Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 107
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this paper, the authors report from an intervention study, in which they applied teamwork pedagogies to facilitate student teachers' collaboration skills.
The authors ask: to what extent and how can team-skills training and real-time facilitation stimulate group processing and students' ability to articulate collaboration?
They compared three cohorts of students who carried out the same group task at different levels of intervention.
In this study, the authors argue that being able to articulate collaboration is a collaborative skill, and they explore whether and how team-skills training and real-time facilitation can contribute to the development of this skill.
Context of the study
The study was conducted with students from two different teacher education programs at a Norwegian university:
a five-year master's program in which teacher education and disciplinary studies were integrated and a one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
The overall content and expected learning outcome of the programs are the same, following the National curriculum for teacher education in Norway.
For one semester, students from these two programs meet and follow the same courses, however with slightly different time schedule and dedicated teaching staff.
A major element in this semester is a group-based project, which has been a part of both teacher education programs since 2007.
In this project, the students are placed in groups and are expected to define a “research question” that can be explored during their school practicum.
The groups are composed following two criteria:
1) mixing students from different disciplines and
2) including students placed at the same school.
Depending on how these criteria can be met, the group size varies from 4 to 6 students.
Each group is assigned a supervisor (a teacher within the teacher education program).
The role of this supervisor is to guide the students in their work from defining the topic to collecting data and writing up the results, and also to support the collaborative processes.
The students are assessed as a group, and the assessment is based upon two group reports:
a “traditional” academic project report describing their project and a process report describing their collaboration.
In the process report, the student groups select situations from their group work and discuss them in the context of relevant group dynamic theory.
The aim of the process report is that the students should become aware of the group's dynamics and themselves as group members, for example in terms of roles in the group, levels of contribution, and decision making.
In the process report, they should not only be able to identify what happened in the group but should also reflect on which actions were helpful and unhelpful and thereby be able to transfer this knowledge to new group compositions in their own future classrooms.
The students should therefore, in light of the previous description of desired learning outcomes related to collaboration, gain insight into their own behavior patterns and those of others, as well as be able to analyze and reflect on their teamwork.
The intervention included three different groups of students, here referred to as Cohort 1 (A and B) and 2.
Cohort 1 included 116 students from the five-year program, while Cohort 2 consisted of 141 students from the PGCE program.
To keep the intervention manageable and to take advantage of the possibility to evaluate the intervention with a control group, Cohort 1 was chosen for the intervention and Cohort 2 as control group.
Cohort 1 was in turn divided into two sub-cohorts 1A and 1B, being subject to two different levels of intervention.
The intervention consisted of two main components:
1) team-skills training (1A and 1B) and
2) “real-time” facilitation (1A).
The team-skills training consisted of lectures on the theory of group dynamics, as well as activities that allowed the students to practice different tools for group processing and reflection on collaboration.
Team-skills training included one lecture and three seminars.
The real-time facilitation was done only with cohort 1A, consisting of seven groups. Instead of participating in the third seminar, the groups were observed and facilitated during three group work sessions during the semester.
The facilitators had been trained to observe groups, share observations with the group, and ask open-ended questions.
The open-ended questions were designed to encourage the groups to talk about these observations and react by changing their behavior if the group deemed this necessary.
The students in cohort 2 were given the same type of group-based project and assessment criteria as cohort 1.
They were offered the same literature and the first lecture on group dynamic theory.
However, they did not participate in the seminars or have facilitated group work sessions.
A mixed-methods design was employed, using a combination of sequential explanatory design and convergent parallel design.
A sequential explanatory design is characterized by a first phase of quantitative data collection and analysis, followed by a second qualitative phase that aims to explain, or elaborate on, the quantitative results (Ivankova et al., 2006).
Parallel convergent design occurs when qualitative and quantitative data are collected and analyzed within the same timeframe and kept as independent strands during analysis (Creswell & Clark, 2011).
In this study, the quantitative and qualitative data were collected within the same period, which implies a convergent design.
However, the analysis of the quantitative data was conducted first and informed the analysis of the qualitative data (as in explanatory design).
As the authors’ purpose was to understand how to support students' learning of collaboration, priority was given to the students’ experiences and thus to the qualitative data.
Results and discussion
The aim of the intervention in this study was to develop students' ability to articulate and learn from collaboration.
The overall findings show that the intervention seemed to have had a good effect on the students' insight into their own behavior patterns in a group and on stimulating group processing.
By exploring the students’ experiences, the authors also identified some structures that can explain how and why the intervention might have had this effect.
In addition to the structures identified directly from the data, the overall task design might also have been an enabling structure.
The authors paid particular attention to the main objective when designing the intervention: students should learn how to collaborate and support should be introduced to structure group interaction (cf. De Hei et al., 2016; Webb, 2009).
Talking about and discussing group dynamics can be uncomfortable.
Many researchers have therefore emphasized the importance of explicitly training students in giving and receiving feedback (e.g. De Hei et al., 2015; Fransen et al., 2011; Naykki et al., 2017; Webb, 2009). Lockhorst et al. (2010) emphasized the importance of a safe environment when training collaborative skills.
The students in this study were provided with the tools needed to support group functioning and to stimulate reflection on collaboration through team-skills training and facilitated group work sessions.
The students were encouraged to use this opportunity to learn more about themselves in a group and to experiment and challenge previous patterns or habits.
The task design therefore created opportunities for the students to develop their collaboration skills in a safe environment.
The quote from the student who challenged herself to take a leadership role shows that the learning environment enabled her to do this.
The questionnaire revealed significant differences between the students who were part of the intervention and those who were not.
The findings are thus in line with other research on the impact of team-skills training on students' learning outcome (e.g. Kutnick & Berdondini, 2009; Prichard et al., 2006).
It was not, however, conclusive on differences between cohort 1A and 1B, nor therefore on the differences between the combination of team-skills training and real-time facilitation and providing just team-skills training.
The intervention stimulated group processing in both 1A and 1B.
The findings, however, indicate that the effect was greater for cohort 1A who was subject to real-time facilitation.
The presence of a facilitator stimulated group processing and therefore gave the students more opportunities to talk about collaboration and to think about their assumptions and behavior (cf. Kaner, 2007).
According to the participants, the students only talked about collaboration when prompted by the facilitator.
For cohort 1B, this opportunity was only in the seminars.
This supports the findings of Fransen et al.’s (2011) study that students are pragmatic and are primarily focused on the task.
The analysis also revealed that the students who were facilitated real-time were more specific about what they had learned about their own behavior patterns than the students who only had team-skills training.
Cohort 1B participants, even though they were asked to be specific, only described learning in general terms.
Cohort 1A was, in other words, better at articulating what they learned, in particular what they had learned from receiving feedback.
The presence of facilitators was important.
It was, however, also challenging for most of the groups, as illustrated by the excerpt from the cohort 1A focus group.
The students struggled to understand the role of the facilitators and were frustrated when facilitators returned their questions instead of answering them or providing solutions.
One reason for this frustration might be that the facilitators had not been able to explain their role and the intention behind their practice.
Another reason could be that the students were unfamiliar with the practice of primarily asking open-ended questions, both from schools and from university.
The students had previous experience with group work.
However, many university students are the product of a traditional school culture (i.e. a traditional teacher-led approach), even when working in groups (Makitalo-Siegl et al., 2011 ).
The findings of this paper raise the question of whether group facilitation needs to be carried out by a teacher or whether “observing and mirroring” is the important aspect. Kaner (2007) defines a facilitator as a content-neutral party.
This opens up the possibility of using students as resources and providing opportunities for students to be trained in observation.
Collaboration is a key competence in most workplaces, including schools.
A focus on collaboration in teacher education should contribute to students increasing their insight and collaboration skills whilst in training, in their professional development as teachers, and ultimately for the next generation of learners.
Triggering change in schools requires that student teachers learn how to adapt to new learning cultures and to new teacher roles whilst being students (Hakkinen et al., 2017). In this paper the authors have argued the importance of an explicit emphasis on collaboration skills and group dynamics in achieving multi-fold long term effects.
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Hakkinen, P., J € € arvela, S., M € akitalo-Siegl, K., Ahonen, A., N € € aykki, P., & Valtonen, T. (2017). Preparing teacher-students for twenty-first-century learning practices (PREP 21): A framework for enhancing collaborative problem-solving and strategic learning skills. Teachers and Teaching, 23(1), 25-41.
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Webb, N. M. (2009). The teacher's role in promoting collaborative dialogue in the classroom. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(1), 1-28.