November 24, 2009, by Teaching at Nottingham

Preparing groups to manage themselves

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Martin Binks: “I have to spend a bit of time at the beginning of the first four lectures talking to the whole group, or rather in two large groups, and explaining to them why we’re doing what we’re doing, the way that we’re doing it, and what I’m hoping they will actually get out of it. So I explained to them where the entrepreneurial theory comes from so that they can see this is not something that has happened in the last ten years. This has got roots deep into economics, into sociology, into psychology, areas like creativity and imagination. When I’ve provided that know about material then I put them into situations where they work together in small groups.

“We get them to self select. So we actually put a sort of grid up on the net, and they can go and find a group that they can join, or else five of them can actually register, all roughly at the same time, or if it’s a single person and they’re not in a group, they can look through the groups. And there are an awful lot of these students; you have to bear in mind. We’re talking about a module with about eight hundred and fifty students on it, so last year we had about a hundred and eight-five groups. So they can look through and find one, sometimes they select to work with their friends, sometimes, if they don’t know many people and they’ve just come from abroad then they can actually put themselves into a group where there are already people signed in and that group then works together.

“One of the most productive types of group is where you’ve got a mixture of thinking styles, where the students think differently, a mixture of gender, and, yes, a mixture of cultures, because that gives you a much more diverse and richer set of potential solutions when they get to that part of the exercise than tends to happen if you’ve got five students all from the same background, all from the same subject area. So, you know, you do get a sort of better, a more effective, a richer set of solutions if you can get the mix. But then it also causes more tensions, you know, if you’ve got students who, some of whom are very shy and don’t say very much, and others who are the opposite, and dominate, and talk too much, then you have to actually sometimes intervene and sort of say ‘your responsibility is to try and make sure this all works together. You are each individually responsible for trying to enable everybody in the group to benefit and contribute.’ I had that discussion, if you like, although

“I’m talking to the whole group, right at the very beginning, and say ‘This is what we’re going to do to try and help to facilitate things, but these are some of your responsibilities.’ And that’s one of the key ones is that when you’re in your group, that group is the responsibility of everybody in it, and if it isn’t working then we don’t go into blame; we start to go into understanding and try to develop that.

“So there’s forty teams in there, there are four assessors walking around, and there’s about thirty business people, from people that run their own businesses to bankers, solicitors, and there’s also people like me going round because I make sure that I actually listen to every single elevator pitch in the room, so I’ve got about a minute and a bit with each team. They appreciate the fact that I’ve tried to get them enthusiastic about doing this, so the one thing I have to do is make sure I give them some attention in terms of listening to what they’ve come up with at the end.

“But then they have to write about a couple of hundred words or more reflecting on what happened in the mentoring session, how they related and reacted to the rest of the group, and things like that. And what’s interesting with those reflections is that they… at first they are quite tight and not very forthcoming, but within two, or by the third, they are much more open, and then when they do another module in the second semester where they do some more reflections they’re more open again. I think that does help for them to appreciate what’s actually going on over and above simple knowledge accumulation and things like that.

“The students I’m talking about are virtually all first year, first semester, first year students, so I think there is a natural tendency sometimes to work with other people from the same culture and the same background, but certainly by no means is it always the case, and indeed I think some of them appreciate quite early on the benefits of working with students from other backgrounds and other areas.”

Martin Binks
Nottingham University Business School

Extracts from interviews with staff and students about experiences of internationalisation. This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Learning from internationalisation collection. Produced November 2009.

Posted in InternationalisationSmall groups