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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/918841
- The referential and structural conceptions of group work learning
Dempsey, Shane E.
- University of Newcastle. Faculty of Health, School of Health Sciences
- Research Doctorate - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
- The traditional context of learning in a University is that of a student engaged in learning and assessment as an individual learner (a solo learner), in a behaviorist model of teacher centered instruction. Most of the educational research undertaken which reviews students’ conceptions of learning and the qualitative outcomes of learning, has been undertaken in the solo learner context, in a direct instruction model of teaching. In the mid-1980s Australian workplaces identified the need for graduates to have a wide range of skills which made them highly adaptable to the modern workplace. These skills included those associated with working in teams. By the late 1990s Australian universities were introducing group work learning as a way to provide graduates with an experience in collaborative learning and social constructivist learning contexts. However, little research has been conducted that identifies the learning outcomes of group work learning. The research reported in this thesis is undertaken entirely in the context of group work learning. Two studies were undertaken to explore the conceptions of group work learning, and the qualitative and quantitative analysis of the structural elements of group work learning, held by Medical Radiation Science students working in collaborative teams over an extended period of time. Study 1 was a longitudinal study (1997-2002) where students, on completion of a 10 week group work learning poster development research task, responded to an open ended short answer questionnaire which asked them to identify their three most important learning outcomes as a result of undertaking the group work learning task. The topic of the group work research task was self selected by the student groups based on their mutual shared interest for the topic of study in an attempt to engage their intellectual curiosity about their academic and professional world. The questionnaire in study 1 was analysed for the conceptions of group work learning held by students, and the associated structural elements (content) of their group work learning, as described by their responses to the questionnaire. The questionnaire was undertaken on completion of the group work task, so that students could reflect on the entire learning process associated with the task. There were 328 students enrolled and eligible to complete the group work task during 1997-2002. In total 276 questionnaires containing 818 written responses were analysed in study 1. Study 2 was a prospective study, conducted in 2008, which used a forced choice questionnaire developed entirely from the outcomes of study 1. The questionnaire required students to nominate from the list of learning outcomes the three most import things they learned in completing the group work task. Study 2 allowed the qualitatively described conception constructs uncovered in study 1 to be tested in a prospective close ended questionnaire format. In 2008 there were a range of changes made to the group work task: these changes included reducing the time period to complete the task to 6 weeks, and loss of freedom to select the topic. Study 2 therefore allowed the research to compare any possible changes in the priorities of group work learning for students, from study 1 to study 2, when changes to the poster task were made. There were 148 students were enrolled and eligible to complete the group work task in 2008. In total 97 questionnaires containing 291 responses were analysed in study 2. The analysis of the responses to the questionnaire in study 1 identified four conceptions of group work learning held by students. One of the conceptions was similar to conceptions of learning identified in solo learning contexts, and is associated with an ‘acquiring facts’ approach to learning, a surface level learning construct. The other three conceptions, ‘developing meaningful interpretations’, ‘negotiating social structures’, and ‘recognising expertise and creativity’ are associated with deep and meaningful learning outcomes and are strongly associated with both the process and outcomes of the social constructivist leaning environment that students engaged in to complete the task. Two of the conceptions have not been formally reported previously. In terms of the analysis of the content of what students learned (structural elements of learning), five major categories of description emerged of which collaboration in learning (characterised by 5 sub-descriptions) was overwhelmingly the largest content learned. Study 1 also allowed for the analysis of the interest orientations of the students in undertaking their research project, as the topic of the task was driven by selected research group work project topic. This analysis demonstrated that students in different strands of the Medical Radiation Science professional programs (Diagnostic Radiography, Nuclear Medicine and Radiation Therapy), even with a large shared amount of academic content, develop interest orientations in line with a clinical profile of the professional degree they are enrolled in and which are significantly different from the other programs. Study 2 identified that reducing the time to participate and complete the group work task, and removing the students’ interest based choice of topic, to study to one which was selected for them, resulted in a change of learning priorities from study 1. In study 2, students indicated that they were more focussed on researching to get information to complete the project on time, and on learning about the topic, than they did in study 1. While collaboration in learning was still the number one structural element of learning its priority as a focus for group work learning was significantly reduced from study 1. The results indicate that group work learning is a powerful learning environment whichcan provide learning outcomes that have been previously unidentified, and possiblyunachievable, in the solo learning environment. The outcomes of group work learning are strongly associated with those graduate attributes identified as important in themodern Australian workplace.
- University of Newcastle Research Higher Degree Thesis
conception of learning;
- Resource Type
- Copyright 2011 Shane Edward Dempsey