Over the last two months the Hot Topics Program explored Student Agency and Teamwork, a topic well established in Learning.Futures 2.0 and its advocacy for active and collaborative learning approaches. Student agency and teamwork is about students being actively and collectively engaged in their own learning and sensemaking with others. Students are enabled to show initiative, to ask questions and learn from and with each other. Teachers play a crucial role in enabling students to develop their sense of agency.

You can see the diverse ways in which student agency and teamwork can be explored in the recap of our six Hot Topic events here. At the end, we bring it all together and suggest some aspects to consider in your own teamwork practices.

1. Enabling student participation through teamwork by fostering relational agency

In this first webinar and FFYE Forum we provided a conceptual overview of agency and teamwork. We discussed that while student agency is often thought of as an individual heroic act, agency does not exist in a vacuum and instead is enacted in a social context. Everybody has a responsibility to create agentic learning environments. This was highlighted by a practice example from FEIT.

2. Making space in your teaching to invite the unexpected

Have you ever thought of changing the ‘script’ half way through a teamwork activity?  This often happens in the real world, so why not simulate this ‘messiness’ in our class teamwork? To invite the unexpected is all about designing exciting team challenges that provoke different responses. It goes without saying that these types of teamwork challenges also require skilful student support from the teacher to keep nurturing and encouraging students’ sense of agency.

3. Research-inspired teaching through teamwork

In another event, we explored a case study of using research as teamwork. Being actively involved in research activities enables student agency because doing research experiments requires students to come up with research questions and design a research strategy together. Teamwork through research also helps students to practise their researcher identity. This case study showcased a carefully designed assessment model, where 50% of the assessment was allocated to theory and 50% to the research project. It was broken down into 20% to teamwork for the research experiment and 30% to individual work for writing up the research project. 

4. Teamwork nightmares to teamwork dreams: exploring student-devised strategies for agentic teamwork

In this event, our student participants role-played two situations: firstly expressing grievances about teamwork, and secondly, showing ways to work more effectively. 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. 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. 

5. Teamwork at the movies

Short films can be a fun and safe way to trigger discussions about how to create a team identity and foster respect. Critiquing film scenarios and relating them to their own context helps students better understand what it takes to be a constructive team player. Short films can be workshopped with students before they form teams. Students are invited to discuss what happened in the film and consider how they can avoid similar pitfalls in their own teamwork endeavours.

6. Designing for transformative learning: Observing the self in action in the classroom

We finished this hot topic by putting the spotlight on ourselves as teachers. When we are comfortable and confident in facilitating learning environments that enable students to take initiative, ask questions and co-design teamwork, students have the opportunity to become responsible, active participants in their learning with others.

What does this mean for your teamwork practices?

Student agency and teamwork is a complex area. Try responding to the following prompt questions to check in on your teamwork practices, and identify a few approaches you might like to try, too:

  • Purpose: Be clear about the purpose of teamwork. What do you expect students to learn from it?
  • Choice of teamwork task: Is the teamwork challenge a complex problem or can one person find the solution alone? Challenges that require multiple perspectives lend themselves best to teamwork.
  • Preparation: How do you prepare students for agency and teamwork?
  • Process: What processes do you use for supporting teams?
  • Learning outcomes: What are the products and learning outcomes? Is there a focus on technical skills, Graduate Attributes, or something else?
  • Curriculum: How are you fostering student agency throughout the curriculum? Where do you build trust and support? Are there opportunities for students to have an influence in the classroom, and for students to have choice? 
  • Learning journey: Where in the course curriculum is your teamwork activity, and where is it connected to other subjects? What is the purposefully-designed learning journey for a student to become a professional who can show initiative, be culturally appropriate and a good team player?

Developing agency and professional identity

This Hot Topic has taken us full circle from student to teacher agency, with each event affirming the importance of relational agency. The themes remind us that active learning tests our assumptions about the role and identity of teachers and students; here, both teachers and students need to engage with theoretical concepts and make sense of them.

The concept of student agency takes active learning a step further. At the individual level, student agency focuses on students’ sense of purpose, choice and influence on what they are learning. This is more than performing well and achieving learning outcomes; student agency speaks to students developing their capabilities as future professionals who can think for themselves and listen to others to develop their sense of voice and engagement.

Agency relates to action but requires reflection too. Student agency emphasises the importance of being self-reflective, respectful of others, mindful of context, self-organising and deliberating about what to do next. It fosters the development of professional identity, which we will tackle in more depth later this year in Hot Topic 4: Work Integrated Learning and Industry Engagement.

Further reading and resources

Join the Hot Topics MS Teams space to stay connected, view shared resources, journal articles, papers, blogs and website links. 

For further information or questions, email IML_Ops@uts.edu.au

Feature image by Andy Roberts

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