AOI | Learning Innovations

Faculty Insider

Weekly Tip: Structured Team Collaboration Strategies

In our previous post about Collaborative Assignments and Projects, we discussed what collaboration with class projects and assignments looks like. There are a variety of approaches, with varying levels of structure, to help engage students in teams.


Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) is a strategy intended to be used with self-managed teams, and specifically designed, guided inquiry materials, where the instructor acts as a facilitator of student learning. Students are given information to interpret and questions to guide students toward formulating their own valid conclusions. For more information, see POGIL’s website.


POGIL has been proven to improve students’ oral and written communication skills, teach how to work in a team, enhance problem solving and critical thinking, encourage management/leadership skills, help with information processing, and promote metacognition. POGIL is a strategy that makes students feel empowered and in control of their own learning.

POGIL activities focus on core concepts and encourages a deep understanding of the course material while developing higher-order thinking skills. POGIL develops process skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication through cooperation and reflection, helping students become lifelong learners and preparing them to be more competitive in a global market. 


When to use POGIL

Instructors should consider using the POGIL strategy when:

  • Introducing a unit.
  • Introducing a difficult concept.
  • Replacing a lecture.
  • Reviewing or checking for understanding.
  • Lecture is not efficient or effective.
  • Students have misconceptions or to discover student misconceptions.
  • Covering chunkable content.

Learning in Teams

This is a learning strategy that primarily relies on small group interactions.  For each unit, students prepare by reviewing content (reading, videos, etc.) prior to class. During class, students are arranged into purposeful groups and work together throughout the class. Each student can be assigned a specific role to fulfill certain responsibilities.

Why Learn in Teams?

Implementing teams helps students acquire a sense of accountability, since they must be fully prepared when working with their group. This also allows more time to engage in real-world connections and applications. In addition, team learning provides the students with opportunities for more focused interactions and defined possibilities for participation.

When to Use Team Learning?

Team learning is most effective if used:

  • During an activity that requires students to make a deliberate decision.
  • During assignments where frequent, immediate feedback and peer reflection are necessary.
  • With a substantial reading assignment.
  • As opportunity to clarify confusion from a recent assessment or lecture.

The instructor’s role is to guide the students, walking around the room and probing them with questions to check their understanding.

—Farrell, Moog, and Spencer 1999;
Hanson and Wolfskill 2000

Instructor as Facilitator

When using these kinds of strategies, the role of the instructor is to act as a facilitator for student-led learning, rather than lead the class. Here are a few tips on how to be an effective facilitator during structured collaborative activities:

  • Prepare to listen more.
  • Remain a quiet observer. Allow the students to lead the learning process.
  • Model questioning techniques for the students.
  • Ask questions, but do not interrupt learning.
  • Avoid general praise, as it sets a standard for students to seek affirmation from the instructor.
  • Be confident with these techniques. Don’t get discouraged easily. It can take time for your students to adjust to this style of learning.

Bridging the Gap to Structured Collaboration

Although implementing these strategies may take some time and patience for students to adjust, they are advantageous. Collaboration is student-centered, and therefore the instructor acts as a facilitator of learning processes. This requires some trust of process on the behalf of the instructor, but with carefully implemented strategies, student collaboration can easily and successfully be integrated into a course. Two structured collaborative strategies which are simple to implement are POGIL and team-based learning.

References and Resources

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.