Groupwork and introverts

I really enjoyed this presentation on TED, particularly this line: “… the transcendent power of solitude“. Being an introvert doesn’t mean someone who is shy or reluctant to engage with others. It describes a person who has a tendency to turn inward mentally, feeling more energized by time spent alone.

As teachers who are preparing students to work as part of health care teams, I think that we have a tendency to emphasise group work as part of our undergraduate modules. But it’s also important to acknowledge that solitary work has its place, and to accommodate in our lesson designs the students who don’t draw their energy from working with others.

Being an introvert myself, I have some empathy with how it feels to be made to work with others. I much prefer to work by myself on most tasks, even though I know that collaboration and diversity of perspective are powerful tools for learning. It’s odd that I never thought about this when designing group activities for my students. Recently however, I changed track, offering students the opportunity to work together, but on individual assignments.

As part of the ethics module that I teach I’ve had students complete various short reflective writing assignments and then sharing their ideas in small groups. They don’t need to read everything that others in the group have written; maybe just share the main ideas, evidence supporting their claims and conclusions. Others in the group give constructive feedback that helps the student develop their ideas and refine their arguments. They then work individually again in order to finalise their writing before submitting it to me.

This gives them the space to work as individuals and to get their own ideas onto paper but also creates a process where they can get different perspectives on their work, helping them to clarify ideas and arguments. I want them to feel comfortable discussing ideas with others but also to make sure that they have the cognitive space and freedom to try out their ideas first before sharing with others. It also means that they are not obliged to share everything with others in the group, and that the student controls how much of themselves they are open to sharing.

Posted to Diigo 05/22/2012

    • Mark Elliott writes about stigmergic collaboration and the evolution of group work
    • Pierre-Paul Grasse first coined the term stigmergy in the 1950s in conjunction with his research on termites. Grasse showed that a particular configuration of a termite’s environment (as in the case of building and maintaining a nest) triggered a response in a termite to modify its environment, with the resulting modification in turn stimulating the response of the original or a second worker to further transform its environment. Thus the regulation and coordination of the building and maintaining of a nest was dependent upon stimulation provided by the nest, as opposed to an inherent knowledge of nest building on the individual termite’s part. A highly complex nest simply self-organises due to the collective input of large numbers of individual termites performing extraordinarily simple actions in response to their local environment.
    • So, we are talking about actors in a social environment (termites, in this case) configuring their environment in response to their environment, collectively building a nest not due to any inherent knowledge of how to build the thing, but rather from a modification to their environment at a granular, personalized level
      • Collaboration is dependent upon communication, and communication is a network phenomenon.
      • Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation and creative output.
      • Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
      • Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is enabled by stigmergy.
    • As stigmergy is a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment, it is a logical extension to apply the term to many types (if not all) of Web-based communication, especially media such as the wiki.
    • The concept of stigmergy therefore provides an intuitive and easy-to-grasp theory for helping understand how disparate, distributed, ad hoc contributions could lead to the emergence of the largest collaborative enterprises the world has seen.

Posted to Diigo 08/21/2011

    • “ ‘Thunks’ are deceptively tricky little questions that ‘make your brain go ouch!’

      Ian’s examples of ‘Thunks’ include:

      • ‘Is a broken down car parked?’
      • ‘If you read a newspaper in the newsagents without paying for it, is it stealing?’
      • ‘Do all polo’s taste the same?’
      • ‘Can you be proud of someone you have never met?’
      • ‘Is a hole a thing?’
    • Active Learning-I ask students to use their prior experiences (interests, hobbies, coursework) in a service learning project for my class, using what they know, and connections they have been able to make, to benefit others. They propose their own projects.


      This idea has all 5 components:
      a. Incorporating peer feedback into a course.
      b. By giving students the opportunity to learn how to give feedback to classmates’ works-in-progress, this motivates students to perform at the same or higher level or their peers in a non-threatening way.
      c. It is also an activity which reinforces learning of the subject matter (active & challenging).
      d. It can create a sense of support and community because the students are helping each other improve their own works (and grades!)
      e. And peer feedback allows students to gain an appreciation for classmates’ efforts and a glimpse of the instructor or professor’s role.

    • When students are stressed by the lesson, find a way to show how you (the teacher) messed up learning the topic
    • First day of class: When introducing class & trying to establish rapport, have the students say where they see themselves in 3 to 5 years
    • I give several smaller “low-risk” assignments in addition to “high-risk” mid-terms and finals
    • Share with my students some of my personal stories as a student, my stories and failures
    • I teach a 3rd year/level class and on the first day of a particular subject, in this case hydraulics, I give them an exam of what they should know from 1st year. I eventually let them take it home to complete it on their own
    • review some student work in class in front of the class, inviting student input. It challenges many students to work harder on their own work
    • I give an exam which I grade and return as soon as feasible to the students. I identify the learning outcomes that most students missed and offer students another test that focuses ONLY on those learning outcomes using different test items. They know they have a chance to improve their exam grades with the subsequent test score.

    • apply newly acquired knowledge to themselves or someone they are familiar with
    • In many sciences, students are concerned about memorizing information (ex. Periodic Table). I tell them that we never used to memorize an atlas, but we learn how to use it as a tool/reference
    • At the end of each lecture topic, students hand it a slip of paper with two items: “Got it”-what they understood and “don’t get it”-what they don’t understand. Once a week, results are posted on Moodle and explanations given for the “don’t get it” items
    • Collaborative learning: I found that students learn better and smooth out their rough edges when they combine conflicting analysis to produce a bounded unit of learning
    • When composing homework assignments, I combine questions of varying difficulty. I ultimately include a problem or two beyond the difficulty required for my course and offer extra credit for solving these problems. The number of students that choose to step up to the challenge is so incredibly refreshing and motivating
    • Have students take responsibility for their learning by applying lesson concepts to their occupations, field of expertise, and personal experience
    • The student gets to choose a topic they feel they could teach the class (for 15 minutes), they become the expert with certain guidelines to follow. Motivation—they are the “star” for 15 minutes. Active learning—they research. Task—they choose the topic. Community—they all practice with each other to get feedback before their 15 minute presentation. Holistic—they learn all types of things; respect, confidence, professionalism, body language, etc.
    • In a writing course, students receive each others drafts throughout the semester and one by one the whole class peer reviews the drafts. Students learn from other student papers and gain critical feedback on their own paper. In other words, every paper is read by every student, and every student must provide feedback.
    • Start each class with a “hook”—something that is contextual and related to the day’s concepts—provides relevancy and captures interest and involvement
    • I engage students to choose a concept from the course and teach a segment of the class.
    • Take students’ pictures 1st day of class and memorize their names. Call students by name from the 2nd class on. Use their names frequently. This instills community and aids in engagement because students cannot hide
    • Allow students to text you with questions
    • I am a student—I am tired (flight came in late). I am hungry (I missed lunch), I can’t concentrate (my daughter keeps texting me). How will you engage me? Tell me a story, a story with characters facing shocking/new or interesting challenges. Then ask me about it, allowing me to be a little grumpy, but encouraging me to continue to participate and reward my efforts. I will cheer up and feel transformed by your class session
    • “Self-correcting exams”: Students are able to alter test answers after the fact—through additional research/working with other students—and resubmit exam responses for additional partial credit.
      • Can the Ethics oral exam use a similar approach? After the exam students go and write a short reflective essay on what was discussed during the exam?
    • Clarify how knowledge that is being taught is important to students’ future work and/or life. Students will value only what they believe they need to know and will use in work/life
    • Problem based learning in groups. Assigning a facilitator in the group and then pick an idea that there isn’t a right answer. You can use concept mapping. First, students present the problem. Second, they find resources and list them. Third, they investigate solutions to the problem and list them. Fourth, they identify the three best solutions. Last, they pick the best one and provide the reason
    • I ask my students (every week), why are you here? I note week one and compare it with the final week. Typical observation: growing ambition.

    • Motivation and Value: I get my students to stop thinking like a student, rather think like a teacher (or a professional in their field) to see the value of the activities and assignments in the course
    • People respond to genuine concern for their well-being
    • Active Learning: I occasionally divide the assigned chapter up among the students, and give everyone 10 minutes to come up with a 1 minute presentation to the class. The students have at least read a few pages, and they talk to each other instead of listening to me
    • When a student engages in course dialogue, I write a note thanking them as their classmates and I enjoyed their participation and how important their questions and comments are to educators and their students. I also include that I hope they continue to share in all courses. This helps encourage participation, especially from those who seldom do
    • Recognize and sustain the “cool” in everyone and challenge the students to move from “pretend cool” to “cool.”
    • Remove fear/anxiety and increase expectations of success by: allowing students to redo/resubmit work or problems for regarding/assessment. They work and learn from their mistakes, but are not punished for their mistakes.
    • Living Concept Maps: During a case study, have the students in groups of 4-5, actively create a concept map as the case study is unfolding—adapting and changing it as new data becomes available. At the end, share the concept maps and see how different/similar they are and explore those.
    • the selection and use of technologies for teaching and learning is driven as much by context and values and beliefs as by hard scientific evidence or rigorous theory
    • There are deep philosophical, technical and pragmatic challenges in trying to provide a model or set of models flexible but practical enough to handle the huge range of factors involved
    • theories and beliefs about education will influence strongly the choice and use of different technologies
    • it is a mistake to focus solely on the educational characteristics of technologies. There are social, organizational, cost and accessibility issues also to be considered
    • what is best done face-to-face and what online, and in what contexts? What is the role of the human teacher, and can/should/will he/she be replaced by technology?

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