When thinking back on my years in different levels of education there’s always been an obvious preconception from teachers that everyone knows how to collaborate to solve a group task. Later as a teacher, I too took this for granted, never giving it much thought.
The result, both in my own education and amongst my students, is that the workload is divided within the group and someone who takes the leading role is putting the pieces together in the end. Cooperation instead of collaboration and each individual has only learnt the specific part he or she is responsible for. The aim is to work in collaboration since this is “said to attain higher level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually” (Clifford M. 2012). To give good basis for this there are a number of things to consider and there are a number of resources one can use (Clifford M. CTI, Cornell Univ.) Every teacher shouldn’t reinvent the wheel.
When I was wandering all over internet in the search for useful resources regarding this topic I found a blog post stating collaboration was particularly useful to introduce new material to a class (The room 241 Team. 2013). This got me thinking. Is collaborative tasks just useful in specific types of tasks? I don’t think so really. The group constellation is very important though. To make the participants in a group feel comfortable and secure they should not differ too much in the level of knowledge linked to the task. But, there must also be some differences between them. If everyone has the same experiences and knowledge they don’t need each other. The outcome will be the same. So the mixture of exactly the right people in a group is very important, but how often is that possible? Most often you don’t really know the students that well. What you can do is to just mix them by chance, but better is probably to do some sort of evaluation. This can be quite simple, but will probably enhance the outcome of the collaborative work significantly.
And finally…..how do we assess this type of tasks? That is probably even harder than the group constellation. One could of course us both self-assessment and peers. This is not that easy though. It requires some practice and explanation that it is part of the learning process. It can be hard for a peer to criticize a co-student but to be useful for both the assessor and the assessed it has to be taken seriously. Again, this requires a good group composition where everyone feels secure. When it comes to self-assessment the problem is probably the opposite. Most people tend to be too harsh on themselves so there both the peers and the teacher can have an important function to lift the student and enlighten the positive side of the effort.
Clifford M. 2012. Facilitating Collaborative Learning: 20 Things You Need to Know From the Pros. https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/facilitating-collaborative-learning-20-things-you-need-to-know-from-the-pros/
CTI, Cornell univ. https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/engaging-students/collaborative-learning
The room 241 Team. Concorida university. Portland. 2013. Facilitating Collaborative Learning: 20 Things You Need to Know From the Pros. https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/4-methods-to-enhance-student-collaboration-in-the-classroom/
4 thoughts on “This got me thinking……”
I agree, the assessment does become tricky. Peer and self evaluations help to build confirdence for future collaboration and provide valuable life experience.
Thank you for directing me to further references. And, yes the group constellation and the group dynamics are difficult to know in advance; but, as you say, trying to make each student contribute with their strengths is optimal – and probably this can be reached given all work toward the same goal.
About students not wanting to criticize their peers’ work. One thing that I’ve found useful is to discuss with students the difference between criticize and critique as well as the value of a balanced critique. As you pointed out, the peer can’t improve if no guidance is given on areas that need improvement. So, the instructions (in my courses) for the peer critique require students to write one negative point for every positive point, with a minimum of three of each. The instructions also include examples of comments that could be used to help a peer improve their work. In short, the example comments are written in a helpful (not harmful) way. I find this kind of training to help – although it is clear that some students would still need more practice with writing fruitful comments.
Thanks for your interesting post. I listened to two teachers the other day who were saying the same as you; that it’s important that the levels between the students in a group should be quite similar. So, if possible, they checked out how well the new students had performed in previous courses and out of that arranged the groups. But they also said that they were not afraid to re-arrange the groups later, if they saw that the constellation didn’t work. This lifted the knowledge levels, especially for the ones who were struggling more.
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