Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

From Group-Based Learning to Cooperative Learning: A Metacognitive Approach to Project-Based Group Supervision

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

From Group-Based Learning to Cooperative Learning: A Metacognitive Approach to Project-Based Group Supervision

Article excerpt

Introduction

Information systems professionals are often involved in handling large and complex tasks, such as requirements gathering, analysis, design, implementation, testing, and deployment of software systems, which cannot be addressed individually. In such circumstances, soft skills related to group work (also referred to as people or generic skills), such as communication, collaboration, organization, decision-making, conflict resolution, leadership, social, and critical thinking skills, are important. These skills are difficult to impart to students through teaching material alone. Students should be provided with the opportunity to practice group work skills in a learning environment that simulates that of their future work places. Furthermore, it is important to assess the students' performance in relation to the group in a manner that encourages desirable skill development.

Although there are a number of advantages associated with group work, in particular the development of the aforementioned skills, group work can be difficult to teach and assess. One of the most prominent issues is unequal contribution of group members. Less motivated students have the tendency to let more motivated students drive the group and carry out most of the work. This leads to a subset of the group developing and learning substantially more than others.

From a teaching and learning perspective, it is important to firstly structure group tasks and assessment strategies to address such issues. That is, group tasks and assessments strategies should be designed such that industry group work is replicated in a learning environment in which students are able to practice their group work skills and are appropriately and fairly assessed. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is necessary to ensure students are developing desirable group work skills and attitudes.

From an informing perspective, of which education is a subset, there is an obvious flow of information from the educator (i.e., the "informer") to the learner (i.e., the "client"). However, a perhaps less obvious flow is that of student-to-student (or peer-to-peer). Although this type of information flow does exist informally between students, it is particularly emphasized in, and plays and important part of, group-work. Thus, it is important to understand its part in group work and also how to use it to further ensure students are developing desirable group work skills and attitudes.

In this paper, exploratory work in developing an approach to group-based learning (i.e., group work) in an undergraduate final year information systems capstone course is explained and analyzed. The capstone course is so named as it is an integrative course in which students apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired throughout the duration of their studies to an assigned real-world project.

Students undertaking the capstone course are divided into groups of six and each group is assigned a real-world, industry-based, and non-mission critical project to complete. Groups are also assigned an academic supervisor to guide them through the software development life cycle to complete the project. The intent of the course is for students to consolidate their previously acquired experience, skills, and knowledge throughout the program, and to work as a group to complete a real-world project for an industry-based client. In this regard, the course can be seen as a final test of readiness for the students.

The course structure and assessment are suitable for group-based learning, which is favourable as it develops social interactions skills, allows for management of conflict resolution in a supportive environment, and creates strong social support systems (D'Souza & Wood, 2003). However, simply placing students into groups or creating group-based assessment tasks will not necessarily result in students developing these skills (Hron & Friedrich, 2003). …

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