As the saying goes: "Two heads are better than one."
Collaborative learning offers many benefits over traditional instruction. As studies show, when students work as a team, they develop positive attitudes, solve problems more effectively, and experience a greater sense of accomplishment.
Ideally, all learning includes active student participation and interaction among students. Instructors who have not introduced group activities into their teaching arsenals have valid reasons for being hesitant. Some do not want to transfer control from their tried and true teacher-centered methods of instruction to their students. Others have heard stories from their colleagues that the experience was not worthwhile.
Though the move away from a teacher-controlled environment can be a dramatic change, the benefits of collaborative learning far outweigh any obstacles that you must deal with when implementing group activities.
Benefits of Collaboration
Research shows that students can benefit from group work in several ways.1
- Students retain information longer than with other teaching methods.
- Perspectives from group members offer another opportunity to learn new material.
- Students have a positive feeling about the course material.
- Students who establish good relationships with their peers have a more positive learning experience.
- Successful group work leads to students feeling better about themselves.
- Students increase their social and communication skills.
- Students increase their critical thinking skills.
Challenges of Collaboration
Many students dread group work. Some motivated students report that they are dragged down by their slower group members. Less confident students complain about being ignored or not taken seriously in group sessions. Groups may break down completely when some teammates are perceived to be dead weight and not contributing their fair shares.
Some students prefer only an individual effort and have no desire to help others or ask for help. They object to the responsibility that comes with collaborative learning.
Some students feel that they spend too much time on group projects and would rather be working through more course material and gaining more useful knowledge.
Some students will not approve of sharing one group grade.
Before Assigning Group Work
You do not want students to see group activities as busy work. If working in a group does not enhance your learning objectives and provide value, consider alternative teaching techniques. You should use group work only for projects that an individual student cannot do as well alone and finish in the intended amount of time.
Research shows that students work harder when others are relying on them. To encourage this interdependence, create group assignments that require the students to divide the work to meet the goal, question and challenge each other's ideas, and share feedback and encouragement.
Before incorporating group work into your course, consider the following questions:
- Will the group work further my course objectives?
- What introductory material or group resource information can you provide to help students succeed?
- How will the groups be formed?
- Will students be involved in the planning of the groups?
- How will you assess students' learning and maintain individual accountability? Will you require a group deliverable?
- How will you handle concerns and problems?
1"44 Benefits of Collaborative Learning." gdrc.org n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2014.