The role of institutional power in tutorless problem-based learning: students’ interactional strategies for self-managing conflict in teamwork

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Teamwork is a requirement in any engineering job and is particularly important where innovation and entrepreneurial knowledge are highly valued. In 21st century engineering, technical subject knowledge is of limited value on its own and must be accompanied with interpersonal skills as part of the full ‘graduate package’. Problem-based learning (PBL) is said to enable the development of skills such as teamwork and communication, though how this actually occurs is only minimally understood. Interpersonal complications (e.g. disagreements and social loafing) within teamwork can undermine the success of PBL, so we must understand how students self-manage social problems (if at all).

Common practice in institutions lacking in teaching manpower, this work investigates the social processes involved in floating facilitator/tutorless PBL. Through a Conversation Analytic approach, we centre on these tutorless, video-recorded interactions of 33 students (comprising 6 PBL groups) in a Chemical Process Design module, elucidating the mechanics of how group conflict is negotiated. The analyses illuminate the complexities of PBL interactions identified from the wider data corpus in that, although the tutor figure was absent for the vast majority of the sessions, each of the groups within the corpus demonstrated considerable adaptability to the unfamiliarity of the floating facilitator PBL model, drawing upon a wide range of discursive strategies (e.g. invoking institutional power) in doing so. These results are presented and their implications for teaching practice discussed, with the aim to establish mechanisms by which students can be supported better in teamwork situations through this naturalistic, ‘real-life’ data.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2018
Event46th SEFI Annual Conference - Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 17 Sep 201821 Sep 2018


Conference46th SEFI Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleSEFI 2018
Internet address


  • teamwork
  • problem-based learning
  • conflict
  • student interaction
  • problem-solving

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