Aims and Objectives
  Group Features
  Some Aspects of Group Work
  The Tutor
  Encouraging Participation
  Assessing Participation
  Selected Bibliography

More than a decade ago, when the student population was smaller and a 1:10 staff to student ratio was attainable, upgrading the quality of education through small-group work seemed achievable. This may no longer be so but the principle still holds true to some extent: a more personalised approach makes possible more personalised attention and more interaction. Logically, it should increase the likelihood of qualitatively better teaching and learning. The reverse, however, is not necessarily true: quality education can also occur outside of small-group work. The key is not just size, but also the nature of the teaching-learning transactions that occur. What makes group work effective is the enhanced opportunities for active and interactive learning, and some of the strategies for promoting this can be used—albeit modified—in large groups and lecture classes. Technology has also provided another avenue for such learning, thereby supplementing classroom contact hours, whether they be lectures or tutorials.

The choice of which small-group strategy to use depends on whether the teacher wishes to:

  • use the resources of group members;
  • gain acceptance for information or theories which run counter to folklore or previous beliefs of students (which implies that you find out what your students believe—this can be extremely useful at the beginning of the semester);
  • develop motivation for further learning;
  • get prompt feedback on how well objectives are being attained.

To achieve any or some of these goals, discussion is usually an effective method.