Collaborative Learning

When I was an undergraduate student at the Ateneo, the number of chemistry majors is very small that in some upper level courses like physical chemistry, both third and fourth year students attend the same class. The physical chemistry laboratory course was pretty challenging as our professor, Amando Kapauan, simply listed the titles of the experiments we were supposed to perform. The very little guidance provided forced all of us to work together. What the professor could do inside a lecture room is quite limited especially when one objective of the course is for students to learn to become resourceful. Problem solving can surely benefit from a lecturer who could cover a myriad of strategies or approaches, but in the real world, we usually do not have access to an expert who could provide all the right guidance or direction. We usually have to learn from our friends, from our peers.

Collaborative learning not only pools everyone's resources but also promote engagement in the lesson or activity. Surely, there are benefits in running a laboratory course where every single work has to be individual, but there are likewise advantages in group work. Even in cutting-edge research, no one really works like an island. Research groups have regular meetings to discuss progress as well as challenges. In a General Chemistry class, seeing students working through problems at the end of a chapter means that learning is not confined inside a classroom. It goes beyond and students can really learn from each other.

ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is celebrating Collaborative Learning Week.

Collaborative learning, however, does not happen without effort. It is not magic. After all, our physical chemistry professor was not working with a class who were strangers to each other. My classmates and I have know each other for years since we were simply a small group at the Ateneo tucked away in a building just for chemistry. Group work came naturally.

Kevin Scott provides the following advice for collaborative learning at ASCD.

As a former teacher, a parent, and a lifelong student, I would say the keys to a positive collaborative learning experience are the following:
1. Be Flexible—You never know when you’ll need to think on your feet.
2. Provide Support—But remember, support isn’t steering them directly to the answer.
3. Treat the Situation Like a Piece of Art—It’s a delicate balance that needs to be thoughtful for everyone.
4. Stay Positive—As cliché as that sounds, you will hear complaints, and the best advice may be to lead by example and take an empathetic approach.
5. Maintain a Fun Factor—Sometimes a little competition can be a great motivator. Keep it upbeat and fun for all. It’s amazing how certain students will shine when they’re having a good time with a project or task, and you’ll have a great time watching it happen!
ASCD also provides various resources for collaborative learning:
Effectively Differentiate Your Instruction: By differentiating instruction and content to meet the needs of every learner, your classroom will naturally lend itself to student collaboration. Use these resources to help you differentiate materials.
Prepare Group Work Instead of Individual Work: Instead of repeating the same  individual assignments week after week, take a look at your curriculum and identify opportunities for students to work together. The resources below are helpful to carry out a successful group work strategy.
Structure Your Teaching for Better Engagement: Collaborative learning works best with solid, engaging instruction. Reflect on your teaching practices with the resources below.
  • Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
In addition to encouraging collaborative learning, it’s always a good idea to consider every aspect of teacher effectiveness. For more on this topic, visit ASCD’s Teacher Effectiveness Resource Portal.