Welcome to this Espresso Course on collaborative and group learning! In today’s post, we will review pedagogical reasons to create a group and focus on issues common to collaborations designed by lecturers and tutors.
Is this course itself a collaborative learning experience? That depends on you! We’re looking forward to reflecting together on your experiences and insights in the blog posts.
Note: We are specifically not talking about cheating – the inappropriate collaboration that breaks the trust between students and their institution.
Why design learning in groups?
There is growing evidence for the relative effectiveness of collaborative group learning (Weiman, 2014), along with other student-centred, active learning strategies.
Group work can:
- promote more student engagement,
- replace some direct instruction by the lecturer or tutor,
- foster a deeper understanding of course concepts,
- allow students to exercise some choice over content and strategy,
- allow for more complex tasks and projects to be assigned.
Moreover, group work provides the setting for peers to provide formative feedback – reducing the summative assessment burden on instructors.
Teamwork is often mentioned in graduate attributes at many universities, and is highly valued by employers. The challenge of communicating and working well within a team calls for meta-cognition, empathetic imagination and self-regulation.
Group and collaborative learning can help students develop a cluster of skills that are translatable to a work context including:
- Rapport building
- Time management
- Project/complex task management
- Sharing of knowledge with peers
- Supporting others’ learning journey
- Creative problem-solving and risk-taking
- Support diverse perspectives
Groupwork and collaborative learning works best when it is:
- Aligns with learning objectives
- Actively supported and supervised
Notable models to consider when designing a group:
The Jigsaw Method assigns each team member to research one chunk of content, prepare with other students assigned to that topic; then return to teach their team, who are each assessed on all content. This is typically used for prolonged, structured, multidisciplinary projects. Dr Chris Browne explains the use of Jigsaw in Engineering at ANU.
Problem-based learning uses a less structured, problem-case to challenge a group to make its own plans, self-allocate individual research tasks, then seek a consensus solution to present or discuss with a mentor. This method is famously associated with Maastricht University medical school.
Authentic projects engage students on real-world projects from business, government or the broader community. Students recruit peers into multiskilled teams and engage directly with a client from start to finish. Risk management can be complex, so these teams are supported by frequent meetings with an academic or industry mentor. This concept underpins the Techlauncher program at ANU.
Competitive performance teams prepare to meet a real-time challenge such as a Moot (Law), Hackathon (Engineering) or Olympiad (Science). Photo via Wikimedia.
Role plays call students to rehearse skills and reflexivity through inhabiting imagined identities and experiences with each other, actors, and simulations. Other examples.
Informal study groups give students experience joining and building a community of practice – a behaviour which is likely to be crucial later in their professional practice.
Resistance: Why students may hate groups
We need to keep in mind that that by the time students enter higher education, they may have experienced groups not working well and thus may resist being part of a group/s in future.
|Academic risk is real, as students’ grades and learning become dependent on others’ effectiveness.||Make the expected standard obvious, and provide early formative feedback.|
|Social risks such as reputational and personal safety are unequal, and yet depend on all members of a team.||Be explicit about norms for peer support, and provide support options for students|
|Inequity can arise from circumstances of one team member, and can trigger conflict or other mishaps.||Be explicit about expectations for handling diversity of circumstances and needs and the support options available.|
|Workload can be inflated by “coordination costs” and the learning load of the group.||Choose tasks in which group-effects help individuals. (Nokes-Malach et al 2015)|
What is the secret of a great group experience? There are many, but perhaps students most need to know this: in order for students to succeed in collaborative learning, they have to succeed in team-building. We will discuss this in detail in Day 2!
Describe a positive group learning experience that you participated in. What do you think made it work so well? Is there anything else that could have made it more successful?
Nokes-Malach, T.J., Richey, J.E. & Gadgil, S.(2015) When Is It Better to Learn Together? Insights from Research on Collaborative Learning. Educ Psychol Rev 27: 645. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9312-8
Weiman, C.E., (2014). Large-scale comparison of science teaching methods sends clear message. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 111 (23), 8319-8320. http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/23/8319.full.pdf