TetraMap enables collaborative
learning in higher education
settings


Collaboration is a necessity in every work setting and it is interesting to explore its evolving place in higher education in this paper. Historically, the development of skills in how to collaborate has not featured highly in schools or indeed in many workplaces.

Improving Group Dynamics for Collaborative Learning: The use of TetraMap®

Ivy Chan, Carmen Sum, Nathan Nexus Phua and Yanny Pang, College of Professional and Continuing Education, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, PRC have published a paper called ‘Improving Group Dynamics for Collaborative Learning: The Use of TetraMap”. 

In the paper, the authors align TetraMap to a study about collaborative learning in higher education settings to demonstrate how the TetraMap model can improve dysfunctional group dynamics and encourage participants to harness the value of difference when collaborating.

Collaboration is a necessity in every work setting and its interesting to explore its evolving place in higher education in this paper.  In every team, whatever the setting, group working can present particular intra-personal challenges. Historically, the development of skills in how to collaborate has not featured highly in schools or indeed in many workplaces. And so,  we welcome this study by the authors which explores how TetraMap frames group challenges and enables collaboration in higher education by leveraging diversity to unleash the full potential of student groups.

Teaching collaboration
Image by Tima Miroshnichenko – Pexels

Context 

Collaboration is perceived as one of the most important skills for workplace success in the 21st Century, according to the OECD.  In higher education, collaborative learning is also advocated as an instructional method for students to form groups and achieve a common goal, which involves working together, conversing with peers and exchanging knowledge and skills. 

However, as this paper explores, in higher education settings, studies have proven that collaborative learning supports students in areas like acquiring knowledge, applying knowledge and retaining knowledge, improving creativity and reasoning.

However, to solve problems and collaborate, this paper also shows that important group dynamics need to be addressed to enable student groups to function well.  By analysing student feedback, the authors present the value that TetraMap can bring to enable student participants to unlock their potential, understand diversity and accelerate team performance.  The authors uncover that through TetraMap, group conflict would reduce and communication, mutual understanding and respect greatly improve. This comment is the experience from one student:

“The frequent conflicts and arguments inhibited us from thriving.  We met at least three times to discuss the workshop theme.  One dominant member just insisted others to follow his idea.  When student A and I presented our poster design, he made heavy criticism without appreciating our efforts spent.” 

The paper is published in full below. For further information please contact Ivy Chan. 

Improving Group Dynamics for Collaborative Learning:
The use of TetraMap®

Ivy CHAN
College of Professional and Continuing Education, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, PRC. ivy.chan@cpce-polyu.edu.hk

Carmen SUM
College of Professional and Continuing Education, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, PRC. carmen.sum@cpce-polyu.edu.hk

Nathan Nexus PHUA
College of Professional and Continuing Education, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, PRC. nathan.phua@cpce-polyu.edu.hk

Yanny PANG
College of Professional and Continuing Education, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, PRC. yanny.pang@cpce-polyu.edu.hk

Published by International Business Information Management Association LLC.
37th IBIMA International Conference, Cordoba, Spain, 2021 pp.3074-3079

Abstract

Collaborative learning as an instructional approach is widely used in higher education institutions where students work together to converse with peers, exchange knowledge and skills to accomplish common goals. Efficacy of knowledge acquisition, disposition, and enrichment could be the positive result of collaborative learning. This study highlighted the feedback from 126 students at a community college who were assigned to work in groups in a training and development subject. The feedback gathered through online surveys and reflective journals showed that students had positive impacts on their learned knowledge, creativity and reasoning skills. However, students without an adequate understanding of group dynamics revealed that diversity in groups inhibited productive group dynamics. The dysfunctional group behaviors reflected by students were correlated with the nature of the four elements advocated in TetraMap®. It is suggested that educators could adopt the TetraMap® model and equip students to explore individual differences, experience synergy, and embrace diversity in future group work.

Keywords: collaborative learning, group dynamics, TetraMap®

Introduction

Collaboration is perceived as one of the most important skills for workplace success in the 21st century (OECD, 2017; Rios et al., 2020). Collaborative learning as an instructional method is widely advocated in higher education institutions where students form their groups, work together in projects to converse with peers, exchange knowledge and skills in order to achieve a common goal (Laal and Ghodsi, 2012). The extant literature showed that the effectiveness of collaborative learning is directly related to the dynamics among the group members, including the group members’ distinctive roles, trust, ability, and communication (Arnold et al., 2012; The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) of Cornell University, n.d.; DeakinCo., 2017; Jehn et al., 2010, Phan et al., 2004). The positive group dynamics in collaborative learning benefits the students with increased retention of learned material (Rojas-Drummond and Mercer, 2003), promoting sense of accountability and engagement in group-based work (Chandra, 2015) and cultivating a positive atmosphere for practicing cooperation (Laal and Ghodsi, 2012).

This paper aimed to highlight the findings from the reflection of 126 students who completed a group project in a learning and development subject at a community college. In essence, most students revealed that collaborative learning through working in a group project brought positive impacts on fostering and retaining learned knowledge and extending hard skills such as preparation of presentation slides and report. However, students perceived that the difference of personal traits undermined group effectiveness (Ha et al., 2017) that was opposite from the benefits advocated in the extant literature (Chang and Brickman, 2018; Laal and Ghodsi, 2012). Their negative perceptions of group diversity are found consistent with the four elements addressed in the TetraMap® model. In this connection, it is suggested that instructors could provide collaborative skills intervention program for students: explore individual traits, and experience how to accommodate the difference through the TetraMap® model, finally embrace the mind shift in their future group projects.

Collaborative Learning Activity in a Training and Development (T&D) Subject

The learning and development subject was composed of a two-hour lecture and one-hour tutorial session each week. A group-based assessment was set that required students to organize themselves into groups of 5 to 6 members and work together throughout the semester. Each group was required to develop an interactive workshop for peers that could promote positivity. In lectures, class time was mainly devoted to providing pertinent knowledge to students. In tutorial sessions, instructors facilitated students to initiate productive discussion and apply learned theories in short cases. Students were given time to discuss the workshop design, comment on others’ work and solicit feedback from instructors.

At the end of the semester, 126 students studying a training and development subject at a community college completed an online survey and submitted individual reflective journals about their learning experience and feedback in the collaborative learning project. There are nine items in the online survey and they were measured on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 Strongly Disagree to 5 Strongly Agree. The mean score and standard deviation of each item are shown in Table 1.

Findings

Students revealed that the learning experience through engaging in the group project was impactful, including knowledge acquisition (mean = 4.08), knowledge application (mean = 3.99), knowledge retention (mean = 3.92). They also reported improvement in creativity skills (mean = 4.04) and reasoning skills (mean = 3.99). Students agreed that communication skill is crucial in solving problems (mean = 4.02) while their group collaboration is relatively inefficacious (mean = 3.30).

Table 1. Students’ feedback on their learning experiences in the group project

Survey Items Mean
(n = 126)
SD
[1] The project has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of learned materials. 4.08 0.48
[2] I could retain the subject knowledge through working on this group project. 3.92 0.63
[3] The challenges in the project drive me to think beyond my comfort zone. 4.10 0.65
[4] The project allows me to explore my potentials such as creativity or multi-tasking. 4.04 0.68
[5] My high-level reasoning skills are improved after the completion of the project. 3.99 0.65
[6] I am proud that I could turn T&D theories into feasible plan and practice. 3.99 0.60
[7] The project outcomes could demonstrate my understanding and knowledge of the subject. 4.01 0.56
[8] Our group demonstrated strong collaboration. 3.30 0.76
[9] The project requires communication skills to solve problems. 4.02 0.59

Note: Items were measured on a 5-point Likert scale (5 = strongly agree; 1 = strongly disagree)

Congruent with the quantitative findings, the positive learning impacts experienced in group projects are found in the students’ reflective journals. Sample quotes are presented below:

[1] Demonstrate understanding and knowledge of the subject
I used to think delivering training working is not difficult when I took the participant role. This project changed my mind: design is extremely challenging and complicated. I feel like a real trainer when I need to consider multiple factors at the same time… The training leaflet design was a great experience as I learned how to present ideas precisely without overload them on a tiny sheet of paper.

[2] Turn theories into practice
I learned AIDA principles in my marketing subject. The training and development poster had to show the right balance of them. Thus, I read the notes of AIDA principles and researched more. My final training poster design was satisfactory, in particular using stunning slogan to attract audience attention. Moreover, I could tell and assess the effectiveness of the training posters presented by other groups.

[3] Think beyond the comfort zone
I relish the challenge of doing this group project because it is a precious experience for me to put the theory into practice. It is an amusing way to learn ADDIE model with your own design… our group tried to be creative, not only used PowerPoint, but putting video, online polling system together in order to engage our audience.

However, some students expressed negative experiences about group dynamics in their projects. The primary issue was related to the diversity of group members who demonstrate different inclinations on goal setting or openness to new ideas behavior in group tasks, such as time management, information processing. Sample quotes from students’ reflective journals are presented below:

[1] Lack of explicit goal
I think we failed to have effective communication. In the meetings, no one wanted to initiate what to do or just kept asking what should be done. They were silent and had wasted a lot of time without productive outcomes. Perhaps, I should speak out more my ideas rather than being humble to wait for others to start off one single idea.

[2] Lack of organizing
We wanted to outperform others and always got a bunch of new ideas in meetings. However, they were not thoughtful and not willing to set a timeline and order of key T&D components. I was confused as I did not have clear designated responsibilities. When I focused on the ice-breaking game and someone would divert us to think of the main training content.

[3] Inadequate active listening
The frequent conflicts and arguments inhibited us from thriving. We met at least three times to discuss the workshop theme. One dominant member just insisted others to follow his idea. When student A and I presented our poster design, he made heavy criticism without appreciating our efforts spent.

[4] Lack of creativity
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have many opportunities to meet each groupmate. We decided to work on this project safely. Everyone talked about what they learned from school workshops and tried to fine-tune a bit. However, our work was not inspiring when we compared it with other groups.

To summarize, collaborative learning through group projects could be made effective if communication, mutual-understanding, or respect are deployed among members (Chan et al., 2020; Chang and Brickman 2018; Davis 1999). However, without knowing and addressing the values of diversity, students felt flustered at the beginning. Buckling under conflicts, students in the same group were unable to reach a consensus and failed to work interdependently.

To improve the dysfunction of group dynamics in collaborative learning, the instructors attempted to adopt TetraMap® and utilized the four elements to guide and equip students working in a diverse group. TetraMap® is a well-proven model that addresses people’s nature as a composite of four basic elements of nature: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (TetraMap®, n.d.). When individuals are enabled to unlock their potential, understand diversity, they can accelerate team performance. Table 2 showed the negative feedback of group dynamics obtained from students’ reflective journals matched well with the nature of the four elements illuminated in TetraMap®. The students are unique with various orientations on the four basic elements that guide their thinking and influence their behaviors. Group performance could be improved if each member can appreciate differences and utilize the strengths of others.

Table 2. Four Elements of TetraMap®

 

Characteristics

Contribution to collaborative learning 

Element that could improve the dysfunction of group dynamics in collaborative learning

Earth

Firm, sturdy 

Take the lead, set goals, direction, and progress review

I think we failed to have effective communication.  In the meetings, no one wanted to initiate what to do or just kept asking what should be done.  They were silent and had wasted a lot of time without productive outcomes.  Perhaps, I should speak out more about my ideas rather than being humble to wait for others to start off one single idea.

Air

Clear, systematic

Develop orderly steps, prioritize tasks to ensure details fit together

We wanted to outperform others and always got a bunch of new ideas in meetings.  However, they were not thoughtful and not willing to set a timeline and order of key T&D components.  I was confused as I did not have clear designated responsibilities. When I focused on the ice-breaking game and someone would divert us to think of the main training content.   

Water

Calm, empathetic

Support and connect members, promote active listening

The frequent conflicts and arguments inhibited us from thriving.  We met at least three times to discuss the workshop theme.  One dominant member just insisted others to follow his idea.  When student A and I presented our poster design, he made heavy criticism without appreciating our efforts spent. 

Fire

Bright, innovative

Look for possibilities, explore novel ideas

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have many opportunities to meet each groupmate. We decided to work on this project safely.  Everyone talked about what they learned from school workshops and tried to fine-tune a bit.  However, our work was not inspiring when we compared it with other groups.

Ways ahead to support students for collaborative learning

Collaborative learning requires synchronous work and responsibility for own and members’ contributions to the group (Arnold et al., 2012). Collaboration facilitates learning to be a dialogic process that requires students to create new meanings through interacting with each other and pooling their knowledge and learning experiences to the group. It is different from cooperation about dividing the group work among members and being responsible for own tasks. To harness the power of collaboration among students working together on a project, instructors may provide students with a short-term intervention program to explore, experience and embrace individuals’ traits and differences on team dynamics before they kick off their group-based project.

Some suggestions are provided:

    1. Instructors should not assume students are master planners who know well their personal traits and roles in a group (Finnegan 2017, Ha et al. 2017, Popov et al., 2012).
    2. nstructors can be introduced to the four elements of nature in TetraMap® and “explore” their individual traits or preferences in team contexts.
    3. Instructors can use gamification or low-stake tasks that enable students to “experience” how different mix of elements in the collaborative activities influence team performance.
    4. After the completion of an activity, students can record or review what they do, observe, and learn from the interdependent work.
    5. Instructors can encourage students to “embrace” diversity. Students could utilize their less explicit elements, work with the same team and accomplish the same tasks.
    6. Students can reflect on how they perceive and address the same task with their new elements, and way to underpin the relationship.

Acknowledgement

Permission is obtained for the use of copyrighted material from TetraMap International Limited. TetraMap® is a registered trademark of TetraMap International in New Zealand and other countries. www.tetramap.com.

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