by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center
I recently taught an undergraduate course on small group processes, with an emphasis on the role of communication in the development of the ‘work’ done by group members. It was an exciting opportunity for me to consider interdisciplinary perspectives on small groups (i.e., the content of selected readings and thematic discussions) and how they might inform the choices I made about course design (i.e., the practice of group work through collaborative activities and assignments). Several resources were useful in helping me think through ways to implement collaborative learning into my course, but one book really stood out as exemplary in this vein.
Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty includes ideas for orienting students to group work, critical questions to ask when forming groups, and strategies for evaluating collaboratively-produced assignments. The authors provide illustrative examples of integrating group work in a variety of learning environments (e.g., large lecture, flipped, and online courses). Beyond offering how to do it techniques, the authors reinforce why group work is important for student learning. The first part of the book establishes the context for collaborative learning, providing a pedagogical rationale for incorporating group work into your course design. Moreover, it gives instructors a language to better communicate course goals and objectives to students. Being able to better articulate to my students how knowledge is developed through interactions with others minimized their resistance to collaborative learning and allowed for deeper commitments to their group and its work.
Now in its second edition, the book includes a new appendix with useful tools for implementing collaborative learning in online courses. The authors identify roughly 20 collaborative tools (e.g., blogs, photo sharing, videos, and chat mediums) with brief descriptions of their purposes in use. The new edition also includes an entire chapter on the use of games in online learning. Games are a natural choice because they underscore the value of collaborative learning while also facilitating peer interaction and the development of collaborative skills (Barkley et al., 2014). This discussion was the most interesting to me because it offered a new approach to achieving learning outcomes that are important for all of my courses. Clear diagrams and easy-to-follow instructions help make gaming an innovative possibility for a course.
If you want to learn more about designing and implementing group work into your courses, I recommend reading this book. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss group work and collaborative learning techniques.
Barkley, E. F., Major, C. H., & Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A
handbook for college faculty (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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