NIC Spotlight: Belgian exchange students explore how to improve group work for students and faculty

Exchange students Sofie Tirez (left) and Céline Vandendaele have spent the Winter 2022 term teaching and learning at NIC.

Two exchange students from Belgium are hoping to bridge the gap between students and instructors to improve how group work, works.

Sofie Tirez and Céline Vandendaele are Teacher Education students from KU Leuven in Belgium, have spent the winter 2022 term at NIC, doing a combination of teaching, learning and research.

Both have backgrounds in social work before they decided to go into education, specializing in behavioural sciences and how it influences individuals, groups and society at large.

“It really applies to everything and impacts everything we do – it’s the ‘why’ behind how we interact, which is really fascinating and fun to teach,” said Tirez.

For both Tirez and Vandendaele, becoming educators is a natural transition from their previous careers.

“I’ve always been interested in teaching and helping people, so this specialization combines those two passions for me,” said Vandendaele.

“For me, I’ve always loved working with groups, from coaching teams to the group work I did as a social worker – going into teaching was a natural progression,” added Tirez.

During their term at NIC, the two have had the opportunity to be in the classroom in NIC’s Early Childhood Education program.

“We’ve been looking at the impact of culture on young children, how it influences interactions and the importance of being mindful of cultural differences when supporting both children and their families,” said Vandendaele.

The combination of teaching and learning is coming together as part of their final project. The pair are presenting a series of workshops on group work and how to make it more beneficial and less painful for both students and instructors.

“There’s a collective groan when students are told they’ll be doing group work – a perception that it’s going to be unpleasant, but group work – working with different people to come together to complete a project – is essential to any job you want to do,” said Vandendaele. “The question becomes how to make it a better experience for students so they get more out of it while also helping instructors navigate group dynamics to ensure the learning outcomes are achieved.”

“One of the things we’ve found is our experience helps to bridge that gap,” added Tirez. “We’re both students and also instructors, so we’ve experienced it from both sides.”

The workshops are being held through March and early April:

Student Workshops: How to Ace Group Work

Faculty Workshops: Making Group Work, Work for Students