Introduction of group learning in the second year laboratory

Justin Dinale, a second year student, adjusts the apparatus he constructed to observe sonoluminesence. This is a phenomenon whereby small bubbles in water can emit blue light when a strong acoustic field causes them to rapidly expand and contract.

During 2002 study was made of how some aspects of student learning were affected when students performed their undergraduate laboratory experiments as a group rather than individually. The approach involved selecting students at random to perform experiments in groups ranging from 1 to 5 students in their usual second year laboratory class. A simple assessment task some weeks later provided a score that could be used as an objective indicator of their performance.

A survey taken at the completion of each experiment indicated that the majority of students (85%) preferred working in a group and felt that it had improved their learning. The interesting feature was the absence of any statistically significant difference between the average scores or individual scores obtained by students working individually or in groups of 2 to 5. The results also suggested that student assessment of some aspects of their own learning is not necessarily reliable.

During 2002 a team project that involved a hypothetical consultancy with an industry client was also introduced. Students formed teams of their own choice containing 3 or 4 students, and selected one from a list of four open-ended projects. They were required to design and then carry out all the necessary experiments. Towards the end of the course (about eight weeks later) they gave a team presentation to the class and wrote a team report. This team project was ranked highly by most students.

John Smith


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