22 SES 14 B, Social Context & Learning
This study set out to explore the relationship between friendships, peer social interactions and group work dynamics within a HE undergraduate programme in the UK. The study had two main research questions:
1. What is the relationship between friendships, peer interactions and group work dynamics?
2. What are the benefits and challenges of group work as perceived by students?
Group work and subsequent group based learning is increasingly been used in HE. It encourages students to become actively engaged with their learning and knowledge base as they begin to think and articulate their views with others. Gibbs (1995) argues that group work promotes the development of a range of skills such negotiation, communication, respect, empathy and collaboration. Group work also contributes to students’ social integration and sense of belonging, both identified as important to student well-being (Jaques, 2000). Encouraging a sense of belonging is key towards widening participation and inclusion of all students in HE (Cotton, Kneale and Nash, 2013). Despite the well-articulated benefits of group work, Gibbs (2010) notes that most forms of teaching and assessment used in HE promote independent study and a focus on personal achievement.
This study draws on the concepts of social capital theory, social network theory and relational agency. Social capital ‘draws attention to the effects and consequences of human sociability and connectedness and their relations to the individual and social structure’ (Tzanakis, 2013, p.2). This study is primarily driven by Bourdieu’s (1986) ideas on social capital which he defines as ‘the aggregate of the actual potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition’ (p.248). For Bourdieu (ibid), ‘social capital is related to the size of network and the volume of past accumulated social capital commanded by the agent’ (p.249). ‘The fundamental notion of social capital is that social relationships provide access to resources that can be exchanged, borrowed and leveraged to facilitate achieving goals’ (Moolenaar, Daly and Sleegers, 2012, p.92). Moolenaar, Daly and Sleegers (2012) maintain that social capital belongs to the family of ‘intangible assets’ that can be accrued and leveraged by groups, individuals or systems (p. 92). Interpersonal social relationships among students can be very important as they provide access to information, knowledge and expertise (Frank, Zhao and Borman, 2004), confidence and a sense of belonging.
The capacity of students for working together, i.e. group work, is seen as important in developing their academic and professional practice and maintaining an increased psychological and socio-emotional well-being. Therefore, the notion of relational agency is also central to the arguments made in this study. Edwards (2005) defines it as ‘a capacity to align one’s thought and actions with those of others in order to interpret problems of practice and to respond to those interpretations’ (p. 169-170). In other words, ‘relational agency involves a capacity to offer support and to ask for support from others’ (Edwards, 2005, p. 168).
Bourdieu, P. (1986). ‘The Forms of Capital’, in J. Richardson (ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood Press. pp. 241–258. Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods. 4th edition. Oxford: Open University Press. Cotton, D., Kneale, P. & Nash, P. (2013). Horizon-Scanning Report: Widening Participation, Retention and Success. Plymouth University: PedRIO. Edwards, A. (2005). Relational agency: Learning to be a resourceful practitioner. International Journal of Educational Research. 43, pp. 168–182 Frank, K. A., Zhao, Y. & Borman, K. (2004). Social capital and the diffusion of innovations within organizations: Application to the implementation of computer technology in schools. Sociology of Education, 77(2), 148–171. Gibbs, G. (1995). Learning in Groups: Tutor Guide. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff Development. Gibbs, G. (2010). Assessment of group work: lessons from the literature. ASKe, http://www.brookes.ac.uk/aske/Groupwork%20Assessment/ Jaques, D. (2000). Learning in Groups. London: Kogan Page. Moolenaar, N. M., Daly, A. J., & Sleegers, P. J. C. (2012). Exploring patterns of interpersonal relationships among teachers: A social network perspective. In T. Wubbels, J. van Tartwijk, P. den Brok and J. Levy (Eds.), Interpersonal Relationships in Education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: SENSE Publishers. pp. 87-102. Scott, J. (2013). Social Network Analysis. 3rd edition. London: Sage. Stake, R. (2006). Multiple case study analysis. New York: The Guilford Press. Tzanakis, M. (2013). Social capital in Bourdieu’s, Coleman’s and Putnam’s theory: empirical evidence and emergent measurement issues. Educate, 13(2), pp. 2-23. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods. 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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