October 23, 2003
Enabling student collaboration
1 Collaboration as
should students collaborate?
In recent years,
learning has been reconceptualized from an additive process characterized
by an individual's acquisition of knowledge to a socially-enabled
developmental process. Collaboration is the social process that
supports learners' development of capabilities in which they learn
to do without assistance things that they could initially do only
with assistance. If learning really is a social process, then collaboration
is required. The assistance that learners require may be provided
by experts such as teachers and by peers, who collectively have
expertise distributed among them.
can students learn by collaborating?
collaborating, students can develop their potential for learning.
Specifically, students can learn to approach and solve new problems
so that they develop the capability to solve problems that do not
exist at the moment of learning. Rather than simply absorbing material,
learning rules, and displaying the material and rules on demand, students
learn to develop capabilities that they first experience in assisted
or collaborative learning situations.
collaboration practically useful to students?
in many disciplines are looking for graduates that can collaborate
with others to solve new problems, e.g.:
to reduce the time required for design processes
to provide better service support
to cultivate new ideas (search on "cultivate new ideas")
teachers lecture less because students collaborate more, what happens
to the teacher's role?
teacher's role shifts from being a deliverer of material to a designer
and facilitator of learning experiences. The new role for teachers
is more creative and more demanding than the earlier one.
happens to coverage of material?
Coverage can be assured by staging authentic problem-solving activities
that are sufficiently engaging that learners are willing to acquire
the concepts and skills that solving the problems requires. To make
this work, materials and exercises that let learners acquire concepts
and skills need to be accessible, i.e., available when and where
learners are ready for them. Learners are likely to acquire facts/concepts
effortlessly when they emerge in the context of compelling problems.
2 Staging collaborative
can students collaborate on?
possibilities are for students to collaborate on posing problems
or projects, solving problems or developing projects, implementing
solution or project approaches, and evaluating outcomes. Problems
and projects can be variable in size, e.g.:
ones, e.g., those requiring 15 minutes, the collaboration for
which could occur in class.
with several days to several weeks' duration
with a term-long horizon
kinds of communication are feasible?
ways to communicate in collaboration are:
words uttered in person, in real-time audio on the telephone or
streamed over the Internet
words represented on paper, on a fax, in an email, in a file,
on the Web
representations of thought, such as figures, drawings, charts,
and graphs, conveyed in person or through mediating technologies
of the above ways offered in person or through mediating technologies
required for students to collaborate?
collaborate, students need:
task, e.g., a problem or project, the completion of which requires
conceptual change in students
group of students with problem-solving or project-developing capabilities
distributed among them
assistance for needed capabilities not distributed among group
to interact with each other
for developing group processes (sample) and assessing their progress
3 Getting students
do I get students to collaborate, especially ones not used to doing
entice students to collaborate, it is helpful to:
course situations and reward structures to encourage students
to view interactions with peers as indispensable learning resources
tasks that are suitable for collaboration, i.e., tasks that require
the integration rather than just the accumulation of ideas.
- Make the
collaborative aspects of a course sufficiently large that students
cannot safely ignore them.
- Stage the
first collaborative activities in ways that build swift trust
among group members so they can get to work on the task to attain
useful results quickly, which encourages subsequent collaboration.
Swift trust is especially important to virtual groups (Meyerson
et al. 1996).
- Have student
groups make the results of their collaboration visible to other
student groups, e.g., on the Web (sample directions for publishing in WebCT).
do I do about free-riding and other dysfunctional group behaviors?
are ideas for deterring dysfunctional behaviors in groups and addressing
such behaviors before they become fatal:
- Form term-long
groups to make it more worthwhile for students to invest in
student groups to make the results of their collaboration visible
to other student groups, e.g., on the Web (sample directions for publishing in WebCT).
The awareness of peers examining their work is sufficient to
prompt many students to apply themselves to group tasks more
group members to commit to learning and task responsibilities
at the beginning of a task (sample learning plan) and make the task plan
and progress on it visible to all members of the class.
students ways to monitor their group processes, e.g., periodic
surveys whose group means are made available to all class members
for all groups in aspects such as:
processes (e.g., Faidley et al. 2000)
to team functioning (e.g., Allen and White 2001)
can I assess the quality of students' collaboration?
quality of students' collaboration can be assessed by:
what students can do unassisted before and after the collaborative
virtual groups, analyze the learning that occurs in collaborative
sessions, e.g., by performing content analysis of chat discussion.
4 Learning more about
staging student collaboration
can I learn more about designing and facilitating collaborative learning
Books and articles on collaborative and problem-based learning:
- Allen, D.
E., and H. B. White, III. 2001. Undergraduate group facilitators
to meet the challenges of multiple classroom groups. In Duch,
B. J., S. E. Groh, and D. E. Allen, eds.. The Power of Problem-Based
Learning, 79-94. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
P., ed. 1999. Collaborative Learning: Cognitive and Computational
Approaches. Amsterdam: Pergamon.
B. J., S. E. Groh, and D. E. Allen. 2001. The Power of Problem-Based
Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
D. H. and C. E. Hmelo, eds. 2000. Problem-Based Learning: A
Research Perspective on Learning Interactions. Mahway, NJ:
J., J. Salisbury-Glennon, J. Glenn, and C. E. Hmelo. 2000. In
Evensen, D. H. and C. E. Hmelo, eds. Problem-Based Learning:
A Research Perspective on Learning Interactions, 109-135.
Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum.
Books and articles
making the case for collaboration as learning:
H. 2001. Vygotsky and Pedagogy. New York: Routledge.
A. 1998. Psychological tools: A Sociocultural Approach to Education.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
- LÚvy, P.
1997. Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in
Cyberspace. Translated from the French under the title L'intelligence
collective: Pour une anthropologie du cyberspace (1995) by R.
Bononno. New York: Plenum.
D., Weick, K. E., and Kramer, R. M. 1996. Swift trust and temporary
systems. In Kramer, R. M., and T. R. Tyler, eds., Trust in
Organizations, 166-195. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
B. 1998. Cognition as a collaborative process. In Kuhn, D., and
R. S. Siegler, eds., Handbook of Child Psychology, Volume 2:
Cognition, Perception, and Language, 679-744. New York: Wiley.
L. S. 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological
Processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman,
eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
L. S. 1986. Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
E. 1998. Communities of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge
with a model for designing collaborative learning experiences:
A. F., D. R. Jones, and S. Wakai. 2002. Designing Learning Experiences
Within Learners' Zones of Proximal Development (ZPDs): Enabling
Collaborative Learning On-Site and On-Line (Word file: for access, use name = tltc and password
This paper contains a list of references on collaborative learning,
including learning in virtual spaces.