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M.A. Sanromán, M. Pazos

University of Vigo (SPAIN)
This work shows the experience of using unstructured collaborative practices applied to the subject Environmental technology and management of soil and air. This subject belongs to the Environmental Biotechnology module of the Master Degree of Biotechnology Advanced of University of Vigo.
During the academic course 2010-2011 unstructured collaborative practices were accomplished for the lab classes. According to the cognitive elaboration view, explaining material to a peer is especially important for helping students remember new information and for relating it to their existing knowledge [1]. Thus, the lab practices were realized in pairs and there is no guide that establishes the experimental procedure to develop them. The lab practices were presented as a problem that the students have to solve. The teacher gives to each group the problem statement to solve in the lab practice. Therefore, the student’s theoretical and practical knowledge is combined with a search for information in scientific resources.
As an example of unstructured collaborative practice is the assessment of soil in order to determine the contamination grade. The teacher provides to each group of students (2 people) a polluted soil and the type of contamination (organic or inorganic) is informed. The groups have to search information about all they need for developing the experimental process, based on the technologies that are available in the lab. Scientific’s data base management, (e.g. Scopus is necessary for this purpose. An outline about what are the steps that they have to follow should be provided to the students. This outline should have the main information that they have to have in order to start the practice (e.g. Step 1. Search the available technologies to determine pollutant concentration in the soil Step 2. Search how to use and measure the pollutant, Step 3 Go to the lab and check if all the material and reagents are available, Step 4 Start the practice). The teacher should monitor for each group the development of each step and should assess whether the knowledge acquired at each stage are enough to proceed to the next stage.

[1] Yetter, G.; Gutkin, T.; Saunders, A.; Galloway, A.; Sobansky, R.; Song, S. Unstructured Collaboration Versus Individual Practice for Complex Problem Solving: A Cautionary Tale. The Journal of Experimental Education, 2006, 74(2), 137–159.