Technology-Enhanced Collaborative Group Work

Group activities are used by many instructors on campus. Group collaboration fosters consensus-building and task management skills and allows people with different backgrounds and levels of experience an opportunity to come together to create something that is greater than each member could achieve alone. While instructors understand the value collaborative activities bring to learning, students can find these projects to be painful and frustrating. Meeting outside of class, delegating tasks, defining roles, and dealing with group dynamics are obstacles that students mention most. Instructors also find it difficult to know how to assess group activities in ways that measure both the outcome and the process. Additionally, while there are many technologies that can be used to foster collaboration, instructors find it challenging to select the right technology and understand how it can be used in an effective manner.

“Group work allows students an opportunity to participate in a broader array of activities related to a project, and to learn more through deeper discussion of the assignment - leading to a negotiated agreement on various aspects of the project.”

Susan Zahner - Professor, School of Nursing

Engage implemented the Engage Adaptation Technology-Enhanced Collaborative Group Work Award during the 2008-2009 academic year to study the impact and processes around student collaboration both in and out of the classroom. Forty faculty and instructional staff from schools and colleges across the campus participated in the award. Award participants worked with learning technology consultants from across campus to design, facilitate, grade, and assess effective collaborative group activities. Award projects centered on five types of collaborative activities:

  • collaborative writing;
  • student critiques;
  • student reflections;
  • group presentations; and
  • group problem-solving

Why Collaborate?

picture of students using a laptop to collaborate

Collaboration is common in the workplace. Many businesses and work teams are faced with ill-defined challenges that require creative and innovative solutions. These types of challenges call for groups of people with a range of expertise to share and create new knowledge while working together toward a solution. However, collaboration does not come naturally, and educators are being challenged to prepare students to collaborate and provide opportunities that highlight the value of collaboration as a tool that helps them think in new ways and become creative, effective problem-solvers.

In Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities, more than 100 faculty using small group activities or working to create student communities in large classes were interviewed on their rationale for using collaborative work in the classroom (MacGregor, Cooper, Smith, Robinson, 2000). Their reasons included:

  • promoting cognitive elaboration;
  • enhancing critical thinking;
  • providing feedback;
  • promoting social and emotional development;
  • appreciating diversity; and
  • reducing student attrition.

In 2009, the National Survey of Student Engagement identified active and collaborative learning as one of the top five benchmarks of effective educational practice. The report states: “Students learn more when they are intensely involved in their education and are asked to think about and apply what they are learning in different settings. Collaborating with others in solving problems or mastering difficult material prepares students to deal with the messy, unscripted problems they will encounter daily, both during and after college.”