Collaborative learner biographies: Or, discovering you had created a project-based learning task without realizing it

Year: 2012

Author: Saltmarsh, David

Type of paper: Refereed paper


The purpose of this paper is to report on an assessment task designed to provoke pre-service teacher education students to recollect and share experiences of what enabled and frustrated their learning. The assumption underpinning the creation of this task was that: if teacher education students could, through reflection and discussion, recapture the excitement and sense of satisfaction they had gained through realizing they had understood an idea or mastered a skill, they could focus on promoting that sense of discovery or achievement in their students. Conversely, if they recalled what had inhibited their learning, and became aware of what inhibited the learning of others, they could avoid repeating the same with their students.

Students enrolled in a one-year graduate diploma program unit were asked to form into groups of three to five members, then to consider individually and as a group what facilitated and inhibited their learning and how, on reflection, their learning could have been enhanced. These discussions of learning were conducted during weekly tutorials for five weeks and each student was asked to report on their own learning and the facilitators and inhibitors of the other group members. Some groups continued their discussions outside the formal tutorial times, some continued their discussions via email and some set up wikis to document their experiences. The individual reports were collected for assessment and 30 students formally consented to their work being used for this research purpose.

In their reports students often commented on the facilitators and inhibitors, as expected, and often noted the details of their collaborators' learning experiences with some surprise. It was as though they had not expected to learn that others too had been humiliated or unfairly disciplined and the exercise had led to a greater sense of shared learning experience. It was also pleasing to read comments made about the nature and value of reflection. One participant commented, “I think the strength of this exercise has been highlighted for me in that instead of just dashing something off, I have constantly been forced to stop and really ponder the meaning of learning and getting an education”.

For students value lies in the collaborative and reflective aspects of the task. Lecturers' too benefit from students working to understand their colleagues' learning situations and designing responses to capture these views. This Problem-Based Learning task not only deepened students' understanding of learning but also modeled a valuable teaching strategy.