Whether we realise it or not, we use collaboration every day—it is essential to broadening our scope of knowledge and evolving the communities around us. We refine ideas and better our solutions through collaboration, and as the world moves online, the demand for online collaboration skills grows with it. However, these skills are not inherent. They must be developed, so it’s important that teachers look to find ways to incorporate collaboration in the classroom.

The advantages of collaboration

Collaboration is the process of getting two or more individuals, of relatively equal standing, to work together to reach a common goal or outcome1. Collaboration works best when members of the group rely on one another’s contributions, and are all equally invested in the group objective1.

Education and collaboration work hand in hand: it allows teachers to add more variety into their instruction, and benefits students’ learning. When teachers adopt collaborative activities into their pedagogy, it gives their students the opportunity to gain:

  • Critical thinking skills, through listening and debating other students new ideas
  • Higher-level thinking and communication skills
  • Independent learning strategies
  • Clarification of ideas and understanding of the topic through discussion
  • Teamwork skills, alleviating student isolation in the classroom
  • A deeper perspective and ability to find better solutions2

What does collaboration look like in different subjects?

It’s important to note that collaboration varies depending on the subject in question. For example, let’s compare how The College Preparatory School in California leverages the power of collaborative learning in two very different classes.

In English, teachers use discussion-based learning to improve comprehension of the text. During class, the teacher sets the guidelines for the conversation, and then allows students time to discuss the book and answer questions as a group. Collaboration is encouraged using a collaboration script approach this is when students are given specific roles such as scribe or moderator, empowering students to get involved and contribute to their peers’ learning. These roles can be rotated to diversify student’s collaborative skills3.

In Mathematics, students spend their entire time working in small groups to answer questions from a worksheet. Students are encouraged to talk through the problem first and put pen to paper second, deepening their understanding of the solution behind the answer. Classwork problems are designed to be more challenging than homework problems to encourage students to reach out to one another and find the solution as a collective3.

One of the Mathematics teachers at The College discusses why using collaborative learning is so important in her classroom: “They’re learning more than just Math: they’re learning to be more proactive. They’re learning how to depend on their peers.” She had this to add: “They (now) know how to work with people and draw out their strengths3.”

The advantages of online collaboration

In the past, collaboration was seen as a face-to-face activity, but digitalisation has opened up new opportunities for collaboration, allowing peers to contribute to the group’s objective any time, any place.

As we start to see new opportunities arising from online collaboration, it is also becoming clear how it can benefit students’ education. In fact, a 12-year study on the benefits of collaborative learning in tertiary education conducted by Wiley (Jacaranda’s parent company) found that there was a significantly lower fail rate for students in the technology supported class, compared to the classroom-only instruction.

Specifically, the study results highlighted the following benefits of online instruction and collaboration:

  • allows students to engage with content in a more meaningful way
  • tailored to different learning styles and
  • enables students to participate and contribute at their own pace, when it suits them most.

Now that it’s clear why teachers should incorporate collaboration in the classroom, the question is how?

Seven tips for nurturing collaboration

To ensure their online or in class collaborative activities are successful, here are tips that teachers can consider:

Tip 1: Give students time to prepare for collaboration

Assign the content and let students know how they will be contributing prior to the lesson. This leads to better collaboration and learning results, as students gain a deeper understanding of the topic and are able to pass that onto their peers.

Tip 2: Facilitate learning through explanation

Give students the role of the teacher, responsible for teaching the material to the rest of the class. This role reversal works since students end up understanding the material better.

Tip 3: Encourage students to build upon ideas

Students should be encouraged to build upon each other’s ideas. Playing off each other’s ideas can increase student’s interest and enthusiasm while developing those ideas further4.

Tip 4: Provide support and guidance

Collaboration doesn’t typically happen without support so teachers will need to monitor, guide and provide feedback, as well as define a clear structure so students are aware of how they are meant to work together and why3.

Tip 5: Outline class expectations

Students need be aware of guidelines, etiquette, expectations and purpose of the collaboration.

Tip 6: Divide into small groups

Forming smaller groups of students encourages active participation and is easier to manage.

Tip 7: Use curriculum relevant activities

Use activities that are relevant to the topic, and result in a deeper understanding of the topic5.

How to tell if collaboration isn’t working?

Inevitably, there may be a few hiccups when first introducing collaboration to the classroom. Here are a few red flags to watch out for:

Red flag 1: Failure to provide elaborated explanations

Ensure students aren’t just simply restating or rephrasing information.

Red flag 2: Failing to seek and obtain help

Students may be unaware of their need for help, seek irrelevant help, or avoid help altogether in fear they may appear dependent on others.

Red flag 3: Suppressed student participation

Some individuals may feel inadequate and decrease their participation around high achieving peers, and conversely, highly engaged students may decrease their input as they see other students receiving a ‘free ride’ through lack of participation.

Red flag 4: Cognitive conflict

This refers to how much students agree or disagree with the topic and affects collaboration in two ways: if students agree too much with a topic, there may be a lack of new ideas or incorrect ideas will go unchallenged. If students strongly disagree, students may spend too much time arguing with no ideas being put forward.

Red flag 5: Lack of coordination

Structure the class so each student has a chance to contribute while the rest of the class actively listens. Encourage students to think critically about these ideas so they don’t just advocate their own ideas and reject others without proper consideration.

Red flag 6: Negative social behaviour

Creating a positive classroom environment is crucial to successful collaboration. The quality of the group suffers when students are rude or unresponsive to one another4.

Finally, online collaboration can make the class a fluid and ever-changing collaborative environment, and provide students the ability to collaborate at any time, any place and at their own pace. A well thought-out plan to promote collaboration will ensure each member of the class is actively involved and gaining new skills and knowledge.

We hope you discovered a few useful tips on how to incorporate collaborative learning into your teaching. We would love to hear about how you use collaboration, and how it has benefited your students so please let us know by reaching out to your local Jacaranda Education Consultant.