some students complained about a lack of direction within the groups.
Others, in groups where students were perceived to be less involved, adopted a management role in order to keep the group working together and ensure successful execution of the task.
The students were in agreement that there was a need for mutual respect and acceptance of others’ ideas in order to make the groups work effectively.
All the students saw the benefits of pre-determined groupings which were changed every week and the tasks themselves seemed to elicit approval as a bridge between the theory studied in the university and the practice within schools.
The findings will form the basis of subsequent organisation of the tasks with more initial input to the students into aspects of collaborative working from the tutors.
Specifically, more structured guidance will be provided to the students on the importance of the process of collaborative working.
Students continuously rated as contributing inadequately by others in their groups will be offered support and monitored closely.
Regarding the presentations in class, all students will be expected to have presented by the end of the second semester, either individually or as part of a group, taking lead and support roles, thus assisting them to develop presentation skills, vital for good communication in the classroom.
The findings of this study may be helpful to teacher educators in institutions who have not had the opportunity to offer collaborative working as part of teaching and learning up till now or to those who may be considering this type of learning.
Although students identified areas of conflict, it seemed that many had also developed strategies for ensuring that the tasks were completed successfully and the majority appeared to have developed a number of personal and professional skills which would be useful to them in the classroom as practitioners.