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Med Educ. 2004 Mar;38(3):286-93.

Student perceptions of effective small group teaching.

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Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



The goal of this study was to assess student perceptions of effective small group teaching during preclinical training in a medical school that promotes an integrated, systems-based undergraduate curriculum. In particular, students were asked to comment on small group goals, effective tutor behaviours, pedagogical materials and methods of evaluation.


Six focus groups were held with 46 Year 1 and 2 medical students to assess their perceptions of effective small group teaching in the 'Basis of Medicine' component of the undergraduate curriculum. Ethnographic content analysis guided the interpretation of the focus group data.


Students identified tutor characteristics, a non-threatening group atmosphere, clinical relevance and integration, and pedagogical materials that encourage independent thinking and problem solving as the most important characteristics of effective small groups. Tutor characteristics included personal attributes and the ability to promote group interaction and problem solving. Small group teaching goals providing included opportunities to ask questions, to work as a team, and to learn to problem solve.


This study highlighted the benefits of soliciting student impressions of effective small group teaching. The students' emphasis on group atmosphere and facilitation skills underscored the value of the tutor as a 'guide' to student learning. Similarly, their comments on effective cases emphasised the importance of clinical relevance, critical thinking and the integration of basic and clinical sciences. This study also suggested future avenues for research, such as a comparison of student and teacher perceptions of small group teaching as well as an analysis of perceptions of effective small group learning across the educational continuum, including undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing professional education.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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