Course Documents
     Main Page
     Contact Information
     Course Announcement
     Schedule and Syllabus
     Course Participants
     Discussion Forum
     Swiki Chat Area
     Lecture Material
     Independent Research
     Previous Course
Swiki Features:
  View this Page
  Edit this Page
  Printer Friendly View
  Lock this Page
  References to this Page
  Uploads to this Page
  History of this Page
  Top of the Swiki
  Recent Changes
  Search the Swiki
  Help Guide
Related Links:
     Atlas Program
     Center for LifeLong Learning and Design
     Computer Science Department
     Institute of Cognitive Science
     College of Architecture and Planning
     University of Colorado at Boulder
"Critical Components for Successful Collaborative Learning in CS1"

Author: Noel LeJeune

This article suggests collaborative learning exercises designed to improve learning in a Computer Science 1 course.

First the article outlines some benefits of collaborative learning in CS1:

a) Collaborative learning better suited for the application of knowledge to "wicked" problems (term mine)

b) Students are not merely passive observers but are actively participating in acquiring and applying knowledge

c) Individuals can observe and reflect on the thinking and reasoning processes of other group members, and apply to this to reflection on their own thinking

d) Reflective, social, and higher-order skills are developed

e) Oral communication and team working skills are developed

f) "Students learn best when their current knowledge and skills are sufficient to meet the challenges posed by new learning demands... With the support or scaffolding provided by the group, greater learning occurs than is individually possible.... group outcome is greater than that of any one individual..."

The article also defines the following critical components for collaborative learning and then discusses their application within a real-world classroom:

a) Common Task: The group is working on the same task together, and not simply subdividing it into small subsets that each member must work on in isolation, although prerequisites for completing the group task may be done individually in this manner.

b) Small-Group Interactions: Smaller groups allow for more direct interactions among members. According to the article, a group with more than 7 members will allow individuals to avoid participation and will create trouble in communication.

c) Collaborative Behavior: Students are expected to share their knowledge and skills openly and productively within the group. Intra-group competition is discouraged but inter-group competition is both allowed and occurs in real world situations.

d) Positive Interdependence: "Each group member is responsible for each other's participation and contribution... each member has a necessary piece of the needed knowledge to solve the problem."

e) Individual and Group Responsibility and Accountability: Each individual should contribute and should also demand that other group members contribute.


A class is initially divided into two large "sets", each set assigned a different subtopic for investigation and study for their set as a whole, where the assignment must be completed by every individual in that set on their own. This creates two sets of individuals who have researched two different subtopics. In the next class period, collaborative groups are formed such that individuals from the sets are mixed, so that you have "experts" on different subtopics within the same group. Now each group is given the "larger" assignment which requires knowledge and skill contribution from both subtopics and thus both sets of experts. The "larger" assignment is an example of the common task, where all group members must work together on the task instead of being able to subdivide it into individual responsibilities. Furthermore, the groups are kept small and the nature of the problem and distribution of "experts" leads to positive interdependence (collaboration is necessary to solve the problem). Group accountability is introduced by making the group present their solution in front of the class, where the whole group must stand before class. Furthermore, questions by the instructor and class usually mean the different members contribute answers. Individual accountability comes from individual assessment in the form of exams. Students realized that their individual programming assignments would be easier if they took advantage of the learning in the group context. Finally, students must present a report summarizing what they learned and assessing the group performance, which allows them to reflect on their learning needs and how the group process helped them.

View this PageEdit this PagePrinter Friendly ViewLock this PageReferences to this PageUploads to this PageHistory of this PageTop of the SwikiRecent ChangesSearch the SwikiHelp Guide