Using Belbin and Tuckman to inform student understanding of learning dynamics in workshop groups

Authors: Scott Slorach and Patrick Gallimore
The York Law School, University of York

Abstract

Workshops offer an ideal forum to develop valuable student learning partnerships, built around well-designed activities and student interaction. In addition to subject-specific outcomes, these partnerships also offer the opportunity to develop transferable interpersonal and team-working skills and attitudes. To help promote these outcomes, law students engage, from an early stage, with Belbin’s model of Team Roles and Tuckman’s stages of group development. The aim of this is to promote better understanding of individual role preferences and related behaviours in workshop activities, and of the potential changes in dynamics that can affect their workshop group, in which the majority of their learning interactions will take place.

The workshop will demonstrate the activities that Y1 and Y2 law students undertake involving Belbin and Tuckman, and how student reflection on these models – and their impact on individual learning – is integrated into the curriculum and assessment. It will also share the thinking behind the integration of these models into programme design and the benefits to student learning. Participants will have the opportunity to undertake one of the student workshop activities involving Belbin.

Report

Chair: Sally Quinn

Scott and Patrick use the Belbin and Tuckman structures to help their students learn about the effectiveness of group work. The Belbin approach uses several descriptors of various team roles. It’s a useful structure as team members can highlight the type of role they want to play which allows the group as a whole to see where the strengths and weaknesses are in their group. The Tuckman approach identifies the different stages that teams or groups go through when working on a task. To start us off, Scott and Patrick asked us to discuss in groups which was our most and least preferred team role as per the Belbin structure. 

Attendees discussing in groups their most and least preferred Belbin roles
Attendees discussing in groups their most and least preferred Belbin roles

Scott and Patrick then gave us some information on the way they use the Belbin and Tuckman structure in the Law Department; a department that uses Problem Based Learning (PBL) extensively. A major part of integrating PBL into the teaching provision in the Law Department is for students to work in small groups or ‘Law Firms’. 

As part of this group work, students complete the Belbin survey which asks students to report which role they play in the group but also how they would categorise the other team members. Based on these responses, Belbin can then create an aggregate for each student. This can be useful to prompt students to reflect on whether their perceptions of their role aligns with how their fellow team members see them, and how the different roles are going to work within the group. It’s also useful to enable students to identify gaps in the Law Firm and decide who will fill those gaps.

Scott and Patrick explaining how the Belbin and Tucker frameworks are used in the Law Degree structure
Scott and Patrick explaining how the Belbin and Tucker frameworks are used in the Law Degree structure

Scott and Patrick then explained how these activities feed into the assessment which assesses student contribution. Scott and Patrick were clear that this assessment does not assess participation per se but rather how each individual member has helped the group to become effective (versus the success of individual students). As such, students are required to produce a critical reflection on their contribution to the group. As part of their self-critical reflection, students are required to use the Belbin structure as well as the Tuckman stages to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the group. This reflection is built upon in the second year where students are in different groups and reflect on their group experiences from Year 1.

Scott and Patrick made it clear that although this is the approach they use in Law, it is one of many theories relating to group work. It’s therefore important to find what works best for each situation. 

We then had a very short Q&A session where one major question was about how the groups manage themselves and whether there are any issues with non-engagement. Both Scott’s and Patrick’s experience was that most groups work out their problems. They have had some minor issues with non-attendance but these have been few.

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