Overview

In this activity, which lasts through the course of seven classes, students work in groups to examine, through others' inquiry and probing, a complex personal problem (school or work related) with which they have been struggling.

Before starting, students have to come up with an issue that has been bothering them for a while and is connected either to their time in university or their work life. They write this down and give it or send it to the instructor; this allows the instructor to verify that the the problem chosen by the ...

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In this activity, which lasts through the course of seven classes, students work in groups to examine, through others' inquiry and probing, a complex personal problem (school or work related) with which they have been struggling.

Before starting, students have to come up with an issue that has been bothering them for a while and is connected either to their time in university or their work life. They write this down and give it or send it to the instructor; this allows the instructor to verify that the the problem chosen by the students is appropriate to the activity. This is a graded assignment.

Once the instructor has approved the problems, students, in class, split into groups. In the first round, 2 students present the problem they have chosen to work on. Others ask questions meant to help the person better understand and analyse their issue. Each student does this until all have presented their problem.The outcome of this first phase is to create an action plan that might resolve the problem.

In the following weeks, students come back to their group to reflect on how they are carrying out the action plan and the benefits and challenges of its implementation. Other group members continue to probe and ask questions to help the person understand their actions more in depth.

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Objectives

  • To allow students to experiment with and learn the importance of collective wisdom, collaborative learning, problem solving and personal development;
  • To expose students to a mechanism used to solve complex organisational and group problems.

Context and requirements

Level University
Discipline Applied Human Sciences
Activity Content group problem solving; creating and asking relevant questions

Author’s Notes

Benefits

  • Working together to solve problems, students can appreciate the power and importance of shared learning and of collective – versus purely individual – wisdom;
  • Students get to practice asking meaningful and insightful questions, which is a skill rarely exercised in class;
  • This activity models how problems are often solved in ‘real-world’ teams and organisations;
  • Students learn to build group trust and be vulnerable, which are key qualities for a leader to possess;
  • Students have the opportunity to tackle problems, both personal and professional, with which they had been struggling for a long while.

Challenges

  • Group dynamics might be dysfunctional and/or lack the trust necessarily for members to have significant interactions and sharing;
  • Some groups struggled with the high level of independence and self-management required by the activity.

Tips

  • Students were told they could present for around 20 minutes and then receive questions for 20 minutes, though times were given as suggestion and students could manage their own time;
  • Because the activity takes around half the course’s class time, the instructor has to have a high conviction in the activity’s value;
  • Modelling the activity – presenting the problem and probing – might be useful t might be useful  for students to better understand the process;
  • Implementing journals that ask students to reflect on the process that they’re engaging in could also be a good way for the instructor to have a clearer idea of how the group work is evolving;
  • As a final essay, in this class the instructor asked students to reflect on their learning of the semester, which included this activity.

Activity Pedagogical Components

Reflective Writing

Students write about a complex problem that they have been struggling with for a while.

For a description of this strategy, please see here.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Students work in groups to discuss the problem and create action plans.

For a description of this strategy, please see here.

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