“Anyway, back to the point”: a discursive psychological approach to topic shift interaction in group work

Gillian Hendry, Sally Wiggins, Tony Anderson

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentation


    Working in groups is an integral part of many university students’ experiences, and learning to be an effective team member is an essential employability skill for STEM students. Although students are often required to work in groups, we currently know very little about how group work ‘works’ in practice; that is, the social interaction processes and conversational dynamics which underlie group work. While past group work research has typically focused on measuring personality, the current study aims to look at the intricacies of what actually happens within the group setting. Final-year psychology students were video-recorded as they engaged in group work (specifically, problem-based learning) to gain a more comprehensive insight into how this produces collaborative knowledge. Data was transcribed and analysed using the qualitative methodologies of conversation analysis and discursive psychology, focusing on the ways in which topic shifts occur. Whilst veering “off-topic” has been shown not to be detrimental to student group productivity (and has actually been found to be beneficial), whether or not groups stay ‘on-task’ or ‘on-topic’ is important for both group work skills and effective learning. In this paper, we focus on how students themselves recognize talk as being off-topic and the strategies that are used to bring the group back on task, such as orienting to academic materials (e.g. journal articles) and speech organization. The effectiveness of PBL can often rest on the quality of student interactions, so the more we can learn about these in ‘real time’, the more we can encourage effective learning.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2014
    EventHEA STEM Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2014 - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    Duration: 30 Apr 20141 May 2014


    ConferenceHEA STEM Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2014
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Internet address


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