Enabling inclusive group work

McPherson, Elaine; Collins, Trevor and Gallen, Anne-Marie (2019). Enabling inclusive group work. In: Proceedings of the 12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (ICERI 2019), IATED.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21125/iceri.2019

URL: https://library.iated.org/publications/ICERI2019


Group and team work promote key employability skills, required by many degree accrediting bodies, and are viewed as active and authentic ways of learning, supporting the construction of knowledge among peers. However, managing expectations, group dynamics, and assessing group and individual contributions is challenging. Group work approaches that consider diversity and promote equitable participation by all students, enhance the culture of the learning environment and are more likely to lead to productive group interactions. Here, we focus on the development of guidance on inclusive teaching and learning for university lecturers and students involved in group work (both face-to-face and online), as part of an anticipatory approach for including students with disabilities.

A collaborative approach with a range of stakeholders across our institution was taken to scope and iteratively develop a set of guidance materials. Initial discussions involving students with disabilities from different disciplines identified a set of issues and some recommendations. Interviews conducted with relevant staff corroborated and extended these ideas, which were used as a basis for developing professional development resources for staff leading group work activities. The resources developed were then trialled and refined based on staff feedback.

The student focus group and staff interview findings were then reviewed to refocus on issues relevant to the design of group work activities. The findings provided a basis for critically reviewing the group work activities with the designers of a recently developed module, and to make recommendations for the designers creating group work activities for a new module. This process of working with academics to review and inform group work designs, is currently being abstracted to produce recommendations for group work designers. A further iteration with students is also underway to extend guidance materials for students working in groups, to raise awareness of student diversity and approaches to accommodate students with disabilities.

Engaging stakeholders in the iterative development of guidance for inclusive group work has revealed issues but also offered solutions. For example, students identified the benefits of having information in advance to help reduce anxiety and allow them to plan (e.g. for extra study time). Students also noted that how group work is initiated affects the extent to which they feel included throughout the activities. It became clear that leaders have a specific role in setting the tone and expectations for the group (e.g. the need to be considerate and respectful of each student) and then modelling the desired behaviour.

Aspects of module design that were determined as being essential for inclusive group work included the choice of tools for communicating; scheduling enough time for reading and thinking; establishing a range of roles and agreeing tasks within the group (e.g. data gatherer); and designing contingencies into tasks that minimise the impact of delays or inconsistent contributions. Setting the context of group work is also important, so that students understand what skills are being developed and how they are authentic in relation to the discipline. In this presentation we will share the resources developed and processes used to create them, with the aim that they may be valuable to other institutions or adapted for other institutional contexts.

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