Each of us is a member of many different groups (Bennis & Shepherd, 1956). Before my social work course I had not really thought about all the different types of groups that exist as having a similar structure, and as going through similar processes, whether it be a group of professionals conferencing on a topic, a study group, a committee determining policy changes, or sporting group discussing next weeks strategy of play (Forsythe, 1990, 1998). Many of the groups that a person is a member of can impact greatly on their lives – either positively or negatively.
On reflection I can see how being placed into a group, instead of choosing one myself to be in one, would represent many group formations in the professional world. In the workforce people are often put into teams without having a choice. So it seems that becoming a member of a group without actively participating in the formation has some real world practicalities. Learning in small groups is very powerful. The development of trust and communication within a group is what leads to the creation of a "team" mentality. Collaborative learning has helped me to break down problems such as understanding a theory, and to look at it from different angles. I believe this has given me a much more comprehensive understanding of class materials.
Learning in a team was productive given the problem-based learning approach that we took in class. Active learning methods such as challenging ourselves by asking open-ended questions (i.e., those that cannot be answered just with a Yes/No); having a small group (less than 7) that allowed for deliberations that could be voted upon within a timely manner; and our teacher took on a 'facilitator" role to encourage us to discover our own solutions, as opposed to a "mug-and-jug" approach which would have set the teacher up as the "expert" there to "fill us with knowledge".
I found that I had to take much more responsibility for my learning experiences, and that I was accountable to the group to achieve the goals and tasks that were delegated to me. I can understand how the use of problem-based learning can enhance content knowledge and cultivate the creation of communication skills as well as those of solving dilemmas and problems and developing a sense of self-directed learning skill (c.f., Hendry, Lyon, Prosser, & Sze, 2006). I like the real world application of the process to solve problems encountered on a day-to-day basis.
Effectively changing roles with my teacher meant I had to take on much more responsibility in order to meet my education goals, and ironically I found this empowering and found myself more motivated to complete assignments. My sense of accomplishment was phenomenal as I achieved outcomes that at first seem like great mountains of problems. I expect this experience to enable me to continue a successful life of life-long learning.
Having problems that our team set ourselves drive our learning was a unique experience. Inquiry-based learning has greatly improved my learning experience as compared to the didactic system. I agree with Schmidt that, "PBL provides an environment in which students can draw upon prior knowledge, learn within the real-world context, and reinforce the knowledge through independent and small group work" (www.samdford.edu., 2006). I feel I have "learnt to learn" and look forward to using these cognitive problem-solving tools more in my life and education.
Bennis, W.G. & Shepherd, H.A. (1956) A theory of group development. Human Relations, 9, 415-437.
Forsyth, D.R. (1990, 1998) Group dynamics. Brooks/Cole Publishing: Pacific Grove.
Hendry, G.D., Lyon, PM, Prosser, M, & Sze, D. (2006) Conceptions of problem-based learning: The perspectives of students entering a problem-based medical program. Medical Teacher, 28(6), 573 – 575.
www.samford.edu (2006). Background of Problem-Based Learning. Retrieved January 8, 2008, from http://www.samford.edu/ctls/pbl_background.html