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What Is Collaborative Learning?

"Collaborative learning is a term that is used for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students or students working together with teachers."

Assumptions about Learning:

  • Learning is an active process. In order to learn new information, students need to integrate what they already know with new materials and use them in purposeful ways.

  • Learning depends on rich contexts. Collaborative learning activities immerse students in challenging tasks and questions.

  • Learners are diverse. Each student brings different backgrounds, learning styles and experiences to the classroom.

  • Learning is inherently social. "talking is where much of the learning occurs."

Goals for Education:
  • Involvement.
    • Collaborative learning is socially and intellectually involving, it helps students build closer connections with other students and faculty.

  • Cooperation

  • Civic responsibility

Cooperative Learning Approaches:
  • Cooperative learning
    • "The instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's understanding."

    • The development of social skills in group work-learning to cooperate is crucial to high quality of group work.

  • Problem Centered Instruction:

  • Writing Groups:
    • Both in theory and practice, the most concentrated effort in undergraduate collaborative learning has focused on the teaching of writing.

  • Peer Teaching: (three most successful models)

o Supplemental Instruction (Deanna Martin, Univ. of Missouri Kansas City)
    • Focuses on "at-risk classes"
    • Invites bright undergrads who have done well in the class to become "SI leaders"

o Writing Fellows (Tori-Haring Smith, Brown University)
    • Upper division students who are strong writers, are called "writing fellows"
    • They are extensively trained and then deployed into classes to help students with their papers ('bottom-up approach")

o Mathematics Workshops (Uri Treisman, Univ. of California - Berkeley)
    • This intensive small group workshop approach emphasizes developing strength and peer collaboration rather than solo competition.
    • It reversed the prevailing patterns of failure by Hispanic and Black students in calculus classes at Berkeley.

  • Discussion Groups and Seminars:

  • Learning Communities:
o "The purposeful restructuring of the curriculum to link together courses so that students find a greater coherence in what they are learnin'g and increase their interaction with faculty and fellow students.

o Learning communities also confront many problems:
    • Fragmentation of general education classes
    • Isolation of students
    • Lack of a meaningful connection between classes
    • The need for greater interaction between students and faculty
    • Lack of sustained opportunities for faculty development

  • Challenges and Opportunities:

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