Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty / Edition 1

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Engaging students in active learning is a predominant theme in today's classrooms. To promote active learning, teachers across the disciplines and in all kinds of colleges are incorporating collaborative learning into their teaching. Collaborative Learning Techniques is a scholarly and well-written handbook that guides teachers through all aspects of group work, providing solid information on what to do, how to do it, and why it is important to student learning. Synthesizing the relevant research and good practice literature, the authors present detailed procedures for thirty collaborative learning techniques (CoLTs) and offer practical suggestions on a wide range of topics, including how to form groups, assign roles, build team spirit, solve problems, and evaluate and grade student participation.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"For faculty who are serious about pursuing more powerful forms of student learning, this book is a must. It brings together, as no other resource does, the best that has been thought, said, and done on the topic of collaborative learning. It’s a handbook for teachers who want students to use their heads."
--Pat Hutchings, vice president, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

"Collaborative Learning Techniques is a clear, comprehensive, and practical guide to the what, why, and how of collaborative learning that will benefit all college teachers. Collaborative Learning Techniques will be a well-used reference for years to come."
--Tom Angelo, coauthor with K. Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques

"Classroom Assessment Techniques became the most implemented innovation of the last two decades. With Collaborative Learning Techniques, Elizabeth Barkley and her colleagues have created a handbook that will become the most implemented innovation of the next two decades."
--Terry O’Banion, President Emeritus and Senior League Fellow, League for Innovation in the Community College and author of A Learning College for the 21st Century

"An indispensable guide to collaborative learning for teachers interested in proven strategies to enhance student learning."
--Barbara Leigh Smith, codirector of The Pew Charitable Trusts' National Learning Communities Project and coauthor of Learning Communities: Reforming Undergraduate Education

"Great for current practitioners and for those wanting to learn how to incorporate collaborative learning into their classrooms. This is a comprehensive guide to what collaborative learning is, why it’s important, and how to implement it."
--Barbara Gross Davis, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education, University of California, Berkeley and author, Tools for Teaching

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787955182
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth F. Barkley is professor of music at Foothill College in Los Altos, California. She is also is a national Carnegie Scholar and was named California’s 1998 Higher Education Professor of the Year by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

K. Patricia Cross is professor of higher education, emerita, at the University of California, Berkeley. She is author or coauthor of seven Jossey-Bass books, including Accent on Learning, Adults as Learners, Classroom Assessment Techniques, and Classroom Research.

Claire Howell Major is associate professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa instead of University of Alabama in Birmingham.

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Table of Contents


The Authors.


1. The Case for Collaborative Learning.


2. Orienting Students.

3. Forming Groups.

4. Structuring the Learning Task.

5. Facilitating Student Collaboration.

6. Grading and Evaluating Collaborative Learning.


7. Techniques for Discussion.

CoLT 1: Think-Pair-Share.

CoLT 2: Round Robin.

CoLT 3: Buzz Groups.

CoLT 4: Talking Chips.

CoLT 5: Three-Step Interview.

CoLT 6: Critical Debate.

8. Techniques for Reciprocal Teaching.

CoLT 7: Note-Taking Pairs.

CoLT 8: Learning Cell.

CoLT 9: Fishbowl.

CoLT 10: Role Play.

CoLT 11: Jigsaw.

CoLT 12: Test-Taking Teams.

9. Techniques for Problem Solving.

CoLT 13: Think-Aloud Pair Problem Solving TAPPS.

CoLT 14: Send-A-Problem.

CoLT 15: Case Study.

CoLT 16: Structured Problem Solving.

CoLT 17: Analytic Teams.

CoLT 18: Group Investigation.

10. Techniques Using Graphic Information Organizers.

CoLT 19: Affinity Grouping.

CoLT 20: Group Grid.

CoLT 21: Team Matrix.

CoLT 22: Sequence Chains.

CoLT 23: Word Webs.

11. Techniques Focusing on Writing.

CoLT 24: Dialogue Journals.

CoLT 25: Round Table.

CoLT 26: Dyadic Essays.

CoLT 27: Peer Editing.

CoLT 28: Collaborative Writing.

CoLT 29: Team Anthologies.

CoLT 30: Paper Seminar.

Appendix A: Key to Professor Names in CoLT Examples.

Appendix B: Additional Ideas for Integrating the Learning Task into a Curricular Framework.



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First Chapter

Collaborative Learning Techniques

A Handbook for College Faculty
By Elizabeth Barkley K. Patricia Cross Claire Howell Major

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-5518-3

Chapter One

The Case for Collaborative Learning

MAKING THE CASE FOR collaborative learning seems almost too easy. More research on learning in small groups exists than on any other instructional method, including lecturing (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Slavin, 1989-90). While most of this is credible and positive, it is dominated by research and investigation in K-12, and higher education is coming late to the scene.

Exploding research on cognition and the brain confirms so much of what we have learned about the effectiveness of peer interaction in promoting active learning that college teachers need not fear that experimenting with collaborative learning in their classrooms will plunge them into uncharted territory. Unlike much research in higher education that is often reported in unrelated studies, scholars studying collaborative learning have mapped the terrain and conducted helpful meta-analyses that synthesize findings across topics and institutions.

The purpose of this introduction to the extensive literature on interactive group learning is to glean from experience and research information that is useful to college teachers in deciding whether collaborative learning will be effective in accomplishing their teaching goals. Specifically, this introduction addresses thefollowing questions:

What do we mean by collaborative learning? What is the difference between collaborative learning and cooperative learning?

What are the defining characteristics of effective learning groups?

What is the pedagogical rationale for collaborative learning?

What is the evidence that collaborative learning promotes and improves learning?

Which students gain the most from collaborative learning?

Is everyone happy with collaborative learning?

Thus, Part One of this handbook provides an overview of the theoretical and research bases for collaborative learning.

What Do We Mean by Collaborative Learning?

To collaborate is to work with another or others. In practice, collaborative learning has come to mean students working in pairs or small groups to achieve shared learning goals. It is learning through group work rather than learning by working alone. There are other terms for this kind of activity, such as cooperative learning, team learning, group learning, or peer-assisted learning. In this handbook, however, we use the phrase collaborative learning to refer to learning activities expressly designed for and carried out through pairs or small interactive groups. While we believe that a flexible definition of collaborative learning is best, there are some features that we see as essential.

The first feature of collaborative learning is intentional design. All too often, teachers simply tell students to get into groups and work. In collaborative learning, however, faculty members structure intentional learning activities for students. They may do this by selecting from a range of pre-structured activities, such as those we have included in Part Three of this text, or they may do this by creating their own structures. Whether using existing or new structures, the focus is on intentional structure.

In addition to intentional design, co-laboring is an important feature of collaborative learning. The meaning of the Latin-based term collaborate shines through as clearly today as in antiquity: to co-labor. All participants in the group must engage actively in working together toward the stated objectives. If one group member completes a group task while the others simply watch, then it is not collaborative learning. Whether all group members receive the same task, or whether members complete different tasks that together comprise a single, large project, all students must contribute more or less equally. Equitable engagement is still insufficient, however.

The third feature of collaborative learning is that meaningful learning takes place. As students work together on a collaborative assignment, they must increase their knowledge or deepen their understanding of course curriculum. The task assigned to the group must be structured to accomplish the learning objectives of the course. Shifting responsibility to students, and having the classroom vibrate with lively, energetic small-group work is attractive, but it is educationally meaningless if students are not achieving intended instructional goals, goals shared by the teacher and students. Collaborative learning, then, is two or more students laboring together and sharing the workload equitably as they progress toward intended learning outcomes.

What Is the Difference Between Cooperative and Collaborative Learning?

Although to most educators-and indeed to the lexicographers who compile Dictionaries-the terms collaborative and cooperative have similar meanings, there is considerable debate and discussion as to whether they mean the same thing when applied to group learning. Some authors use the terms cooperative and collaborative interchangeably to mean students working interdependently on a common learning task. Others, however, insist on a clear epistemological distinction (Bruffee, 1995). Advocates for distinguishing between the two suggest that cooperative learning differs from collaborative learning in that, in cooperative learning, the use of groups supports an instructional system that maintains the traditional lines of classroom knowledge and authority (Flannery, 1994). To other authors, cooperative learning is simply a subcategory of collaborative learning (Cuseo, 1992). Still others hold that the most "sensible approach" is to view collaborative and cooperative learning as positioned on a continuum from most structured (cooperative) to least structured (collaborative) (Millis & Cottell, 1998). Since those who insist on a sharp distinction between cooperative and collaborative learning do so for epistemological reasons, it may help to clarify the nature of the argument.

Cooperative Learning

The most straightforward definition of cooperative learning is "the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each others' learning" (Smith, 1996, p. 71). Cooperative learning arose primarily as an alternative to what was perceived as the overemphasis on competition in traditional education. Cooperative learning, as the name implies, requires students to work together on a common task, sharing information and supporting one another. In cooperative learning, the teacher retains the traditional dual role of subject matter expert and authority in the classroom. The teacher designs and assigns group learning tasks, manages time and resources, and monitors students' learning, checking to see that students are on task and that the group process is working well (Cranton, 1996; Smith, 1996).

Most research and most discussion of group learning assumes a traditional view of the nature of knowledge, namely that there is a "correct" answer or at least a "best solution," and that different students will have knowledge about different aspects of the task. There is also the assumption that the teacher is an expert in the subject matter, knows the correct answers, and that ultimately the group should arrive at "the best" or "most logical" or "correct" conclusion. Most teachers using interactive student learning in their classrooms and writing about their experiences are talking about cooperative learning. Knowingly or not, they are capitalizing on the research findings that students who establish social relationships with faculty and other students in the community are more actively involved in learning, report greater personal and academic growth, and are better satisfied with their education than are students who are more isolated (Astin, 1993; Light, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is based on different epistemological assumptions, and it has its home in social constructivism. Matthews captures the essence of the philosophical underpinnings of collaborative learning: "Collaborative learning occurs when students and faculty work together to create knowledge.... It is a pedagogy that has at its center the assumption that people make meaning together and that the process enriches and enlarges them" (Matthews, 1996, p. 101).

Rather than assuming that knowledge exists somewhere in reality "out there," and that it is waiting to be discovered by human endeavors, collaborative learning, in its tightest definition, assumes that knowledge is socially produced by consensus among knowledgeable peers. Knowledge is "something people construct by talking together and reaching agreement" (Bruffee, 1993, p. 3). Bruffee, the most ardent advocate of collaborative learning, wants to avoid having students become dependent on the teacher as the authority on either subject matter content or group process. Thus, in his definition of collaborative learning, it is not up to the teacher to monitor group learning, but rather the teacher's responsibility is to become a member, along with students, of a community in search of knowledge.

Collaborative Versus Cooperative Learning

In an article for Change magazine, subtitled, "Cooperative Learning versus Collaborative Learning" (Bruffee, 1995, emphasis added), Bruffee contends, "Describing cooperative and collaborative learning as complementary understates some important differences between the two. Some of what collaborative learning pedagogy recommends that teachers do tends in fact to undercut some of what cooperative learning might hope to accomplish, and vice versa" (p. 16).

The essence of his position is that, whereas the goal of cooperative learning is to work together in harmony and mutual support to find the solution, the goal of collaborative learning is to develop autonomous, articulate, thinking people, even if at times such a goal encourages dissent and competition that seems to undercut the ideals of cooperative learning. While cooperative education may be appropriate for children, he says, collaborative learning is more appropriate for college students.

Bruffee has made something of a brand name of collaborative learning in higher education circles. He intends the role of the teacher to be less the traditional expert in the classroom and more the peer of students. Knowledge at the college level, he says, is "likely to address questions with dubious or ambiguous answers, answers that require well-developed judgment to arrive at, judgment that learning to answer such questions tends, in turn, to develop.... The authority of knowledge taught in colleges and universities should always be subject to doubt" (p. 15).

As a practical matter in planning and operating college classroom learning groups, most teachers will not be much concerned with the philosophical and semantic distinctions between cooperative and collaborative learning, but will use the level of authority and control that feels comfortable for them and that accomplishes their goals. If there is a trend in clarifying the nomenclature of interactive group learning, however, it seems to be in the direction of using the term collaborative learning in higher education and cooperative learning in K-12 education.

In this handbook, we have labeled our techniques CoLTs, Co standing for either "Cooperative" or "Collaborative" and LT standing for "Learning Techniques," because the techniques described come from the literature of both cooperative and collaborative learning. Inventing a new term would free us from the baggage accumulated by the advocates of the postmodern version of collaborative learning, but it would also add to the jargon of education. Instead, we follow the growing practice of using the term collaborative learning to refer to interactive learning groups in higher education, from structured to unstructured. It is important to be aware, however, that massive confusion reigns in the literature of higher education over terminology. Some authors writing today in higher education use the term cooperative learning, and where this is the case, we will use their terminology when discussing their work.

What Are the Defining Characteristics of Effective Learning Groups?

Learning groups exist in many sizes and forms and are created for a wide variety of purposes. Some learning groups are ad hoc, in-class arrangements of convenience that last only a few minutes. For example, in CoLT 1: Think-Pair-Share, the instructor asks students to turn to a nearby neighbor to discuss briefly a point made in the lecture. Other teachers may use CoLT 3: Buzz Groups, consisting of four to six students grouped for ten to fifteen minutes. This CoLT gives students an opportunity to explore other learners' reactions to course-related questions. There are also more intentionally structured groupings, often organized around specific assignments, such as CoLT 15: Case Studies or CoLT 18: Group Investigation. In these activities, students may work together for days or weeks until the assignment is completed.

Sometimes groups work together on a course-long project. Membership can remain the same or change depending on the learning goals. There are also long-term "learning communities" that may last a semester or an academic year. Learning communities typically involve integration of curricula, team teaching, and other institutional changes designed to give students a feeling of belonging to a "community" of learners (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews, & Smith, 1990; Matthews, Smith, MacGregor, & Gabelnick, 1997; Tinto, Love, & Russo, 1994).

Groups may be identified with particular teaching methods-such as the case-study method or problem-based learning-in which the purpose is to accomplish specified cognitive goals such as critical thinking and problem solving. There are groups based on an epistemology, such as Bruffee's purist definition of collaborative learning. When interacting, these groups purposely implement social constructivist learning theory, a theory contending that knowledge is socially constructed by consensus among knowledgeable peers (Bruffee, 1995; Vygotsky, 1978).

Johnson and colleagues (Johnson et al., 1991) distinguish types of groups on the basis of duration and purpose. Formal learning groups last from one class period to several weeks, whatever it takes to complete a specific task or assignment. The purpose is to use the group to accomplish shared goals, to capitalize on different talents and knowledge of the group, and to maximize the learning of everyone in the group. Informal groups are temporary groups that last for only one discussion or one class period. Their major purpose is to ensure active learning.


Excerpted from Collaborative Learning Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley K. Patricia Cross Claire Howell Major Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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