Group projects in ecology foster a deep learning approach

Geoff MacFarlane


A third year offering in ecology at The University of Newcastle involved students working in small collaborative groups. Groups designed, conducted, interpreted and presented field-based projects addressing current ecological issues for local environmental management agencies. Communication and group/peer interaction was facilitated during the projects via face-to-face meetings, fieldwork, online group discussion forums and electronic file exchange facilities. Presentation of research findings was achieved via posters at a one-day symposium and an online virtual conference. Assessment of group projects was achieved via both inter and intra group peer assessment.

The activity has been designed based on Ramsden’s (1999) principles of a student-centred approach to learning which aims to create a learning context which fosters a ‘deep-approach’ to learning. Indicators of a deep approach to student learning include an intention to understand, focusing on the concepts applicable to solving problems, empowerment of students to take an active and independent role in their own learning experiences, relating previous knowledge to new knowledge and an internal or intrinsic motivational emphasis.

Student feedback via a questionnaire and a series of open-ended written responses suggested that when provided with an appropriate face-to-face and electronic collaborative learning environment, student experiences reflect characteristics of a deep learning approach.

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