Group Work in Science – How do you do it?

Elizabeth Deane, Sharon Fraser


From 1993–1997 the subject “Introductory Immunology” was delivered in “traditional” mode with 3 hours of lectures and 3 hours practical/tutorial classes per fortnight. However, it was believed that this structure provided little opportunity for students to develop as independent learners (Candy, Crebert and O’Leary, 1995), nor did it help them to develop the skills and attitudes that are essential in graduates such as critical analysis, problem solving, communication and working in teams (B/HERT, 1992; NBEET, 1992). Typically, students enrolled in this subject were used to a teacherled learning regime and not usually familiar with group learning as an educational technique and, although students worked in small groups (n=2 to 4) during laboratory sessions, the groups were often friendship partnerships and provided little opportunity for cooperative learning.

In 1997 we undertook an evaluation of the effectiveness of the existing delivery methodology, both from the viewpoint of the skills it aimed at developing and from the students’ perspective. In 1998 the subject structure was changed from its traditional presentation mode to group work, use of reflective journals and workshops. Student opinion was canvassed during this period with respect to their expectations, their concerns and their preference for particular learning modes.

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