Collaborative Assignments and Projects

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Weekly Tip: Collaborative Assignments and Projects

Don’t miss this week’s accompanying Inclusive Access Approach, at bottom

Collaborative learning promotes a positive attitude toward the subject matter, helps to develop students’ social interaction and communication skills, fosters appreciation for diversity, and encourages student responsibility for learning. Below are some collaborative learning strategies:

Find more student engagement strategies.

Teamwork is here to stay. It is important for faculty to realize, though, that it isn’t enough to simply place individuals together and call them a “team”. We must provide our students with education and ongoing support as they build the skills necessary to be successful.

—Erik R. Eddy
Siena College Caroline D’Abate,  Skidmore College

Suggestions to Foster Collaboration

  • Let students know why you are teaching this way. It’s important that students feel that the techniques you are using are to their benefit. If you don’t address this, students may conclude that you are using less effective techniques or that you are experimenting on them; this can cause resentment and low engagement.
  • Define Learning Outcomes. What skills will students obtain, or what should students expect to learn by the end of this assignment/project?
  • Set clear expectations. Students should have a clear understanding of what is expected. Rubrics provide an easy method to communicate expectations.
  • Select learning activities which involve teamwork. Effective collaborative learning activities help build communication, and interpersonal skills, and can even help students embrace new perspectives. The best collaborative assignments entail critical thinking, communication skills, and some form of peer review.
  • Consider group size. Odd numbered groups are preferred, but avoid groups any larger than five students. This will help insure that everyone in the group participates equally by creating a sense of personal accountability. For more information on building effective groups, please review Building Effective Groups.

Learn more about Creating Impactful Student Experiences.

Inclusive Access Approach

This section emphasizes how this week’s tip can help nurture an equitable student experience by providing an inclusively accessible course to a diverse student population. This population includes students who have varying characteristics and qualities. These may include, but are not limited to, physical and mental abilities, gender, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic background, life experiences, geographic location, religious beliefs and values.

Including group work as part of a course allows a diverse student population to feel like they are not alone in the learning process, allows the opportunity for all students to learn new/different perspectives from their fellow students, and it helps those who may feel marginalized learn they have an important voice.

Tips to help make learning groups more inclusive:

  • Groups should be small (no more than 3-5 people) to allow students to be more connected with each other and to allow an opportunity for each group member to engage with the course material and/or task.
  • Refrain from having students always pick their groups. Instead, instructors can specifically choose groups or randomly select groups by providing various ways for students to align. For example, have students count off or randomly select individual colored symbol cards. Students who have the same numbers, symbols, or same colors are assigned to a group.
    • If students are to pick their groups, encourage them to work with classmates they do not know or have not worked with in a group before.
  • Specifically define the goals of the groups and the roles of each member within the group.
    • It is recommended each member of a group have a role. Consider assigning roles instead of having the group always choose member roles. Doing this allows students opportunities to reach beyond their usual comfort zones and to contribute to and succeed in roles they may not usually risk taking. It also gives students a chance to gain confidence in an environment that mimics the workplace beyond the university, where they will be assigned roles and tasks that they may not have previously experienced.
  • To help students feel more at ease with in-class or online group work, instructors should stay actively involved when groups are working together. Instructors should be openly available as a resource, actively monitoring member involvement, and providing feedback and guidance to help make an effective group work.

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