/ Collaborative Learning for Active
as well as educational research and students' testimonials, tell us that
students who get involved with what they study learn more than those who
receive information only passively. One of the most successful methods
of helping students learn actively is cooperative (or collaborative) learning.
During the AIMS of Undergraduate Education Conference presented by the
Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change last April, participating
UVa undergraduates enthusiastically promoted cooperative learning. Increasingly,
students are coming to recognize that the skills and perspectives engendered
by cooperative learning groups are highly beneficial in many professional
environments such as business, engineering, and industry.
Karl A. Smith,
Associate Professor of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the U. of Minnesota,
a vigorous proponent of cooperative learning at the college level, recently
offered two workshops at UVa. Presented under the auspices of the Lilly
Teaching Fellows Program and the University Assessment Program, these
workshops introduced interested faculty and TAs to the benefits and the
essential elements of cooperative learning.
learning embodies much more than simply having students work in groups;
the teacher structures the groups and the activities to include five essentials:
OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING
that what each of them does individually affects the work and success
of the others. They "sink or swim together." The teacher structures
the work so that students must share information. The instructor may
also give group grades to further develop a cooperative ethic.
encourage, and support each other's efforts to learn because they depend
on each other. The teacher also openly encourages students to help each
assesses each individual's performance; thus although students learn
together, they often perform alone.
To work effectively
together, students learn and use necessary social skills, e.g., leadership,
decision- making, trust-building, communication, conflict-management.
the group process, students analyze how well they are achieving their
goals and maintaining effective working relationships. For example,
the teacher may say, "Tell the group member to your right what
s/he did today to help the group work well."
W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, Karl A. Smith. Active Learning: Cooperation
in the College Classroom (Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co., 1991),
When faculty and TAs first hear about cooperative learning, two queries
are most frequently voiced: 1) What about students who don't pull their
own weight or students who don't work well in groups? 2) What about the
honor pledge, with which students normally confirm that they have worked
alone? The issue of problematic students typically resolves itself as
part of the group process. Sometimes student peer pressure, which can
be extreme, makes students responsible to each other.
In any case,
the teacher usually assigns new groups throughout the semester, moving
the difficult student around; because the teacher is highly involved with
the students, s/he knows where the problems are. The apparent problem
with the honor pledge can also be resolved within the system: the teacher
simply revises the pledge to match the desired effect. For instance, students
who peer-edit each others' papers might write, "On this paper, I
have neither given nor received aid outside my editing group."
with cooperative learning are UVa faculty and TAs in such departments
as Anthropology, Chemistry, Commerce, Educational Leadership and Policy
Studies, English, Environmental Sciences, French, German, and History.
At the cooperative problem-solving session we held on October 30, about
15 teachers shared their successes and questions and agreed that their
ideas and caveats form part of a Tips on Cooperative Learning column that
we hope to continue in Teaching Concerns.
TIPS ON COOPERATIVE
- It takes
several semesters or even years before cooperative learning works as
smoothly as you hope it will the first time you try it.
- Small groups
(3-4 students) work best.
- The teacher
must do a lot of advance planning.
- A crash-and-burn-and-rise-from-the-flames-story:
If your cooperative learning plan involves having students discuss issues
or texts outside of class, you may find that they have trouble starting
and/or sustaining a viable discussion. To help them, create a direction
sheet for discussions in which you include rules and hints about effective
discussion. Depending on your discipline and the task, your direction
sheet might note that students must meet for discussion, then at the
end of the meeting signing that they agree with the majority opinion
or signing their dissent. Either assign a discussion leader, or tell
the students how to choose one. Appoint someone to develop an agenda
for each meeting.
- Give each
student in all groups specific roles; useful roles include "reader,"
"reporter," "checker," "encourager." Once
students know their roles, you can assign tasks, such as discussion
leading, to a particular role.
- Make sure
that students know that all are to participate equally. Once that guideline
is clear, students usually work out conflicts themselves. In extreme
cases, you may have to intervene.
- One example
of cooperative learning involves having students in each group study
different aspects of a literary or historical text they have all read.
In this case, you can prepare study guides for the individual groups,
suggesting profitable directions for the students to take.
The TRC library
also contains many articles and books about cooperative/collaborative
learning. Please call or come by if you would like to see these.