Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Collaborative learning

In my research I explore collaboration as an important element in creating the sense of presence necessary to learning, particularly in regards to individual agency (“my work is important to my classmates, not just my instructor”), and community agency (“together, we can co-create valuable knowledge, rather than operate as passive consumers”).

There is considerable research as to the value of collaborative learning. For example, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement includes assessment of active and collaborative learning, which is characterized by working with other students on projects during class, working with other students outside of class to prepare assignments, and making class presentations. Their research has validated engagement as a proxy for student academic achievement and persistence. In particular, active and collaborative learning is the most “consistent predictor of student success across studies and measures, linked with higher grades and course completion measures as well as long-term persistence and degree completion, and is correlated with GPA across all studies” (Student Engagement and Student Outcomes: Key Findings from CCSSE Validation Research).

In addition to individual and community agency, there is the power of place to facilitate collaboration. The design of new learning spaces (virtual or physical) should create affordances for collaboration – “collaboration zones.”

Approaches to building a collaborative learning environment include the use of team projects in course design. Todd Rose, a Harvard professor, addresses the “myth of the average” in a TedX Sonoma County video, using the problem of designing the best fighter jet cockpit as an analogy.  I argue that for our times,  when there is no “average” student, collaborative team projects are the new “adjustable seats” of learning design, and have developed some resources on collaborative learning in teams to help faculty incorporate team projects into their course design.




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