Collaborative learning processes

This section of the guide explores some common processes for collaborative learning. Success collaboration comes from setting the right expectations for the students and for yourself as the educator.

Planning a collaborative task

When collaborative tasks are effectively designed, they both satisfy the learning goals of the task and give students the best opportunities to practice the tasks in an authentic way, including interactions and working with other people. Tasks can be cooperative or collaborative, and the task outcomes can be formative or summative.

A key question to consider is “What do you want to achieve with the collaboration?”. The team task should be guided by your answer to this question.

Creating collaborative teams

The next step is to set up the groups students will work in. If collaborative work takes place online, Moodle can be used for asynchronous group selection or Zoom for synchronous group selection.

Teams may be formed with one or more of the following three processes:

  1. Self selection: students form their own groups
  2. Educator selection: students are assigned to groups
  3. Random selection: Students are assigned to groups arbitrarily.

Some combinations of these methods can exist; for example, the educator may group students with similar skills (manager, designer, technical, artistic, etc) and then allow a random or self-selection of one student from each category to form groups.

A key question to consider is “Does the team formation assist in attaining teamwork goals?“. Your team formation approach should be guided by your answer to this question.

Managing collaborative teams

The following step is for the students to begin working in newly created teams.  This phase has an academic behaviour and student behaviour.

Once the teams are formed and start working on their tasks, students will need guidance to:

Communication strategies and approaches can vary, depending on the preferences and technology available.

Monitoring is most effective when it allows scope for students to run their projects and gain the most benefits of learning to work in a team. Generally, “students have the ability to learn collaboratively with minimum ‘scaffolding’ in place and prefer being empowered to self-manage their respective groups and arising problems” (Oana, 2020).

A key question to consider is “How can you make yourself available and give guidance and feedback to students?“. Your communication strategy and approaches should be guided by the answer to this question.

Guiding students

Providing or guiding students towards collaborative tasks allows you additional monitoring and support opportunities. Collaborative learning occurs when students work in pairs or groups to learn from each other. The tasks students collaborate in might involve brainstorming, mindmapping, debate, role play, discussions, problem solving or completing a collaborative project.

Key questions to consider are “How will the students engage with each other and feel like part of a community?”. The structure for student collaboration should be guided by the answer to this question. For example, giving student teams a name, fostering fun, and creating a positive tone can all help build a sense of community inside the student groups.

Assessing collaborative work

The final step is for the student teams to receive feedback on their collaboration outcomes (product) and their teamwork (process). While not all collaborative work is formally assessed (for example, group activities in tutorials), students should receive some form of feedback regardless. For informal group work activities in tutorials, verbal feedback from the educator might be useful.

If collaborative learning is being assessed (such as a group project), then both individual and collaborative efforts should be assessed. The assessment of collaborative learning should align with your faculty guidelines, and University policies around assessment. See the section Related policies and procedures for links to the university policies that apply to assessing collaborative work.

Teamwork marking often uses a group submission, such as a project output, documentation, or presentation (Braun 2017). Teamwork can also include peer assessment and self reflection activities that can contribute to the summative grade. For more information about group and peer assessment, please see the Group and peer assessment page.