Peer-facilitated teamwork for second language education and project-based learning
In professional life meetings are pivotal means of deliberation, planning, decision-making, capacity development, and community building. However, meetings are often badly prepared and conducted. This is even more the case for on-line meetings (e.g. via Skype or other web-conferencing tools), which require special skills and careful preparation. And while students increasingly spend time in groups in many subject areas, rarely is that kind of work used to foster facilitation skills systematically. This package allows students to learn about and experience facilitation first-hand, thereby developing a set of competencies that are useful for the life in school and beyond. This scenario applies to many subject areas where meetings are required to discuss problems and prepare decisions. The nextTALK software supports peer-facilitated teamwork (PFT) for:
- Project-based learning across the curriculum, with teams of students meeting regularly over multiple weeks to drive forward a complex project. This allows them to not only learn about the subject matter, but also how to work in teams, manage time and other resources, and develop their leadership skills.
- Second language learning, in particular task-based language learning. Group work increases opportunities for practicing languages significantly, and facilitated group work adds yet another level of efficiency. For second language education, even short-term teamwork around typical tasks such as discussions can be accommodated.
The nextTALK software provides a turn-key solution for deploying PFT in classrooms. It supports all the steps needed to gain basic knowledge about team facilitation and provides an environment for refining facilitation competencies over time by reflective practice:
nextTALK is particularly well suited for project-based learning, where students meet regularly for team work over a number of weeks. But it can also be employed for short-term group work, in particular for practicing foreign language skills.
Mr P is a teacher of Design and Technology (D&T). The work that he does with his students is often based on collaborative projects. Students work together to solve design challenges; some of these challenges are set by P according to curricular requirements, others are negotiated between him and the students to allow pupils to pursue personal interests in the area of D&T. (Personal learning goals might be developed using e-portfolio technology like Mahara, an open source e-portfolio).
Halfway through the academic year, P decides that he should set some time aside to help students develop meeting-facilitation skills, which will be important for the rest of the year (and beyond!). At this point in time, students have gathered enough background knowledge to support informed discussions during meetings. Therefore, Mr P outlines a structured process based on the following tasks that his students need to perform:
- to prepare face-to-face and/or on-line group meetings for 5-7 of their peers;
- to conduct the meetings;
- to document and communicate meeting outcomes.
The meeting topics are set in advance by P and are based on different aspects of the design challenge. The aim of the meetings is to focus on idea generation and problem solving, not on learning as such. The students who are charged with preparing and conducting the meeting do not have a teaching role; instead, they act as facilitators: they help their peers to do their best thinking in the team in a limited amount of time.
A facilitator prepares the meeting agenda and discusses it with P before conducting the meeting. P provides feedback and guidance on how to improve the meeting agenda. Then, the facilitator ‘runs’ the meeting, with 3-7 peers. If the meeting is face-to-face, P provides a device for audio-recording, and sometimes video-recording of the meeting. If the meeting is conducted on-line, P prepares the conferencing technology (usually Skype), and a documentation tool (usually one of the Google Apps: Document/Spreadsheet/Presentation) that everybody in the group can access. If Skype or such is used, P requests that the session is recorded from one of the screens with tools such as Camtasia or Audacity. Even if the meeting is conducted face-to-face in the classroom, P makes the documentation tool (usually Google Docs) available in class so that the team members and the facilitator can record process and outcomes of the meeting. After the meeting (usually 40-60 minutes length) is conducted, P asks the facilitator to document meeting outcomes and to reflect on the process, using the audio- and video recordings. Time allowing, the facilitator prepares and communicates the outcomes in a short formal presentation for the whole class, using Google Presentation or equivalent. Throughout the activity P’s role is about advising the facilitators rather than managing the various groups. Only in case of conflicts or sustained non-activity does P intervene directly in a group.
Curriculum area and student age
nextTALK can be used in all contexts where (regular) group work and the development of collaboration and communication skills matters. The method is suitable for students from 12 years onwards.
Core competences addressed
- Meeting design:
- Aligning meeting goals with activities and artefacts
- Agenda preparation
- Meeting facilitation:
- Helping peers to do their best thinking
- Guiding participatory decision making
- Increasing commitment to outcomes
- Meeting documentation:
- Rich meeting minutes
- Reflection and self-guided learning
- ICT skills
People and roles
- Facilitators: Students charged with the task to prepare, conduct, and document team meetings;
- Students: In the role of team members, addressing a problem, an issue.
- Face-to-face, classroom based
- Online, classroom based
- Online, outside of classroom (e.g., from home)
- Planning activities
- Communication, including communication in difficult situations; conflict resolution.
- Visualization, documentation, and presentation activities
Gaining basic facilitation knowledge
Students gain information about important concepts of peer facilitation by working their way through an online study module, currently provided on Moodle (and soon on edX). The module takes about 2-4 hours to complete. It is designed for individual learning, for instance as homework assignment. It comprises information on how to prepare, conduct and document meetings and their outcomes. The general facilitation model followed is based on Participatory Decision Making (Kaner, 2007).
Planning a group meeting
Planning for meeting activities, such as brainstorming is the foundation for any successful meeting. It includes, but does not only comprise the design of the meeting agenda. nextTALK provides a graphical meeting activity planner by which the students have access to a library of basic meeting activities (for brainstorming, idea sorting, voting, etc.) as well as a repository of previously designed meetings. Students get dynamically computed graphical feedback on important parameters of their meeting plan — duration, difficulty, engagement level, etc.
The following screenshot shows the graphical meeting planning tool with editing area (top right), feedback display (top) and plan repository (left):
Once a meeting activities plan is completed, it can be transferred to Google Docs, and there be used by the meeting participants to conduct the team meeting. Before that, the teacher may require participants to share the plan with her, and provide feedback. The meeting plan can also be automatically uploaded to students’ eportfolio, and meeting planning competences get updated in the Open Learner Model. (The OLM manages and visualises competences, see below.)
Running the meeting with Google Docs support
Based on the meeting plan, nextTALK automatically generates a folder on Google Docs that contains templates for the planned activities, as well as the meeting agenda.
A meeting folder on Google Docs
Templates take the form of spreadsheets, but can also have a graphical format.
Example for a graphical template for an idea sorting activity
Under the guidance of the facilitator, the students in a team work their way through the activities. This can be done online, using Google’s Chat facilities, or any other conferencing support, such as Skype. It can also be done around a table, using a shared laptop or tablet, or using paper and pencil, having the activity templates available as printouts.
Audio recording of the meeting is optional, but strongly recommended, especially in the Second Language classroom. Students can upload audio files to the meeting folder on Google Docs, from which it gets automatically transferred also to their portfolio. nextTALK does not support analysis of audio files, but provides rubrics and checklists for determining the quality of verbal facilitations captured in the audio file. Instances of these need to be identified by the facilitating student and/or peer students and/or the teacher.
Feedback and reflection on activities and artefacts
Meeting artefacts are available in Google Docs and on the nextTALK eportfolio for appraisal, feedback and reflection. The eportfolio is recommended in the case of project-based learning, over multiple weeks, to separate clearly the work on the students’ team project from their (individual) competence development. For both cases — artefacts stored on Google Drive or in the eportfolio — nextTALK provides a number of rubrics, checklists and scales to support self-, peer-, and teacher appraisal and feedback.
Here is an example for a scale for appraising a facilitation move, made available as a Google Form:
Feedback and reflection on competences
Facilitation competencies are defined and maintained in the nextTALK Open Learner Model (ntOLM). In ntOLM, competencies — both related to facilitation and team skills as well as related to subject matter learning, such as science — are represented in a comprehensive manner for each student. The tool allows to visualize competence status and development over time by a multitude of graphical representations, and to aggregate over groups and classes. While valuable for the student for reflection and planning of further learning, this is also the tool most useful to teachers to monitor learning across students in their class and across classes. It also can be a powerful tool for school leaders, to follow competence development in their school.