Small group discussion fulfils several important goals of higher education. It encourages students to organise their thinking by comparing ideas and interpretations with each other and to give expression, and hence form, to their understanding of a subject. It is therefore immensely important as a vehicle for learning. Small group discussion has extrinsic value too. There is an increasing need for professionals to demonstrate oral skills in committees and in more general communication with clients and colleagues. Cooperation and teamwork have become essential features of most work situations, as have skills in listening, drawing out information, and persuading. There are greater expectations of the graduates' ability to communicate and this is further underlined by the high standards set by radio and television which make for more critical audiences. But perhaps most importantly, small group discussion can or should give students the chance to monitor their own learning and thus gain a degree of self-direction and independence of the tutors, in their studies. All these purposes are of excellent pedigree. Yet often they are not realised to a satisfactory level and both tutors and students may end up with a sense of frustration.
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About Small Group Teaching
Small Group Teaching was original published in 1989 by the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University, UK. The paper was intended as a resource for teachers in higher education.
It was later made freely available online on the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development's website.
About the author
David Jaques was previously Head of the Educational Methods Unit at Oxford Brookes University, and then an independent consultant and trainer in academic staff development in higher education. He has been involved in the design and organisation of several conferences, most recently for the Society for the Advancement of Games and Simulations in Education and Training in the UK, the International Conference on Experiential Learning, and as a visiting trainer for the Soros Foundation in Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. He is author of the hugely successful book 'Learning in Groups', now in its forth edition.