Posted at 10.29.2018
What is collaborative learning? This article talks about the definitions of collaborative learning and provides the reader with a synopsis of the definitions of collaborative learning, its various forms, and its own goals, uses and scope vis-a-vis the original classroom and school system.
It was midnight on the school night. I saw the light on in my 16 year old's room and went to tell him to visit sleep. His door was uncharacteristically open and I could hear animated voices from inside his room. I came across him on Skype with a couple of friends. They were quizzing one another, working out numericals and clarifying each other's concepts for a big physics test next morning.
Have you worked on your homework math problems with a pal? Did you ever gather with peers in a group to understand a hard theory in college? Did you ever brainstorm with other classmates on a school project? We've all done collaborative learning at some stage of the lives; we just didn't know what to call it.
The very dictionary definition of collaboration will reveal what collaborative learning means. The word "collaboration" brings together the Latin "col-" meaning "with or together" with the Latin "labor" or toil. For educationists, collaborative learning is a thorough term for "a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. "1
Collaborative Learning happens when students work together or are made to interact in pairs or groups:
to understand or "make" meaning of" a concept or text
to create a solution for a problem (given in class or self-discovered)
to explore a topic, a question, an area of knowledge
to apply the principles learned in their curriculum
to conceive of new ways to apply the knowledge they have discovered in class
to construct a tangible article or a physical object (for example, a report, a term-paper, a model volcano, a recycled-paper bag, a solar power, an electric vehicle) out of the course-learning
The above, of course, is an indicative and not a comprehensive list of the ways in which collaborative learning may be used by teachers.
Many educators seem to be to confuse collaborative learning with a lot more structured approach of cooperative learning.
Let us say that cooperative learning is a type of collaborative learning. The developers of cooperative learning models and strategies have laid out several specific components that teachers must control: a small, inter-dependent group dependant on the teacher, in person interaction, carefully structured activity resulting in the accomplishment of your predetermined goal, individual accountability of every person in the group and a group's assessment and processing of its own are a team. 2
Other types of collaborative learning which may be used both inside and out of the classroom structure are discussions, brainstorming sessions, peer-teaching groups, workshops, team projects, group field-work, study groups, seminars, simulations, role-plays, case-studies etc.
Collaborative learning, thus, can be specific, managed and structured or it can be spontaneous, experiential and totally open-ended.
Collaborative Learning in the traditional school system
Of course, the original school system reaches odds with the very spirit of collaborative learning. Schools, as they were conceived and because they are still administered, are essentially authoritarian constructs.
"Lectures" are the preferred method of teaching and the formal physical, emotional and psychological set-up of the original classroom is confrontational. Teachers remain equated with "discipline" and "consequences. " They will be the transmitters of knowledge and the evaluators of the students' grasp of the info they have "given" to the students. They will be the regulators of the competition that is encouraged between students through the assessments and recognition and rewards for individual achievement.
"Conversation" is discouraged in traditional classrooms where learning is a solitary quest for an individual student confronted with the info being given to him from the front of any classroom with a teacher who's the expert instructor. You will discover definitive syllabi for each subject with course content to be covered in a set time frame; there are lecture plans for each and every teaching hour and teachers are under great pressure to ensure that their students have ingested the carefully planned and delivered information and are capable of regurgitating it as required during formal assessments. Memory is more important than assimilation.
In collaborative learning, on the other hand, the process of learning is actually more important than what's learned. Students are taught, by hands-on experience, how to learn rather than what things to learn. If they learn, assimilation of the material can be an absolute requirement as a student must take the material, absorb it, make it his own and then present it or teach it to others. Mere memorizing won't help the collaborative learner.
Collaborative learning, by its very definition, takes the power from the teacher as "guru" and distributes that power among the students as self-sustaining, motivated "learners" who take ownership and responsibility of the complete process of leaning in an interactive, "talking-to-each-other" and engaged manner. The teacher becomes merely a facilitator, an "expert designer" of any student's intellectual process and a "mid-wife of a more emergent learning process. " 3
The traditional "us" versus "them" power-structure of the traditional school is obviously not conducive to the mutual trust that's needed is for purely collaborative learning. It is also relevant to point out here that like teachers, students too have to be "prepared" to defend myself against the challenges and opportunities made available from collaborative learning. I must emphasize that collaborative learning is a tool, exactly like other teaching methodologies. It really is up to the school and the teacher to utilize this or another tool with regards to the objective, the task, the group and the "preparedness" of the students. A group-discussion may enhance a lecture; it cannot and should not replace it until both teachers and students are ready for the complete shift to another paradigm.
As increasingly more teachers change their classroom strategies and re-orient their relationship to the curriculum from the original "transmission" to "transactions" that lead to "transformations" in the personal and social relations of the student to his curriculum, the institution system is also slowly evolving and accommodating itself to the greater student-centered, process-oriented and non-competitive model that defines collaborative learning.
1. Smith, BL and MacGregor, JT, "What's Collaborative Learning?" in Goodsell, Maher, Tinto, Smith & MacGregor's Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for ADVANCED SCHOOLING; National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment; Pennsylvania State University: 1992.
2. David, Johnson & Holubec. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company 1990
3. Smith and MacGregor op. cit