Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
by Jonathan O'Brien
Study Tips: Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
Of the many different types of learning methods, group learning can deliver marked results. It allows group members to help each other in terms of offering support and also learning from each other. Beyond this, it also improves the way students naturally learn new materials. An informal group tends to be a temporary class arrangement for students to work on small tasks together. In comparison, formal groups work on more long term projects, working and learning from each other in many different ways. Especially for IT groups, collaborative learning can be an extremely effective way for group members to brainstorm, trade ideas and teach each other new techniques and methods.
Before organizing groups, it is important to plan out what the groups will work on at different stages. This helps to give focus to the group throughout the process. The teacher or facilitator should also plan on how to organize the groups, evaluate them and offer feedback. This information should be explained carefully to the groups so that the objectives and tasks are clear to them. In the beginning, some groups may need the facilitator’s help to get things going. An important tool is to have the groups create a written document of what each member will be in charge of and responsible for.
Designing Group Work
When creating a group project, make the sub-tasks interconnected. This will encourage group members to work closely with each other in an inter-dependent manner. The subject matter should be relevant and tie into what they are already studying. Fit the tasks to the knowledge and skill level of the members. If it is too easy or too difficult, they could become frustrated. The tasks should also be equal in the amount of work entailed. Running a competition between all of the groups can help motivate them to work harder and stick together. The group members can also be given tests to evaluate what they have learned.
Organizing Learning Groups
Organize groups of four to five people at most and do not allow them to split up if they have difficulties. Instead they should work it out together. Grouping students can be random or left to the facilitator’s discretion. To help the groups work efficiently, ask them to form an action plan before starting on their projects and designate regular checkpoints. Feedback tools such as anonymous peer assessments can help to weed out shirkers and address any inter-group issues.
Evaluating Group Work
It is equally important to evaluate individuals as well as the group as a whole. This method can help pinpoint those students who require extra help. It will also teach them that they need to contribute to the group or risk suffering a lower score. Feedback and peer assessments from the group members themselves can help to discourage slacking. One of the best ways to assign grades is to give the entire group members the same grade. This helps to discourage inter-group competition but instead motivates them to collectively work hard to achieve a higher grade.
The Concern of Group Work
At the beginning of the course, it is a good idea to let students know about the benefits of learning through group work. During the course, some may have issues with working with other group members. Only allow a change of members as the last possible option. Before this, the facilitator should introduce some solutions for the group or help them work it out on their own.
Setting Up Study Teams
Unlike an in-class group, a study team meets up outside of class too. Their main objective is to study together, work on projects or assignments and offer each other constructive feedback. A great way for study teams to work together is to have all members read the required material before getting together to discuss or analyze it. Alternatively, each member could be responsible for covering one section of material and then present it to the others. Study teams should clearly be told of their responsibilities before they begin. At most, each team should comprise of up to six people. One class per course can be used for study teams to work or discuss their findings during class time. This class can also be used to allow them to consult with the facilitator.