What is Collaborative Learning?

What is Collaborative Learning?
Collaborative learning is a type of active learning
that takes place in student teams.
It centers on the students’ discovery, study and use
of information in a collaborative manner, rather
than an instructor simply lecturing and the
students individually, passively taking notes.
Their analysis generally requires interpretation,
assessment, evaluation, comparison, synthesis,
and so on.
What Are the Benefits of Collaborative Learning? (1)
Collaborative learning aids in students’
socialization, and requires them to divide up
tasks, provide feedback, and debate different
It encourages problem solving skills, understanding
complex relationships and decision making in an
open ended situations. Such problem solving
processes also mirror “real world” working
What Are the Benefits of Collaborative Learning? (2)
Collaborative learning often allows for “peer coaching,”
when the higher achieving students can help their less
achieving team members understand a problem and
possible solutions.
Also, in many cases the answers the students derive to a
problem or issue through collaborative learning tend to
be better than they would otherwise come to on their
Finally, all the students become actively involved in
learning information on the topic of the course.
What Role Do I Play in Collaborative Learning?
In collaborative learning, the professor acts
more as an organizer, facilitator, and mediator
than as a transmitter of knowledge.
Collaborative learning often involves
challenging students with analytical problems
which they must solve in teams by obtaining
information or utilizing information given to
Example of Collaborative Learning: Jigsaw (1)
The faculty member creates teams, with the number of students on each team
corresponding to the number of subcomponents of the problem, issue or topic at
hand. Each student has to take one of those components (as assigned by the
professor or self-chosen by the student) and becomes an “expert” on it, either
through materials provided him or her by the professor, or through the student’s
own research.
Then the “experts” on each subcomponent (there will be one such “expert” from each
team) come together to form the “expert committee” on that subcomponent. This
committee synthesizes their knowledge, finds a consensus, and devises the best
means to teach their consensus to their original team members.
The original team then re-constitutes, and each “expert” then teaches his or her team
mates the expert consensus on that problem subcomponent.
A variation would be for each group to then devise their own solution to the entire
problem, and these solutions be discussed and modified according to one of the
other collaborative learning techniques described below.
Example of Collaborative Learning: Jigsaw (2)
Schematically, this would be a possible structure of a jigsaw:
Group A: Student 1A, Student 2A, Student 3A, Student 4A
Group B: Student 1B, Student 2B, Student 3B, Student 4B
Group C: Student 1C, Student 2C, Student 3C, Student 4C
Group D: Student 1D, Student 2D, Student 3D, Student 4D
Example of Collaborative Learning: “Numbered Heads
In this technique, each student is assigned a number, for example from one to
four (perhaps counting off, randomly chosen, self chosen, and so on).
Then students form teams with (in this example) four members, each
member having a different assigned number (in other words, each team
would have a student numbered “one,” “two,” “three,” and “four”).
Each team then performs the assigned task, decides on the answer to the
problem, or otherwise completes the assignment. The students then
return to their original seating position.
The professor then decides on a number (e.g., from one to four), and calls on
each student with that number to give their group’s “answer,” explain the
solution to the problem to the class, etc.
Since no one knows which student number the professor will call on to give
the answer, all students will have a “vested interest” in the solution.
Example of Collaborative Learning: “Think-Pair-Share”
The professor poses to the class a problem requiring analysis,
evaluation, and/or cognitive synthesis. The student is given a very
limited amount of time to consider the question and find a
response (typically one to five minutes).
Then the student pairs with a partner (for example, the student to the
left of her or him).
These students share their responses, and develop the best answer.
This could then be continued in another round, with the answer
from the student pair being further discussed with another pair of
students (for example, a pair of two students in the front row of the
class turns to their counterparts in the second row, etc).
Example of Collaborative Learning: “Send a Problem”
Students are divided into teams. On an index card, the teams are provided
with a problem, issue, or topic. Each team comes to a consensus on the
best answer to the question, and writes their answer on the back of the
card. (Perhaps dissenters are allowed to put their dissenting answer on
the card as well, and identify it as a dissenting answer).
The card is then passed on to the second team. The second team does the
same as the first. The second team then turns the card over to see the
first team’s answer. The second team considers the first team’s answer,
and modifies it or contradicts it, as they decide. They write their answer
on back of the card next to the first team’s answer.
The card is passed to a third team, and so on.
The card could also eventually make its way back to the first team, which
could then respond, modifying their original answer, the new consensus
answer, and so on.
Of course, there would probably be as many questions on as many cards as
there is teams, so that each team is always working on a problem, and
passing it “down the row,” so to speak.
Example of Collaborative Learning: “One Minute
At the end of the class session, the students have minute to write their
responses to one or more of the following questions:
What was the most important or useful thing you learned today?
What two important questions do you still have; what remains
What would you like to know more about?
Their answers might then help the professor tailor the course material
to students’ interests, facilitate designing questions for group
discussion, and also show which students understand the material
and which don’t. (Of course, this really isn’t collaborative learning
so much as a form of active learning).
Example of Collaborative Learning: Peer Writing
Students work in small groups to write a paper
together, going through each stage.
They formulate ideas, create a thesis statement,
find supporting evidence, and so on.
This involves continuous peer review.
Example of Collaborative Learning: Structured
Academic Controversies
The professor begins with a controversy (e.g., in order to develop and use
“green” energy, should people be made to pay “X” more per (gallon,
kilowatt, etc)?).
The professor then allows the students to consider the issue, bring together
their evidence, and so on. The students might perform these tasks in likeminded groups.
Then, after presenting their arguments, the students are made to argue the
opposite side just as effectively, with the same depth of evidence, etc.
Again, this could be made a group exercise.
If desired, the students could then be made to indicate if their original views
had changed.
A variation, related to a specific course topic, would be these questions: Did
A cause B, is A responsible for B, is A more important than B, etc.
Examples of Collaborative Learning: Simulations (1)
Simulations are complex, role-playing activities that attempt to resolve an
open ended question.
Students take on highly defined roles that mimic actual roles in history or in
the present (such as justices on the Supreme Court).
Often students are placed into teams for this project (such as the leadership
of a particular country, or of a particular political party, and so on).
There should be a strong tension between the different roles (and/or teams),
which gives the students and/or teams different goals, methods,
motivations, benefits, drawbacks, dilemmas, and so on.
Often students can become emotionally invested in a simulation, and tend to
perform exceptionally well, both in learning and in effort to accomplish
their tasks.
Examples of Collaborative Learning: Simulations (2)
After the simulation is finished there is usually a
“debriefing” session, where students analyze
the simulation, their own actions, that of their
team and other teams, and discuss the
advantages and disadvantages of exploring
the problem using simulations.
There are numerous pre-fabricated simulations
or educational games available.
Questions Asked in Collaborative Learning (1)
These analytical questions are often used in collaborative
What is the difference between... and...?
How are...and...similar?
How would I use...to...?
What is the main idea of...?
What if...?
How does...affect...?
What is a new example of...?
Explain why...?
Explain how...?
How does this relate to what I've learned before?
What conclusions can I draw about...?
Questions Asked in Collaborative Learning (2)
These analytical questions are often used in collaborative
What are the strengths and weaknesses of...?
What is the best...and why?
What do you think causes _______ ? Why?
What is another way to look at _______ ?
What would happen if _______ ?
What are the implications of _______ ?
Why is _______ important?
How does _______ apply to everyday life?
What questions do you think the instructor will put on the
next exam? Why? What would be model answers? These
could be asked individually or in groups to achieve consensus.
Factors to Consider in Implementing Collaborative
Projects: Makes the Project, Assignments, Tasks, and
Expectations clear (1)
This tends to be a critical component of a successful
collaborative project, and of well-functioning teams.
On the first day of class, students must understand the project
and what is expected of each student and of the teams as a
Students must be aware that their grade is in part a group grade;
thus, there is a great degree of inter-dependency. For each
student to succeed, the entire group must succeed.
Factors to Consider in Implementing Collaborative
Projects: Makes the Project, Assignments, Tasks, and
Expectations clear (2)
Also, encourage students to discuss their own fears (and also
perhaps hopes) with regard to working in groups on a project,
and address those issues accordingly. For a variety of reasons,
some students will balk at engaging in the project, and choose
to drop the class. In many cases, this is for the best, lest that
student “spoil” the project, be uncooperative, disruptive, and
so on.
Over the course of the project, make sure that the teams have a
very clear idea of the steps they need to take to complete the
project and fulfill their tasks. The teams should write out
their own plans of action in this regard, and indicate who is
responsible for what, when, etc.
Factors to Consider in Implementing Collaborative
Projects: Makes the Project, Assignments, Tasks, and
Expectations clear (3)
Then each team member should have a copy of this list, so that everyone is
aware of their responsibilities. These lists could even be posted for
everyone to see, increasing the pressure on each student to fulfill all of
their tasks on time.
Project time lines may help: this would be in a linear form, with the X axis as
time, and on the line indicate what goal should be accomplished when,
and by whom.
If the project lasts over several weeks, it is important for the professor to have
specific points in time at which each team has to report to the professor
what they have so far accomplished (or not accomplished), problems they
have encountered, and so on. Perhaps task restructuring, reworking a
project time line, or other remedy may be necessary.
Factors to Consider in Implementing Collaborative
Projects: Makes the Project, Assignments, Tasks, and
Expectations clear (4)
When the project involves team papers, the better students sometimes
complain that the less capable students “drag them down.” One way to
resolve this is to have each student turn in a component of the team
paper (for example, the analysis of a survey question), and then the team
as a whole writes the overall paper (such as the analysis of a survey).
More weight could be given to the individual component paper than the team
analysis paper. Some educators suggest that the individual component be
given much more weight in determining that student’s final grade than
that part of their grade derived from the team’s overall grade for the
completed project.
Some studies show that teams often have higher achievement when there is
“competition” between the teams. In simulations, for instance, if an
international crisis occurs, the competition could be which country gains
the most advantage by the time the crisis is resolved. Each “country” is
represented by a team that comprises its “leadership.”
Factors to Consider in Implementing Collaborative
Projects: Keep Apparently Inharmonious Groups
Redistributing the members of one team into other teams
tends to disturb and confuse the established teams,
and require many tasks (such as work distribution) to
be reconfigured, thus tending to slow down the team.
Rather, the malfunctioning team should themselves
analyze (perhaps with the professor) why they aren’t
working well together, and find their own solution.
This then becomes part of the learning process.
Factors to Consider in Implementing Collaborative
Projects: Provide Mechanisms for Groups to Deal with
Uncooperative Members
It tends to be harder for someone to “shirk” their responsibilities in
small groups, for example teams of three people.
Also, the teams may decide beforehand how they wish to deal with
“shirkers,” if the situation arises.
Another tactic is to let each team decide, by majority vote, to dismiss a
low performing member.
That student would face the choice of persuading their team to let her
or him rejoin the team, promising to do “x, y, or z.”
Or this student might persuade another team to accept him or her.
Grading in Collaborative Learning: Peer Evaluation
Students could, at some point early in the project, arrive at a
consensus as to which traits, skills, and responsibilities will be
assessed, such as timeliness, thoroughness, making meetings
on time (or at all), and so on.
These could then be the “data points” for the peer evaluation.
At the end of the project, each student writes a short
description of the role of each other team member (including
themselves), and suggests a grade for each team member.
Any consensus with regard to a particular team member may
well have evaluative worth for the professor. Sometimes such
evaluations actually occur in the middle of the project, to
address on-going problems.
Collaborative Learning: Who Designs the Teams? (1)
Always make sure that teams are designed so that each team member has
roughly the same amount of work and responsibilities.
The professor might let the students choose their own teams. The risk is
self-selected groups and too great a tendency to socialize.
Faculty might choose teams with consideration of their students’
personalities or academic abilities and past success. Often, this is done
to make teams basically similar with regard to key types of students
(for example, perhaps each team should have a “talkative” student, or
a student who tends to take a leadership position, or a good writer, or
students with high and with low performance histories).
A “middle ground” between the two above methods is to have each
student write down the names of three students they would like to
work with, and from these lists the professor creates the teams, using
the criteria above.
Collaborative Learning: Who Designs the Teams? (2)
A variation of this is to ask non-scalable rather than scalable
For example, one might ask: what is most important to you:
political belief, religious belief, ethnic identity, regional
identity, or some other aspect of identity?
Still another variation is to ask open ended questions: list four
things most important in defining yourself, in rank order.
From this, teams can be formed according to the task
Size of Groups
Research shows that groups of four or five
members work best in most situations.
The less skillful the group members, the smaller
the groups should be.
The shorter the amount of time available, the
smaller the groups should be.
Collaborate Learning: Small Group Learning Page. November 11, 1997.
http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/archive/cl1/cl/doingcl/dyadic.htm (accessed February
1, 2011).
Collaborative Learning. University of California-Berkeley.
http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/collaborative.html (accessed February 1, 2011).
Leigh Smith, Barbara, and Jean MacGregor. What Is Collaborative Learning? Edited
by Anne Goodsell, Michelle Maher, Vincent Tinto, Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean
MacGregor. Learning, and Assessment at Pennsylvania State University National
Center on Postsecondary Teaching. 1992.
http://learningcommons.evergreen.edu/pdf/collab.pdf (accessed December 10,
Srinivas, Hari. Collaborative Learning Systems. Global Development Research
Center. December 3, 2010. http://www.gdrc.org/kmgmt/c-learn/strategies.html
(accessed 2 February, 2011).
Workshop: Cooperative and Collaborative Learning. 2004.
l (accessed January 21, 2011).

similar documents