Improving Small Group Teaching and Learning: The Fishbowl Format

J. Tricio-Pesce, Juan E. Montt, Benjamín Gracia, Francisco Pampin, Camilo Quinteros, Macarena Salas, Nelson Fuentes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

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Objectives: To investigate students’ perceptions and impact of moving from presentation seminars on Oral Medicine to a more dynamic fishbowl learning format.

Oral Medicine seminars consisted of 8-10 year-3 and year-5 students’ teams preparing a subject to be presented to their classmates. In March 2016 seminars were replaced by the fishbowl format where teams of year-3 and year-5 undergraduates were randomly divided in groups of 18 students and subsequently subdivided into two subgroups of 9 (Contributors (C) and Observers (O) subgroups). A clinical case with several open-ended questions on Semiology, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning was weekly uploaded to the e-learning platform to be studied by all students.

Weekly, C-subgroups sat in an inner circle (“the fishbowl”) and discussed for 30 minutes the case Semiology, while O-subgroups formed an outer circle to observe the “fishbowl.” 10 minutes questioning from the O- to C-subgroups followed before groups reversed roles and Diagnosis and Treatment Planning questions were discussed following the same protocol. Randomly assigned per-group staff monitored discussions while the course coordinator provided final conclusions and remarks.

2013-2015 seminar students (N.406) voluntarily completed a 7-item perceptions’ questionnaire (5-point Likert scale), along with those who followed the fishbowl format in 2016 (N. 144). Seminars and Fishbowl marks were descriptively compared and the effect size calculated. T-test compared seminar’s and fishbowl’s questionnaire results.

Results: 239 (59%) seminar and 89 (62%) fishbowl students completed de questionnaire. Table 1 shows the different cohorts’ perceptions. The average effect size of the fishbowl format was +0,55.
Conclusions: Fishbowl learning format was better perceived than seminars in concepts such as attractive methodology (Q1), allowing learning (Q4), active involvement (Q6), and meeting expectations (Q7). Importance of subjects (Q2) and accomplishing learning outcomes (Q3) showed no difference. Fishbowl “assessment” (Q5) was poorly rated probably because year-3 and year-5 students took the same items test, something that was latter differentiated. Finally, the fishbowl format had a positive high effect size.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationInternational Association for Dental Research (IADR), San Francisco CA
StatePublished - Mar 2017


  • Active learning
  • Fishbowl format
  • Seminars
  • Small group teaching


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