Students’ accounts of their participation in an intensive long-term learning community

Eteläpelto, A.; Littleton, K.; Lahti, J. and Wirtanen, S. (2005). Students’ accounts of their participation in an intensive long-term learning community. International Journal of Educational Research, 43(3) pp. 183–207.



Collaborative learning environments have been analysed extensively, yet we know relatively little about how students experience their participation in long-term learning communities where learners work together over extended periods of time. This study aims to understand pre-service teacher–students’ experiences and accounts of their participation in a university-based long-term learning community. The study investigates issues of change and stability, with respect to the students’ perceptions of participation over the first 2 years of their work within the learning community. The study also addresses the relations between the students’ accounts of participation and their learning experiences in terms of ‘teachership’. A teacher–trainee group of nine students, who had studied for 3 years within a Masters level teacher education programme which had adopted an intensive community-based approach, individually appraised their participation and learning within the programme. Using empirical data derived from the learners’ own evaluations of their learning experiences, the study draws on the accounts given by students concerning their orientations to and positions within the learning community. Videotaped recordings of some of the student's seminars were used as resources to support the giving of appraisals using questionnaires which contained both closed- and open-ended questions. Results showed that the students’ qualitative accounts of their participation revealed great differences in their orientations to group activities. Considerable differences in orientations could be found with respect to: students’ relation to power; to socio-emotional involvement; to the degree of participation; to the subject-matter and to theoretical interests. These were related to the quantitatively evaluated level of participation. Based on the analysis of students’ perceived trajectories of participation over 2 years, three qualitatively different trajectories could be identified: highly involved participation, increased participation and decreased or marginal participation. A comparison of the perceived learning experiences arising from these different kinds of participation revealed considerable diversity in the students’ major learning objectives and in the social and affective aspects of their learning. The most impressive and comprehensive learning took place among those reporting increased participation. For those reporting highly involved participation, the group functioned first and foremost as a source of motivation. However, those group-members who reported decreased and marginal participation found the learning experience to be emotionally and affectively very negative. The results suggest that if students cannot have an active participatory role in the community, they are in danger of being marginalized and this in turn has consequences for learning.

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