University of Alicante, Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Food Sciences Department (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2011 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Pages: 2513-2519
ISBN: 978-84-614-7423-3
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 5th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2011
Location: Valencia, Spain
Regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats. Based on this theory, the collaborative activity developed in the first course of the Chemistry degree at the University of Alicante involved 48 first-year students working in small work groups (4 students each one) and five different disciplines: maths, physics, inorganic, organic and analytical chemistry.
In order to increase the interest of the students, some specific topics concerning chemistry in our daily lives were presented (i.e. environmental chemistry, food chemistry, cosmetics chemistry, etc).
Each working group selected one topic and developed a written document. To accomplish that, students had specific roles: work coordination, information searching and writing. In addition, the groups gave short lectures presenting their most relevant findings to the rest class and a committee formed by the professors of the studied subjects.
The transitions encountered by students during the first year and the intensity of academic work require an adjustment for them to feel at ease in the university environment. Providing good interaction with faculty and offering peer tutoring are highly recommended for entering students.
As a consequence, the tutor figure was introduced. Tutors are often older students who have already completed similar subjects during the course of their own education and are skilled enough to teach these skills to someone else who may be struggling.
The role of tutors was to inform the group about the purpose of work, to avoid fragmentation of work in isolated and unrelated subjects including ensuring compliance with established roles within the working group. In addition, the tutor advised the group on the temporal organization of work as well as seeking information and providing help in preparing the oral presentation. Finally, the tutor facilitated communication within groups and between groups and teachers.
For the evaluation of the mentoring project, a series of opinion polls related to the role of tutors in the development of work were distributed to students. The most relevant conclusions drawn from opinion polls are listed below:
- The tutor advised the group about the timing of work.
- The tutor helped the group in the management of software tools.
- The tutor encouraged the existence of good climate of communication between members of the group and between the group and tutor.
- The tutor encouraged the participation and involvement of all components in the performance of work.
- The tutor helped the group to interpret and understand the issues developed by teachers working in the guides.
- The tutor guided the group in search of information.
- The tutor helped the group in conducting the oral presentation.

It was found that the students completed the job with less difficulty than in previous years due to the work of tutor’s students. On the other hand, students who tutored reported an increased knowledge of the subject material, an improved ability to speak to small groups, and a deeper satisfaction gained from helping others. However, the study did not examine quantitatively the increase in subject knowledge.