Using the Psychological Concept of Compassion to Inform Pedagogic Strategies for Higher Education Seminars
This study used the university discussion-based seminar with the aim of exploring and improving students’ experiences of face-to-face group work in Higher Education. The purpose was to devise a pedagogic strategy to address the communicative barriers that extant research and literature suggests often arise between ethnically and/or internationally different student groups in universities. A critical examination of literature relevant to co-operative behaviours in groups was undertaken across disciplines. The result was the assembly and development of a theoretical basis for designing a pedagogy that attends explicitly to compassion in HE teaching, learning and assessment. Compassion is relevant to co-operative behaviours. It is recognised across disciplines and it is valued across cultures. It is defined as the noticing of distress or disadvantaging of others, and then taking action to reduce this. The compassion-focussed pedagogy was then applied in discussion-based seminars across different subjects in a UK university. The study adopted an action research approach, which was divided into two cycles. Cycle 1 was conducted amongst mainly white, local students in a Humanities department where (n=105) students were observed in their seminars, some of whom (n=14) participated in one-to-one interviews or focus groups. Cycle 2 was conducted amongst more diverse cohorts of students in the same HEI's Business department where (n=135) students were observed, some of whom (n=20) participated in one-to-one interviews or focus groups. In total (n=9) seminar tutors were observed and interviewed. Five sampling methods and seven data collection tools were combined to support the use of Template Analysis for comparative, thematic data analysis. Overall, most students made use of the compassion-focused pedagogy, adapting and developing it in seminar discussions to benefit the learning and social experiences of themselves and others. Data from three students helped explore why the pedagogy might not be suitable for all students. There was evidence of a positive impact on seminar academic outcomes in terms of assessment for critical thinking skills, particularly for BME students, although this result is offered cautiously and requires further research. The main indications from the study are that explicit work with the concept of compassion, including overt formal assessment of its use, can be unintrusive on subject material (a tutor concern), ethically appropriate, and beneficial to enhancing social and learning interconnectivity between students. Traditional/ standard categorisations of students as local or international in origin are also found to be extremely problematic and profoundly unhelpful in understanding and unlocking communicative barriers between students.