Developing a learning conversation in structured group discussion : art students' understanding of the project method & polytechnic students' evaluation of their courses
This research began from a position within the physical science paradigm as a straightforward investigation into how Foundation art students thought the project method helped them to learn. The insights gained from their answers were later employed in designing projects for other purposes and for other discipline areas. In order to accommodate the diverse and voluminous replies gathered from open-ended inquiry procedures, a system of categories was developed ranging from 80 sub-categories ascending through 10 to 3 principal categories. The three chief features of the project method which emerged as significant were those of inter-personal relationships, of project design and management, and of physical resources and environment. These three features provide important messagesf or the management of education at course and at institutional level. From the experience gained in using the three-stage method of inquiry, it was concluded that raw personal views, given without reflection or debate, represent the narrowest possible version of individual views. For a rich, fully processed deep response, those views must have been exposed to discussion within the group. This sfuctured group discussion was judged to be more than a mere process but rather a product with its own rationale and results, and one which provided a valuable educational experience. This three-stage 'learning conversation' was then transferred into a new arena, that of course evaluation. The student consultation meeting has since become accepted practice within a Polytechnic as a means of conveying to the course team how students perceive their courses. Staff may in turn use the reports to strengthen their course design and delivery, Finally, it was clear that a physical science paradigm with its goals of objectivity and detachment was not the true parent of this research activity. It was rather of different descent - from humanistic psychology, from action research in the social sciences and from the 'new paradigm' for human inquiry. These implications of paradigm shift are explored in the opening chapters.