What is it?
Collaboration is both an active learning strategy and essential skill that students can develop in your class and transfer to other academic and professional contexts. Well designed and collaborative activities provide students with opportunities to learn and engage with content more deeply, as well as opportunities to work with their classmates toward a common goal.
Why is it important?
Providing students with a mechanism to more deeply engage with content via collaboration is beneficial to their overall learning. Research has shown that interactions among students have a positive effect on learning, allowing learners to articulate and share understandings (Abrami, et al., 2011; Brown & Palincsar, 1989), as well as share the overall cognitive load (Dillenbourg & Schneider, 1995). Collaborating with peers, especially those who may have different life experiences, to achieve a common goal also helps aid students’ cognitive and social development (Hurtado, 2005), while developing essential skills they will need and use across their lifetime. Finally, within the current context, providing students with a structured way of engaging with one another may help minimize feelings of isolation in a time of social distancing.
How to do it?
There are a number of ways you can facilitate collaboration in your remote or fully integrated online course. The following list provides several examples of effective collaboration, each of which can be modified based on the discipline, size of the course, goals of the instructor, and one’s familiarity with technology tools. Examples 1-3 provide opportunities for students to collaborate outside of class, allowing greater schedule flexibility. Examples 4-5 can be utilized as written within a synchronous learning environment. They can also be modified for out-of-class, or asynchronous, use.
Assigning a group project or assignment that spans the entire quarter. Assigning a group project or assignment for groups to complete over the course of the quarter is one way to facilitate collaboration. Scaffolding the assignment to ensure that the group makes continual progress towards the final group project or assignment is key. You’ll want to design the project such that groups must submit smaller assignments along the way, with the instructor providing timely feedback on their work. You will also want to provide students with tips and strategies for a successful collaboration (e.g., exchanging contact information, establishing timelines, working from a shared Google Drive or Doc, meeting via Zoom, GoogleHangout, Slack, etc. to check in on work progress).
Assigning students to small learning groups. Assigning students to small learning groups throughout the quarter can enhance student learning, and possibly reduce your workload, when students are able to help each other better understand course content. The CATME site can keep with group formation, peer, and self-formation. For example, after returning graded work, you can assign students to learning groups and ask them to (a) meet using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, etc. to review homework content, and (b) ask each other questions to aid in their understanding of content or address gaps in understanding, as part of a low-stakes, participation-based assignment. Similarly, you might assign students to small learning groups to complete a low stakes, participation-based assignment (e.g., reading guide, problem set) using Canvas, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack etc. to meet as a group. In regards to the latter, it is useful to require students to submit a document (e.g., a collaborative Google Doc or a completed handout) where they can display the work they accomplished together. This provides you with information about their learning process, and is an easy way to carry out a formative assessment of student learning.
Assigning students to small study groups. Assigning students to small study groups to review and complete study guide prior to an exam (or alternative assessment) using Zoom, Google Hangouts, and/or Slack etc. as part of a low-stakes, participation-based assignment provides students with an opportunity to deepen their understanding of course content, and potentially address gaps in their own understanding when others in the group are able to answer their classmates questions as peers and partners in the learning process.
Using Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate small group discussions. For those delivering live lectures via Zoom, breakout rooms provide a mechanism for small group discussions. For example, a professor of education might ask students to respond to the following prompt as a group: “Based on the readings, identify one major challenge facing college students today, and at least one solution you as a group would propose to senior leaders.” Depending on the size of the class, you might ask a representative of the group to verbally share the challenge and solution their group identified with the class in the original Zoom meeting room. Alternatively, for larger classes, you might ask the group to share their challenge and solution using the Zoom chat function, or a Canvas Discussion Thread after class.
Using Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate small task completion. For those delivering live lectures via Zoom, breakout rooms also provide a mechanism for small task completion. For example, a calculus professor might assign one-to-two problems for students to work on as a group, instructing them to spend a specified number of minutes working on the problem(s) individually, before discussing their solutions and how they arrived at their solutions in their breakout room groups. Depending on the size of the class, you might ask a representative of each group, or for larger classes a handful of representatives, to verbally share their solutions with the class in the original Zoom meeting room, before you share the correct solution and address any questions or observed gaps in understanding. Alternatively, for larger classes, you might follow the same procedure, but instead ask the group to share their solution(s) using the Zoom chat function, before, again, sharing the correct solution(s) and addressing any questions or observed gaps in understanding.
Modifying your own collaboration strategy. Many of us have a collaboration strategy that we have used successfully in the past. Some of these collaboration strategies can be translated into a remote or online learning environment with a few modifications while others require greater creativity. If only minor modifications are needed, consider making these modifications, testing them out (with students, small groups, colleagues, etc.), and fine tuning the strategy for ongoing implementation.
Further Reading and Tools
- Canvas Groups Tool
- The CATME site can keep with group formation, peer, and self-formation.
- CBE-Life Sciences resource for research and practice on Group Work, much is transferrable across disciplines.
References and Resources
Abrami, P.C., Bernard, R.M., Bures, E.M. et al. (2011) Interaction in distance education and online learning: using evidence and theory to improve practice. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 23, 82–103. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-011-9043-x
Brown, A. L., & Palincsar, A. S. (1989). Guided, cooperative learning and individual knowledge acquisition. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (p. 393–451). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Dillenbourg, P. & Schneider, D. (1995). Collaborative learning and the Internet. Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Assisted Instruction (ICCAI) (pp. S-10-6 - S-10-13). Hsinchu: Taiwan, 7-10 March 1995. Retrieved from: https://tecfa.unige.ch/tecfa/research/CMC/colla/iccai95.pdf
Hurtado, S. (2005). The next generation of diversity and intergroup relations research. Journal of Social Issues, 61(3), 595-610. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2005.00422.x