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Vignette U1

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A student raising their hand in the class
Photo by Marcos Luiz on Unsplash

Vignette U1. Maher’s Story; How can I be sure that individual students have understood course content when the classroom focus is on group work? 

Maher is a Chemistry lecturer. During his classes he makes extensive use of group work to foster student collaboration and engagement with the subject matter. In his experience the students work well together and the group activities he proposes allow them to revise topics, and also to become aware of the fact that very often there are different perspectives and different answers to the same question. In these group sessions, students need to use their own judgment to decide whether their peers’ solutions to questions are accurate and valuable. However, here he reflects on the fact that when faced with a particularly challenging topic, he tends to abandon this approach, with lessons becoming more teacher-centred.  

Reflecting on his experiences, Maher says:

So, this was the fourth tutorial. And that one was where they have the concept that students always find quite difficult. So, it was more me talking and then questioning them individually, because it’s one of those concepts in chemistry where they get it or they don’t. So, sometimes, I guess it wasn’t a conscious decision, but I wanted them to think about it individually, rather than discuss it in their groups.


Maher decided to speak about this observation of his own teaching with his peer during a session of Intercultural Peer Observation (iPO), organised as part of the IntRef project. The two peers involved recorded their own teaching, shared the recordings, and then discussed them in a one-to-one synchronous virtual chat. 

What did his peer suggest?

Giada, an engineering professor, said:

I understand what you are saying here, but I think maybe there are various issues here. First of all, I don’t see that there’s a problem in having whole-class question and answer sessions, as long as these are planned in such a way as to really ascertain whether student understanding has taken place. For example, you, as the teacher, can try to get information about where there are possible gaps in students’ learning. But of course you have to be prepared to change direction on the basis of the students’ answers. At the same time, don’t underestimate the efficacy of group work. If you observe student interaction closely you can gain insight into how they are making meaning and arriving at understanding


Maher’s Reflections

Reflecting on his peer’s comments, Maher responded:

Yes, you are right. Our group question and answer sessions can be really fruitful. If well conducted, you can understand how students arrived at their answers, not just whether they got the right answer. But perhaps I should also work more on how I monitor group work so that I can try to understand how students make links between concepts, how they make sense of them. I suppose variety is always the best thing.  And I need to reflect and make notes on what is going on the classroom so I can try to understand the dynamic and unfolding nature of student learning.


Vignette 2. Xiaoxiao’s Story: What can I do to ensure that the classmates who are listening to students’ group presentations really get involved into the activity and do understand the link to the course material?