Group dynamics exercises and problem-based learning in social psychology

The discipline of social psychology offers a bachelor’s level course in group dynamics. The course is, in part, very practical: it is completed in the form of, for example, exercises in group dynamics.

This means that students meet and complete exercises on themes such as conflict resolution, communication, trust and leadership.

In other words, the course design differs a great deal from traditional lecture-based courses, which is something that students tend to appreciate. For them, it is a whole new experience to simply enter a lecture room and find the chairs placed in a circle rather than in straight rows, as is customary.

This course has taught me so much about understanding others and myself in relation to others.

The exercises begin with introductions and then proceed to more demanding work. Reflection on the exercises is an important part of the teaching, taking the form of both individual learning journals based on appropriate reading and groupwork during the actual exercise sessions. The students are encouraged to observe both what happens inside them during the exercises (e.g., feeling nervous when you are expected to do something with the group members looking at you) and what happens in the group and its dynamics as the course progresses. The course format has received good feedback from students. One student noted: “This course has taught me so much about understanding others and myself in relation to others.”

The bachelor’s level course is connected to a master’s level course in group dynamics and group leadership. Master’s students who have completed the bachelor’s level course have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge about group dynamics by practising how to lead groups, working as part of a leadership team and giving feedback to others. The students are involved in planning the bachelor’s level course, while observing and analysing their own and others’ leadership with the help of relevant literature in the field. The master’s level course has also received a great deal of positive student feedback, not least because so few courses in social psychology contain practical elements. Bachelor’s students have also appreciated having master’s students lead the course.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring terms 2020 and 2021, the group dynamics courses could understandably not be organised as contact instruction. The course format had to be changed so that students could nevertheless practise group dynamics in a sensible way, although over a remote connection. As a result, an approach known as problem-based learning (PBL) was adopted in spring 2021.

Master’s level students worked on cases related to group dynamics, after which each of them led a PBL group of bachelor’s students on Zoom. In the PBL groups, bachelor’s students worked on their cases in accordance with a seven-step method in which they first identified what the current case was about, then considered the knowledge they already possessed, and finally formulated relevant questions and learning outcomes for the group based on the topic of the case. Next, the group members independently read the course literature and then met again to discuss what they had learned and to write a text with answers to the questions they had originally formulated. Finally, the group considered how well they had succeeded in achieving the learning outcomes they had set for themselves.

Students praised this format too, noting that the PBL method was both rewarding and educational. While working with cases involving group dynamics, they practised group dynamics by solving cases together.