Building Opportunities For Student Collaboration

Teamwork skills are valued in the job market and in the learning environment. Opportunities should be made available for students to practice collaborative skills in team projects/assignments as part of their coursework. While students are learning to work productively in teams, they are benefiting from learning from their peers while reaping rewards derived from an additional source of knowledge and different perspectives on shared content. Both instructor and student preparation is needed before engaging students in team projects/assignments in order for the experience to be successful.

Chickering and Gamson’s study also found that

Good Practice encourages cooperation among students. Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's own ideas and responding to others' reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding.

Additional research findings tell us:

  • Students learn best when they are actively involved in the process. Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats.(Davis, 2009).
  • Students who work in groups also appear more satisfied with their classes, and group work provides a sense of shared purpose that can increase morale and motivation (Davis, 2009).
  • Group work introduces students to the insights, values, and worldviews of their peers, and it prepares them for life after school when many will be working in teams (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

Introduction To Cooperative Learning

Simply dividing students into teams and giving them an assignment is not enough. A more successful approach is to follow the tenants of “Cooperative Learning,” as originally detailed by Johnson & Johnson. Cooperative learning involves carefully structuring learning activities around small groups of students who are required to work together in such a way that each member’s individual success is directly tied to the group’s success (called “positive interdependence”).

Structuring cooperative learning activities involves the following key steps:

  1. Selecting group size and composition that is appropriate to the activity
  2. Assigning the right mix of students to each group
  3. Providing each group with the materials/resources they need for their task
  4. Explaining the task and the cooperative nature of the activity to each group
  5. Monitoring groups as they work and providing feedback
  6. Evaluating the activity based both on individual contributions and group effort

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about cooperative learning, read “Two Heads Learn Better Than One” by Roger T. and David W. Johnson.

Teaching Teamwork Skills

Help your students be successful in their team activities by:

  • Providing them with tools to prepare them for teamwork, such as Building Blocks for Teams and iStudy for Success! "Cooperative Learning" Module).
  • Sharing with your students the characteristics of effective teams.
  • Giving them a project or problem that is sufficiently complex and too large to be completed by an individual.
  • Establishing clear goals and timelines for the project. Have students decide who is to do what and when. Build in time for revisions before due date.
  • Having student groups submit periodic reports on their project. Projects that are incremental and build as the course progresses allows students to complete smaller units as they go along. Projects are more likely to be completed on time and not left to the end.

Resolving Team Conflicts

Teams won’t always operate harmoniously. Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology group has developed a great resource on dealing with student conflicts. See Conflict Happens!