Questioning texts II

Subject: History of Ideas. Course: Studium Generale; General Studies I. Study level: Bachelor 1st semester. Class size: approx. 50

Motivation for the activity

In the process of creating better coherence between teaching and study group work we will promote group work and avoid the disintegration of study groups. This took place by developing forms of instruction that were directly aimed at the students working in groups.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

To strengthen the students' study groups by involving them directly in the teaching. We are convinced that the work in study groups not only ensures much better learning, but also strengthens the academic and social integration.

Description of the activity

The course had two lecturers as well as a student teaching assistant.

In general the course was formed around exercises that the students solved in their study groups.

These exercises fell into two categories, namely

  1. Group-based writing exercises, which the students worked on between the individual classes and which were based on the texts that we worked on during the course. (Ideally, the university should make group rooms available, but in practice this is not possible, so the students themselves had to find suitable workplaces.) These written exercises - three in total - were uploaded by the students to an electronic forum (in this case AULA).
  2. So-called 'during-the-lesson exercises', where we asked the students to reflect on one or more questions on the basis of that day’s text. These reflections were then made generally available (whether in the form of a whiteboard or posters - a more IT-based method would probably have been preferable), and were part of/formed the basis for conducting the rest of the lesson. In its most 'radical' form the teaching consisted of us - after a very brief presentation - asking a number of questions and letting the students' answers form the basis for the rest of lesson.

Outcome of the activity

The effect was on the one hand unequivocally positive, because it succeeded to a great extent in incorporating the students and getting them to work in study groups. We also assessed that the learning outcome was higher than with a more traditional lecture-based form of teaching.

On the other hand, we also had an expectation that this way of working would have a kind of 'spill over' effect on the other courses that the students participated in. However, that was not quite the case.

The conclusion thus appears to be that the students will readily work in groups when the teaching - anyway - invites this, but that they are prone to return to more individualised work methods as soon as there is no explicit incentive to work in groups.

Examples of questions

Questions for the course

Examples of questions for a text in a during-the-lesson exercise:

  • What characterises science in general?
  • What characterises the human sciences in particular?
  • What characterises the history of ideas specifically?

The text was from Helge Kragh, "Hvad er videnskab", in Hans Fink et al, Universitetet og Videnskab, Hans Reitzel, Copenhagen 2005, p. 145-181.