September 30, 2009, by Teaching at Nottingham

Tutorials: participation and creativity using nominal group technique

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David Clarke, School of Psychology: “I’ve got several kind of set piece formats which I use. One of them is something that comes out of the literature on psychology and related disciplines, it’s called nominal group technique and it’s designed as a way of getting a group of people who don’t particularly know each other, they don’t work together regularly, they don’t have set roles, they’re just a bunch of people, to form a view to articulate different points of view, to integrate them, and in principle, to end up with a kind of mini report on what they’ve discussed. So it makes a good technique for a tutorial.

“And how it works essentially is that an issue or a problem is posed to the group, they’re told what the technique is about in advance, I tell the students the week before that they’ll be doing this exercise, they’re given an issue, they’re then given some thinking time, about five minutes, they sit quietly, write notes, come up with ideas and so on, and then, the discussion goes round the room, round the table, one person at a time and each one is to contribute one thought, one idea, one bit of a picture which the tutor will then record on a flip chart or something like that. It’s important that nobody criticises or nobody says ‘Oh, that’s daft’, you know, ‘you shouldn’t raise that’. Everybody has a completely free voice to say what they want to say and the whole idea is that you get ideas from other people’s ideas.

“So after this process has gone round the table a couple of times, typically, by then, people are saying things they haven’t thought of at the beginning, they’ve only thought of them by listening to what the others have said, so the list grows and grows and grows until finally, the whole process winds down and then, there’s a stage of re-visiting items, people in the group can ask one another, ‘what did you mean by that?’ or ‘how do you think that’s going to relate to this?’ so there’s a bit of discussion about that, and then finally the items are edited, some are taken out of the list, they’re put in groups, they’re sort of compiled into something more coherent. And that’s the end product.

“And the students really like doing things that way. They often request to have other sessions of that kind after the initial one that’s been put to them, and I think it gives them a sense of genuine participation, nobody’s under threat, nobody’s criticised, nobody’s ideas can, in principle, be labelled as stupid or unhelpful or what have you, and it gets a really good level of discussion going which the students really appreciate. So that’s one way I do it.”

Martin Binks, NUBS: “I will explain to them that people vary enormously according to how confident they feel about joining in conversations and things like that, that shyness is very common and is something we should take responsibility for, I believe.

“And one of the other aspects of the actual process that we use is for them to storm as many ideas as possible and let go of all of their rules. So try and drop the constraints that they normally impose without even realising it. So I explain that to them, and I explain that for them to capitalise most effectively, to capture the benefits of the creativity in their group, then it is crucial that there is no critical discussion or criticism in any shape or form of what people say because in some ways you want the more ludicrous things that come to people’s minds, you want those to come out more than anything else, and those are the ones that will be self censoring if they even get somebody folding their arms differently or rolling their eyes and saying ‘Ridiculous’. That’s their creativity, like an anemone it’s gone then.

Martin Binks (Nottingham University Business School)
David Clarke (School of Psychology).

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 Academic tutorialsInternationalisationSmall groups