This post is co-authored by Dimity Wehr and Aurora Murphy

The second Hot Topic from our Teaching and Curriculum Team (TACT) this year is Student Agency and Teamwork. This topic looks at moving beyond the self in group work and using relational agency, where teams support each other and share roles and responsibilities in an authentic and compassionate way:

Agency is not an individualistic and heroic concept. Just like learning and working, exercising agency is a shared and social responsibility that is interdependent of self and social context

(Trede & Flowers, 2020)

In our recent event, Teamwork nightmares to teamwork dreams: exploring student devised strategies for agentic teamwork, staff and student participants came together in a hybrid event using role play and discussion. Read on to hear how it went!

The thing about teamwork…

A team consists of two or more individuals, who have specific roles, perform interdependent tasks, are adaptable, and share a common goal

(Salas et al., 1992)

Teamwork is about learning in groups (Hager & Beckett 2018), but any teaching professional will tell you that effective teamwork is much more than simply putting students together and setting a shared assignment. Our understanding of teamwork has an impact on our students, from the set-up guidelines and instructions, to the support offered throughout the assignment and reflections on completion.

Teamwork is also practice based education for future professionals (Barnett, 2012), and we continue to participate in teams across the lifespan of our careers. Establishing great foundations for teamwork means that activities need to be clearly framed and articulated, and have a focus on the process as well as the product.  

Forum Theatre as a rehearsal for reality

Forum theatre is the most widely-used type of theatre for social change and was developed by Augusto Boal in the 1970s. In the 1990s a form of Forum Theatre called Legislative Theatre was used to create laws in Brazil. During this time, 30 new laws were passed using a type of Forum Theatre. 

Nowadays, Forum Theatre is used all across the world, especially with marginalised groups. Our IML team member Aurora Murphy has been using Forum Theatre for 15 years to tackle issues of racism, domestic violence, sexual assault and eating disorders. 

In this event, we used Forum theatre to strategise change, but also to enable those experiencing similar challenges to practice the behaviours that enable change. We reached out to students who had expressed interest in theatre or capacity-building in the area of teamwork and worked with them to create a new model, or intervention of the ‘anti model’.

Forum Theatre in action: role-playing problems and solutions

Each Forum Theatre piece begins by devising an ‘anti-model’, or the problem as it now is. We sourced a short UTS film which presented student groupwork experiences (watch from here in the event recording) and our student participants identified the issues they could see in the film (creating a safe space and allocating team roles).

During the event, our student participants role-played two situations; firstly expressing grievances about the teamwork, and secondly, showing ways to work more effectively. In the second role-play, they demonstrated potential strategies such as an ice-breaker meeting for the group to get to know each other before allocating roles for the assignment (watch from here in the event recording).

Staff participating in the event were then invited to identify opportunities and develop strategies for enabling more inclusive and agentic student teamwork within their own contexts.

What did staff and student think?

The students’ involvement was a highlight for many participants sharing feedback on the event:

The students’ play [was] A very good way to show the problems and the solutions.

[The best parts were] the role play scenarios and having students available to share their perspectives.

Reflecting on the theatrical role play, students told us the process of Forum Theatre enabled them to not just theorise strategies for change, but actually practice them. They also said that by playing a character different to themselves, they were able to empathise with students who have different experiences. 

As a confident and outspoken student who played a shy, new international student, Faezeh noticed that she was able to really feel what it was like to be excluded, and how important it was to have people in her team who invited her into the team and created a place of psychological safety. 

Supporting students throughout the teamwork journey 

If you’d like to refresh your thinking on teamwork and its practical application in teaching, the following themes and strategies emerged from our participant and student discussions:

Pre assessment

  • Take a fun approach with some formative teamwork activities that build trust, listening and negotiation skills and inclusive practice.
  • Emphasise that the process of teamwork is where the learning takes place – teach teamwork as part of students’ transferable employability skills.

Launch of assessment 

  • Mix up the way you create student groups depending on task (teacher selected, random, friendship, interest/solution-based).
  • Give students clear timelines and milestones and encourage them to develop group charters, initiate and define roles.

During assessment

  • Provide feedback using a facilitator check-in system (monitor group discussion, make milestone announcements).
  • Support students to conduct regular meet ups and check-ins with each other, following their charter or plan.

To explore more on student agency and teamwork:

To find out more about Forum Theatre, contact Aurora Murphy.

With thanks to our volunteer student actors Faezeh Albouhamdan, Brintha Srirankan, Dhanesh Chandolia, and Perry Stamoulos, and student director Bethlehem Mekonnen.

Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash

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