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Traditional education in college classrooms has generally been based on the unidirectional model of teaching where information is transferred to passive students. Collaboration between students in class, and at times out of class, is not overwhelmingly encouraged. Our project aimed at discovering the benefits and disadvantages of collaboration in learning. In addition to our readings, we developed a survey which evaluated the extent and role of collaboration in the learning experiences of students in two classes. One of these classes encouraged collaboration while the other discouraged collaboration.

(To Be Performed:
Data Analysis and Evaluation will be performed along dimensions gleaned from readings.

Major Questions:
Did students consider collaboration beneficial? To what extent?
Was there marked difference between students’ views on the roles of collaboration in the two classes? Thoughts on how structure of the class would cause these differences?
Were the students’ views consistent with the views reported in our readings (the various surveys and grade improvements?)

Papers discussing surveys of students and grade-based evaluations revealed that group work was considered or proven to enhance learning and improve grades. (5.8, 5.12, 5.10)[Note: This is not directly related to this concept]

Benefits of Collaboration

a) Group work allowed groups to tackle and solve “wicked problems” or problems from ill-defined domains where individuals would not have been able to accomplish as much alone. Scharffe (5.14) discussed the creation of a course inspired by open-source collaborative projects, analyzing how open source projects also tackle problems in ill-defined domains where collaboration helps build resolutions to problems. "Organizing Genius" (5.4) noted how talented people who can work together well and perform a common mission will be able to achieve much more than they could working alone.

1. Student Views: In (5.8), first-year students were given questionnaires and surveys regarding their satisfaction and views on collaboration in each of two-semesters of a year-long course. Over both semesters, more than half of the students reported that the group product was much better than what they would have managed to achieve individually.

2. The nature of the problem: Ill-defined problems are harder to frame and thus cannot be tackled by an individual alone. Scharffe (5.14) analyzed how the construction of shared meaning in the collaborative course he studied was analogous to the shared construction of a product in open-source projects. In both cases, the problem domains are difficult to frame and require collaborative effort to frame and resolve the problem.

b) Engaging students within their own learning process meant that they were able to “construct their own understanding of the material” (5.6). Coultin (5.7) noted that collaboration lead to a deeper understanding of the material and also to better retention of the ideas taught. Cooper, et. Al. (5.6) noted that “lectures are effective for memorizing lower-level factual material but not effective for long-term retention”. When students discuss concepts with each other, they become involved in the process of “cognitive elaboration” where their discussion of concepts leads to greater clarification and understanding of those concepts. LeJeune (5.13) states that “With the support or scaffolding provided by the group, greater learning occurs than is individually possible.” The “In defense of cheating” article (5.11) argued that the traditional style of individual solitary learning was based thoroughly on the need for grades and students often forgot material once the exams were over. Promoting collaboration and personal learning helps students to engage in personally meaningful learning activities (5.13, 5.14, 5.15).

c) Having diverse people work together helped in the creation of social, interpersonal and team work skills that would help group members in their lives and in their professions where team work is often an essential part of their work. Furthermore, this exposure to diversity also lead to an increased tolerance for diversity and understanding of diverse opinions. (5.6, 5.13)

d) Students’ attitudes towards learning and the instruction process were generally much more favorable in contexts where collaboration was incorporated into the learning process. Coultin (5.7) noted that students “enjoy collaborative approaches more than traditional approaches to education”.

1. Goerge (5.10) performed a comparison between two classes, one taught using traditional teaching styles and the other using an approach pairing up individuals in their learning process. The latter rated the instruction far more favorably than the traditionally taught class.

e) Academic Improvements were reported for many groups that used collaboration.

1. Goerge (5.10) described how the cooperative learning group outperformed the traditionally taught class in both overall test scores and the final exams.

2. Joseph (5.12) compared two groups, one an evening-class and the other a day- class. Both classes were encouraged to collaborate together outside class but the evening-class met more frequently and “engaged in more comprehensive group-tasks”. Joseph (5.12) concluded that the evening class performed better than the day class in terms of test scores.

Disadvantages of Collaboration and Possible Solutions

a) Some problems with group work stem from the perception or real presence of “free riders” or inadequate contributions and participation from other group members. Problems with “free riders” or undercontribution are cited widely in the literature (5.7).

1. Drury’s survey of first-year students (5.8) noted that student satisfaction with group processes declined significantly in the second semester of the year-long course analyzed in the paper. Students noted that there were problems with contributions from group members.

2. Possible Solution: Enforcing methods for individual accountability or assessment techniques for

b) Problems with group work also involve organizational and management overhead, as finding the time for group meetings and assigning roles can require much effort and maintenance.

1. Drury’s survey of first-year students (5.8) noted that students noted problems with finding meeting times for the group and organizational issues.

Barriers to Collaboration

As the “In Defense of Cheating” paper argues, the traditional educational system focuses on prohibiting collaboration and generally enforces unaided individual work (5.11). This emphasis is linked to the need for assigning grades to individuals. Students do not learn the skills needed to work together and take advantage of each others’ knowledge and understanding. Thus, students are unused to the mindset and methods for collaboration. This unfamiliarity with groupwork was reported in the analysis of the (5.8) surveys of first and third-year graduate students, where first-year students were assumed to be novices in group processes and the management of diversity in groups. Cooper et. Al, (5.5.) also noted how students were unused to the notion of collaboration in class as their educational experiences had mostly emphasized working in isolation.

Students need to be introduced to the benefits and processes by which they can incorporate collaboration into their learning and truly understand how and where collaboration will be useful. In (5.8), first-year students were explicitly taught about group processes so they could manage their groups more effectively. Coutin (5.7) argues that teaching students about group processes will help the group in dealing with interpersonal conflicts, time management issues, and other widely reported group problems.

Collaborative Groups: Factors for Success

a) A group that works well together knows how to take advantage of the diversity of knowledge and opinions to help create effective resolutions. The presence of diversity and heterogeneity is an asset as “positive interdependence” (5.17, 5.13) is one of the factors in successful group work. Positive interdependence refers to the need for integrating the different group members’ knowledge and areas of expertise in order to create an effective resolution, as all these areas are necessary in understanding and resolving the problem.

1. Examples where positive interdependence was encouraged or facilitated: The instructor created groups where within any group, group members had similar learning styles but different ages, ethnic backgrounds, computer-related work experience (joseph).

b) Successful groups also exhibit shared motivation for fulfilling a common goal or common purpose (5.4). Goerge (5.10) notes that “group incentive”, which refers to students’ motivation to help others in the group to perform well, is one of the most important factors in helping the group achieve its goal.

c) To prevent the problem of free riders and increase contributions by members, individual and group accountability and assessment should be incorporated into group processes. When individuals realize their contributions as members will be assessed and that their involvement in the group will significantly aid them in performing required tasks, they are less likely to ignore or avoid being involved in group collaborative activities.

1. Examples of individual assessment: Students are given grades on an individual basis (5.17). Group members are required to keep activity logs (5.7) or journals (5.12). Group members engage in self and peer assessments, where they assess their own and others’ contributions to group activities.

2. Examples of activities where being involved in group activity aids individual success: Students are asked to take quizzes together where all must contribute and where any of the students can be asked to answer for the group. Students are asked to solve problems on their own where their involvement in group problem solving would help them have a better understanding of the problem and solution (5.13). The whole group must present before class. Any member can be asked questions regarding the group presentation (5.13) or on how to solve the assigned problem (5.17).

d) Smaller groups are generally more effective in their collaborative efforts, as larger groups create more potential for communication problems and for enabling the presence of free riders. Various kinds of small groups, such as cooperative groups or pairs or informal groups in class, are given as examples of efficient collaborative groups.

e) Groups should be given the opportunity and ability to reflect on group processes and how learning is taking place within collaborative work. An important consideration was that of reflection on group processes and practices, whereby group members can understand the benefits accrued from group learning and actually study how group work and processes can be improved and incorporated into their learning styles.

Kinds of Collaborative Groups and Related Instructional Methods

The readings also discussed different versions of collaborative groups and teaching styles that incorporated collaborative groups into the general lecture-style of the class.

a) “Cooperative groups”: small groups that cooperate in learning. “Integrative cooperative learning teaching technique” attempts to integrate the use of cooperative learning groups and lecture-based inquiry within class (5.12).

1. “Informal” cooperative groups: groups which did not require the teachers to necessarily assign groups or grades and which do not generally last for more than a few minutes or a single class session as they are created to solve problems during class. These groups include simple pairs of learners (see below) who cooperated in problem solving or discussion.

i. Cooper et. Al., (5.5) described incorporating the use of informal groups in large classes to promote collaboration within class through the use of small group discussions to discuss concepts taught during the lecture portions of the class and handing back exams in team folders so students can discuss solutions in groups before talking to the instructor.

2. “Formal” cooperative groups: Groups assigned by the teacher which function as groups over longer periods of time, such as a single or multiple class sessions, as they are formed to tackle more complex problems or projects that require more sustained work. Teachers should assign the groups to encourage positive interdependence, monitoring the group’s progress and explaining the benefits and methods of collaboration and groupwork (5.17).

i. Goerge (5.10) describes formal cooperative learning pairs (described below)

3. “Cooperative base groups”: long-term groups that provide support and knowledge.

b) Pairs (Informal and Formal):

1. “Think-pair-share”: two-people teams who work together on problems included (5.5, 5.10). Goerge (5.10) described how she used formal learning partnerships in the class which was taught using the cooperative learning method. The partners in these learning pairs would collaborate in answering questions posed by the teacher during class.

2. “Drill-and-review dyads”: two-people teams trying to help each other learn by alternatively recalling and evaluating the validity of recalled information. Goerge (5.10) described how the learning partners, discussed in (a) above, were given class time to recall and discuss the concepts taught by the teacher.

c) Peer-support groups: Several versions of peer-support groups exist already, where students who are more skilled or trained can help other students in their work (5.15).

1. Mathematics Workshops: Small group workshops promoting collaboration between students working on Mathematics.

2. Supplemental Instruction: Undergraduates who are performing strongly academically become “Supplemental Instruction Leaders” in their classes.

3. Writing Fellows: Upper-division students who are strong writers are trained to help students in lower-division classes with their writing.

As discussed above, many readings discussed environments or teaching styles where collaborative or cooperative groups could become part of in-class activities, citing the social bonds and cognitive benefits derived from this process. (5.9) explored a technology-enhanced collaborative classroom setting that facilitated interaction between teacher and students as well as student group work.

5. References:

5.4. Bennis, W. and Biederman, P. W., (1997) Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA. (Bill)

5.5. Cooper, J., Robinson, P., "Getting Started: Informal Small-Group Strategies in Large Classes" (Sarah)

5.6. Cooper, J., Robinson, P., The Argument for Making Large Classes Seem Small, (Jun)

5.7. Coutin, Susan, "Tips Gleaned from the Literature on Collaborative Learning", (Jun)
5.8. Drury, H., Kay J., and Losberg, W., "Student Satisfaction with groupwork in undergraduate computer science: do things get better?" (Huda)

5.9. Dugan, Robert Jr., Breimer, Eric A., Lim, Darren T., Glinert, Ephraim P., Goldberg, Mark K., Champagne Matthew V., "Exploring Collaborative Learning in Rensselaer's Classroom-in-the-Round", (Jun)

5.10. George, Pamela G., "Using Cooperative Learning in the College Classroom" The NEA Higher Education Journal (Scott)

5.11. "In defense of cheating", (Bill)

5.12. Joseph, A., and Payne, M., "Group Dynamics and Collaborative Group Performance" (Huda)
5.13. LeJeune, N., "Critical Components for Successful Collaborative Learning in CS1" (Huda)

5.14. Scharffe, Eric. "Applying Open Source Principles to Collaborative Learning Environments", (Jun)
5.15. Smith, Barbara Leigh and Jean T. MacGregor., "What is Collaborative Learning?", (Scott)

5.16. Smith, Karl A., "Going Deeper: Formal Small-Group Learning in Large Classes" (Sarah)

5.17. Smith, Karl A., "Inquiry-Based Collaborative Learning", (Jun)

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