EFFECT OF THE INTERACTIVE SMALL GROUP STUDY METHOD ON DEMOCRATIC ATTITUDES AND SELF-EXPRESSION ABILITY, THE

EFFECT OF THE INTERACTIVE SMALL GROUP STUDY METHOD ON DEMOCRATIC ATTITUDES AND SELF-EXPRESSION ABILITY, THE

Taspinar, Mehmet

This study compared the Interactive Small Group Study Method (ISGS) with the Traditional Small Group Study Method (TSGS) from the viewpoint of the student’s democratic attitude in the classroom and self-expression ability. Students at Firat University, Turkey, were divided into an experimental group and a control group each consisting of 30 members. ISGS was applied to the experimental group, TSGS was applied to the control group. The Democratic Attitude Related to Classroom Climate and Self-Expression Ability Scale (AS; Taspinar, 2001) was given pretest and posttest to both groups. Results showed a significant difference between the pretest and posttest scores of the two groups. The experimental group had a more positive attitude than the control group in the subdivision “Presentation” according to posttest scores. There was no significant difference for the other subdivisions. The ISGS method was found to be more effective than the CSGS method for both democratic attitudes and self-expression ability.

Keywords: group study, self-expression, teaching methods, teacher education, democratic attitudes.

Today learners who can access and use information, think critically, who have a constructive and creative democratic attitude and behavior, and who are respectful of human rights and freedoms can be trained in an educational environment where they are active and have the responsibility for their own learning and where student-centered strategies are applied. In the current study, the Interactive Small Group Study Method (ISGS; Taspinar, 2000) – which can be considered as a student-centered strategy – and the Traditional Small Group Study Method (TSGS; Taspinar) were compared from the point of view of students’ democratic attitude in a classroom climate and self-expression ability. The aim of the study was to examine the efficiency of the two methods in training a teacher who can freely express himself or herself in the communication environment and who has democratic attitudes.

PROBLEM

The rapid changes and increased complexity of today’s world present new challenges and put new demands on the education system. In confronting this challenge it is necessary to consider the complexity of the education system (BarYam, Rhoades, Sweeney, Jim Kaput, & Yaneer, 2002). The aim of contemporary education models is not to have students memorize information; it is to contribute to the mental development of individuals; that is, what is important is to teach them how to develop themselves throughout their lives. In other words, it is necessary to teach individuals how to learn.

The Turkish education system has been suffering from quite significant problems in terms of content and methods, and seems to be far from raising individuals who are learning how to learn. (Baloglu, 1990; Ozden, 1997). With this approach to education where the subject is the core of the program, information is memorized in order to pass certain examinations and is forgotten after a certain period of time.

According to some studies, academic staff in Turkey’s higher education institutions, where most teacher training is done, make use of the lecture method (Gömleksiz, 1993). Also much university teaching is still lecture based. While suiting some objectives in some courses, lectures are not the best teaching method (Liow, Belts, & Lit, 1993). This is not to say that the lecture method is a “bad” method. However, it can be argued that it is used in a bad manner.

On the other hand, there is a close relationship between the education method applied and the democratic class environment. It is not correct to expect that the democratic attitude of individuals and their ability to express themselves are improved in a teacher-centered education environment.

Schools should be places which provide individuals with means of problem solving and access to information, which teach them to be respectful of each other and of others’ ideas, which help them to acquire empathic understanding, and which can improve their decision-making ability (Darling, 2000; Tumbaugh, 2000). However, teachers in a democratic educational environment should be socioculturally well trained, should provide all students with an equal success opportunity, should be aware of the fact that they have different levels of ability for learning, and should also consider the students as individuals (Zeichner, 1993). According to some studies in Turkey, there is very strict control over the relations between students and teachers in the class environment and a teachercentered educational approach is adopted which produces an authoritarian atmosphere in class (Gomleksiz, 1993).

Significant studies have been carried out regarding the methods applied in the education-training environment, which are quite important in terms of the development of qualities of individuals. In these studies a cooperative learning method, which has been developed thanks to group study methods, is quite remarkable.

The main target of cooperative learning, which has similar qualities to the ISGS method applied with the experimental group in this study, is to have students study in small groups towards a common aim while helping each other to learn. Students study in learning groups of 3-5 people (Açikgöz, 1992; Sullivan, 1996). Students with different abilities, skills, and experiences in a group with heterogeneous structure study in the direction of a common group target. These small and heterogeneous groups study in a cooperative manner focused on specific duties (Hass & Parkay, 1993).

The success of the group lies in the basis of cooperative learning strategies (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991). While the principal responsibility in learning is on students, teachers are in the position of guides. Positive Interdependence is the first basic element of cooperative learning. This concept reflects the perception “one for all, all for one”. Students are highly motivated to speak and learn in a group (Kagan, 1995; Marry & Frieda, 1996). It cannot be said that the group is always in agreement for cooperative learning either (Randee, 2000).

ISGS is one of the methods which has similarities with the cooperative learning method, characteristics of which are summarized above and which is the subject matter of this study. It is necessary to examine the characteristics of this method and compare them with the basic elements of cooperative learning.

INTERACTIVE SMALL GROUP STUDY METHOD (ISGS) AND COOPERATIVE LEARNING

There is a common goal for the group in the ISGS method and customization of duties is available in the group. Each student is responsible for contributing to his or her group. Each group (which consists of three students) also has the opportunity to criticize and evaluate itself and other groups. As a principle, there is no competition between the teams in ISGS. Even though the groups criticize and evaluate their work, it is expressly underlined that this is aimed at improving democratic attitudes and the ability to accept criticisms, not because of any competition. Group requirements take precedence over individual requirements.

As seen, ISGS, with this style of implementation, generally has similarities with the cooperative learning method. However, it has some different aspects compared to the TSGS method; namely, small working groups actively participating in the course, balanced sharing of responsibilities, instant presentation of course studies by group members as observers to the entire group and a high level of interaction between the groups.

An experimental study was required for ISGS, where a high level of participation by students was available, so that democratic attitudes in class might be developed and a contribution to the progress of the ability to express oneself- which is highly significant for teachers – may be achieved. The current study was carried out with second-year students in the Planning and Evaluation in Education course at Firat University, Faculty of Technical Education, in Turkey.

AIM

The aim of the study was to compare the Interactive Small Group Study Method, which is applied in the Planning and Evaluation in Education course in the second-year curriculum at the Faculty of Technical Education, with the Traditional Small Group Study Method with regard to the impact of these methods on the democratic behavior of students and their ability to express themselves.

METHOD

The groups in this study were the experimental group and the control group, which is a pretest and posttest control-group design (Creswell, 2003). The ISGS method, which is one of the independent variables of the study, was applied in the experimental group and the TSGS method was applied in the control group. The Attitude Scale (AS) was applied in both groups.

POPULATION AND SAMPLE

The sample for study was composed of 140 students taking the Planning and Evaluation in Education course taught by the researcher to second-year students at the Faculty of Technical Education, Firat University, Elazig, Turkey.

Sixty students were selected for the sampling of the study, an experimental group and a control group (30+30). While determining the sample, in order to have neutrality the following criteria were considered: a) University Entrance Examination mathematics marks of the students, b) academic achievement average of the first term of the former year, c) academic achievement average of the second term of the former year, d) Attitude Test pretest points of the students, e) average score of the students on the Democratic Attitude Scale developed by Gömleksiz (1993).

The data collected were firstly evaluated with the cluster analysis technique and the K-means technique was applied (StatSoft, 2005). As a result of the groupings, 60 persons were selected to form the experimental and control groups, with the distribution of these 60 persons in four different classes.

The Single Sampling Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test was applied in order to analyze whether the students in the experimental and control groups had normal distribution characteristics in terms of neutrality criteria (Table 1).

According to this test, (North Carolina State University, 2005) it can be said that distribution at the level of p > 0.05 is normal in terms of all variables determined for neutrality. Therefore, parametric tests can be used for the analysis of the data.

Independent samples t test (Student-t) were applied in order to determine whether or not the scores of the experimental and control groups differed significantly in terms of neutrality variables (Table 2).

As seen, there is no significant difference at the level of p > 0.05 in terms of mean variables. Therefore, the groups had statistical neutrality. On the other hand, according to the results of Levene’s test performed in order to determine homogeneity of variances the groups were homogenous in all variables.

DATA COLLECTION INSTRUMENTS

Data were collected through the Ability to have Democratic Attitude and to Express Oneself Scale (Attitude Scale -AS) developed by Taspinar (2001). The main characteristics of this scale can be summarized as follows:

The measurement tool was prepared as a Likert-type scale. Therefore, the classification was designed from (1) entirely disagree to (5) entirely agree. After collecting expert opinions and obtaining factor analysis results, items were decreased from 80 to 23. The KMO (Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin) value of the scale was 0.72, Bartlett Test = 926.0801. The total variance was 55.0. Factor loading of the items was between the range of .37523 and .73156. Distribution of 23 items in the scale was on 8 factors.

Item discrimination powers were determined with t test, and t indexes of 23 items were between 2.26 and 9.54. All t indexes were found significant with 82 degrees of freedom at the level of p

The Cronbach alpha reliability coefficient of the AS was 0.76. Moreover, the reliability coefficient of the AS for the six subdimensions was between 0.61-0.73. The results proved that this scale is valid and reliable and could be used in this research.

COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS OF THE DATA

The following procedures were implemented in order to collect data.

1. The study performed within the Planning and Evaluation in Education course took 13 weeks. The Attitude Scale was applied as pretest and posttest.

2. During the study the ISGS method was applied with the experimental group and the TSGS method was applied with the control group. The method of application is explained below:

During the application of the ISGS method with the experimental group, the students were given the chance to choose who they would prefer to work with, and groups of three were formed. The groups determined their subjects by drawing lots. Each group was responsible for performing the activities during the week when their own subject was dealt with. While members of the groups submitted their presentations about their subject, other groups in the class performed application activities about the subject and presented their works to the class under the supervision of the managing group. At this stage, each group in the class had definitely made a presentation. Thus, to some extent, some observation has been made on the development of the ability to express oneself before the group without making any comprehensive preparations.

For the TSGS applied with the control group, the students were allowed to form groups of three persons. The groups determined their subjects by drawing lots. Each group made its own presentation on its own subject in the class. The group was also held responsible for performing the applications in the class. However, the observer groups which were in the class at that moment studied as individuals not as groups. Then students presented their study to the class under the supervision of the managing group.

RESULTS

FINDINGS AND INTERPRETATION OF FIVE HYPOTHESES

Hypothesis 1 When the scores obtained in the ISGS and TSGS groups from the AS on democratic attitude in the class and the ability to express oneself are taken into consideration:

a. There is no significant difference between the pretest attitude mean scores and posttest attitude mean scores of the experimental group.

b. There is no significant difference between the pretest attitude mean scores and posttest attitude mean scores of the control group.

According to the results of the paired samples t test, while there was a significant difference between the pretest and posttest scores of the experimental group at the level of df = 29, and p

Hypothesis 2 When the scores obtained from 6 subdimensions of the AS are taken into consideration;

a. There is no significant difference between the pretest mean scores and posttest mean scores of the experimental group.

b. There is no significant difference between the pretest mean scores and posttest mean scores of the control group.

According to the paired samples t test results, there was a difference between the pretest and posttest scores of the students in the experimental group in all subdimensions (t^sub 1^ = 3.76, t^sub 2^ = 3.45, t^sub 5^ = 2.36, t^sub 6^ = 4.83, t^sub 6^ = 2.25) except the fourth subdimension (t^sub 4^ = 0.81).

That is, the null hypothesis has been rejected apart from the fourth subdimension. Thus, it can be said that the ISGS method has made a positive contribution in terms of democratic attitudes and learning (subdimension 1), class management, communication and active participation (subdimension 2), making presentations on behalf of the group or for oneself (subdimension 3), speaking before a group without preparations in advance and willingness to speak up (subdimension 5), and expressing oneself (subdimension 6). Although there is an increase in arithmetical average with regard to the communication between the students (subdimension 4), it is not significant statistically.

According to the paired samples t test results for the control group, a significant difference was determined only in the “Speaking without preparations and willingness to speak up” fifth factor, (t^sub 5^ = 3,01) at the level of df = 29, and p

There was no difference in the control group because of the shortcomings of the TSGS method. As set forth by Açikgöz (1995), in such a cluster study, certain negative aspects come out such as the decrease in cooperation and imbalances in the sharing of the responsibilities in the group as studies turn out to be individual following the sharing of subjects (cited in Karaoglu, 1998).

Hypothesis 3 When the mean attitude scores of the groups obtained from the AS are taken into consideration there is no significant difference between the average posttest scores of the experimental and control groups.

The posttest mean scores of the experimental and control groups were compared with independent samples t test. No significant difference was determined with (t = 1,14) 58 df, at the level of p

Hypothesis 4 When the mean posttest scores obtained from 6 subdimensions of the AS are taken into consideration, there is no significant difference between the average posttest scores of the experimental and control groups.

According to the results of independent samples t test, there was a significant difference only in the second subdimension (t^sub 2^ = 2.13) and no significant difference was determined in other subdimensions (t^sub 1^ = 0.69, t^sub 3^ = 0.71, t^sub 4^ = 0.44, t^sub 5^ = 0.34, t^sub 6^ = 0.52) with 58 df and at the level of p

Although the comments based on hypothesis 3 and hypothesis 4 are useful for the impact of the method on certain attitudes, more distinctive information on this issue can be obtained with the review of achievement scores (the difference between the pretest and the posttest).

Hypothesis S When the mean achievement/improvement scores (which were determined by subtraction of pretest scores from posttest scores) of the groups obtained from the AS are taken into consideration, there is no significant difference between the experimental and control groups

According to the analysis, a significant difference (t = 2.03) in favor of the experimental group was determined between the achievement scores of the groups with 58 df and at the level of p

DISCUSSION

According to the data obtained, the ISGS method applied with the experimental group was more successful compared to the TSGS control group, particularly in terms of achievement/improvement attitude scores (the difference between pretest scores and posttest scores). However, the experimental group mostly achieved higher average scores in the 6 subdimensions. Therefore, it can be said that the ISGS method was more efficient compared to the TSGS method in terms of its impact on the students’ democratic attitudes in the class and their ability to express themselves. The grounds for this assertion can be briefly explained as follows:

Students take more responsibility in the ISGS method compared to the TSGS. While the managing group makes its presentation, it also guides the other observer groups in the class to participate in the other activities in the class. It serves as a contribution to the development of the communication between students. Their self-confidence increases, they can express themselves better and their sense of belonging to a group and their ability to work together develop. This finding is parallel to the studies/findings of research related especially to cooperative learning methods (Abrami, Poulsen, & Chambers, 2004; Balfakih, 2003; Ghaith, 2003; Gibson & Campbell, 2000). Therefore, it can be said that group studies make a positive contribution to the ability of individuals to express themselves and to the development of their democratic attitudes.

It can be said that the reason why a high level of positive attitude scores was achieved in the presentation subdimension in the experimental group is that both presenting groups and observer groups participate more in the educationinstruction process than they do in the control group. As stated by Garmston (1995), the self-respect of an individual who can express himself or herself develops as well. From this point of view, therefore, the ISGS method has made a contribution to the development of the self-respect and high level of motivation of teacher candidates.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The following recommendations are made according to the findings for the ISGS method applied in the study and to the observations of the researcher:

1. As students are highly active because of the characteristics of the ISGS method, the quality and specifications of the study of the groups in the class should be well defined.

2. Course material should also be prepared in order to apply the ISGS method in a more efficient manner.

3. It has been observed that the evaluation method for the success of the students not covered by the study has generally been positive. However, while evaluation of groups by each other is useful for democratic participation, certain precautions should be taken in order to avoid a competition or conflict between the groups.

4. Certain precautions should also be taken in order to ensure that observer groups prepare before the courses. Even though coming to courses without making any preparations compared to the control group, out-of-class studies are nonetheless indispensable.

5. A study should be made in order to determine the impact of the ISGS method on the success of students.

6. Both teacher candidates and teachers should go through a similar education-training environment. Certain studies should be made of the applications of these methods during preservice and in-service studies for teachers.

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MEHMET TASPINAR

Firat University, Elazig, Turkey

Dr. Mehmet Taçpinar, Department of Educational Sciences, Faculty of Technical Education, Firat University, Elazig, Turkey.

Appreciation is due to reviewers including: Mahmut Hamil Nazik, Vocational Education Faculty, Gazi University, Besevler, Ankara, Turkey, Email: hnazik@gazl.edu.tr; Çetin Semerci, Education Faculty, Department of Educational Sciences, Firat University, 23119 Elazig, Turkey, Email: csemercl@flrat.edu.tr

Please address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dr. Mehmet Tas,pinar, Firat University, Faculty of Technical Education, Department of Educational Sciences, 23119 Elazig, Turkey. Phone: +90 424 237 OO 00/4280; Fax: +90 424 236 7064; GSM +90 543 797 1408; Email: mtaspinar@flratedu.tr, taspinarmehmet@yaboo.com

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