No one strategy so profoundly changes the dynamic in the classroom as much as cooperative work does. When students work in groups, their learning is active and personalized. Collaborative work reflects the workplace, and it is refreshing for both students and teacher. Collaborative learning gives students an opportunity to develop many skills:
- Negotiation and debate
- Responsibility and time management
- Teamwork and leadership
- Creative and critical thinking
Although not specifically linked to course content, these skills support lifelong learning in both personal and career situations. That’s especially important in technical fields, such as computer science and nanotechnology, in which information quickly becomes obsolete. When considering group work, you might feel more comfortable starting small. Try incorporating collaborative learning in small doses. Start by asking students to chat with a neighbor after a short lecture to come up with what they consider to be the most important points covered in the lecture, or to formulate two questions they still have. From there, try using established cooperative learning strategies such as:
Think-Pair-Share: Students first think about or write answers to a question separately, then pair with a partner to discuss their answers, and share answers when called upon.
Jigsaw: This is a learning process that can replace lecture. Working in groups of four or more, assign two or more articles, but have each person on a team responsible for only one article. Each article should have a different content focus. The students then teach the content to their team members and try to analyze a case or solve a problem using the shared information.
Create Academic Controversies: Assign a topic with powerful pro or con positions, giving opposite positions to pairs of team members. After research and planning, students must convince their opponents of their positions. Then the pairs take the opposite position and argue that. Eventually, you may decide to modify these strategies or come up with your own cooperative learning methods to best reflect your teaching style. Although some collaborative activities can be done in informal pairs or small groups, most instructors prefer to assign larger groups for longterm projects.
In most cases, having varied activities where students are involved can convert a boring, monotonous classroom into a lively, active atmosphere.