What Is Collaborative Learning?
"Collaborative learning," "cooperative learning," and "group learning" are
terms that are often used synonymously. While some people carefully
try to distinguish between the three terms, we use them to refer
to an instructional approach in which students work together in
small groups to accomplish a common learning goal. Collaboration
can be as simple as a two-minute, in-class exercise involving pairs
of students, but term-length projects in or outside of class are
the most common. Most collaborative/cooperative group models adhere
to the following principles:
- Group projects are selected and designed
- Students usually work and learn in
groups of three to six.
- Positive interdependence and cooperation
is a necessary component.
- Interpersonal/cooperative skill building
is addressed in class.
- The teacher is viewed as a coach or
- Students are individually accountable
for contributing to the groups work.
- Students are individually accountable for
meeting the objectives of the unit of study.
What Learning Benefits Can Be
Derived From Having Students Work In Groups?
- Collaborative learning groups can
overcome student resistance to class participation, even
if one member of the group reports to the class as a whole.
- Promoting and modeling group cooperative
behavior in class can have positive effects on students'
interactions with one another outside of class.
- Cooperative working relationships
are required for many jobs.
- Student collaboration in learning promotes
active engagement with materials, critical thinking and communication
skills, rather than passive forms of learning.
What Are Some Strategies For
Incorporating Group Work Into A Classroom?
Effective group work requires careful
planning and structuring. The process must be planned in detail
before it is communicated to students. Group work should be based
on objectives developed in the instructional design of your course.
- Break projects into specific and sequential
tasks the groups will perform.
- Small groups should present their
findings to the class as a whole.
- Specify roles for group members and
tasks for the group.
- Consider how you will provide students
with incentives to work as a team and hold students individually
accountable for contributing to the group's work and for
mastering the content.
- Consider electronic communication
(e-mail, discussion groups) as means for students to work
- Half of each student¹s grade will be
an individual assessment of the sample cooperative learning
How Can Group Learning Be Evaluated?
Some possibilities follow:
- A portion of each student's grade
will be the average of grades earned by all members of the
group for the group learning activities;
- A portion of the project grade will reflect
each student¹s participation and contributions as assessed
by other group members.
What Are Some Common Difficulties
With Group Work?
- The difficulty of students getting
together outside of class.
- Fairly evaluating individual work, since
some students feel they do most of the work while others do
not try to do their share.
The following recommendations may support effective group work:
- Provide groups with adequate descriptions
of assignments, processes, evaluations, and objectives.
Get the students in their groups early in the course and
let them remain together for the duration of the project.
Allow groups to have a say in team assignments. Set team
size by pedagogical objectives. Look for ways to train students
in skills that will help them to work in groups. Give sufficient
instructions on outcomes and process. Identify and encourage
the following defined roles: group facilitator, record keeper/folder
monitor, timekeeper, or reader, reporter, checker, encourager.
- The following links contain additional detailed
information on group learning:
Collaborative Learning Links
Are you thinking about how to integrate
cooperative/collaborative learning into your course? This site
from Indiana University provides instructors with a comprehensive
collection of ways to make group work an important part of learning
in the university. Various links take you to overviews of collaborative
learning principles, articles dealing with the values of group
learning in the college classroom, and cooperative/collaborative
learning centers at universities across North America.
Cooperative/Collaborative Learning "is
an instructional approach in which students work together in small
groups to accomplish a common learning goal." This resource provides
you with an introduction to cooperative/collaborative learning
concepts. Through a series of links, instructors can learn about
collaborative learning models and theories, classroom management,
effective icebreakers, and team building strategies, among others.
with Collaborative Activities and Small Groups"
Group learning promotes "active learning, critical thinking, conceptual understanding,
long-term retention of material, and high levels of student satisfaction." In
this discussion, Penn State highlights a variety of ways to put cooperative/collaborative
learning to use: for example, informal discussion and study groups, formal
problem-solving groups, and long-term group projects. As you ponder which technique
will work best in your course, consider the learning goals you have in mind
for the students.
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