Collaborative Learning: Group Work and Study Teams

[From the hard copy book Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis; Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, 1993. Linking to this book chapter from other websites is permissible. However, the contents of this chapter may not be copied, printed, or distributed in hard copy form without permission.]

Students learn best when they are actively involved in the process. Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats. Students who work in collaborative groups also appear more satisfied with their classes. (Sources: Beckman, 1990; Chickering and Gamson, 1991; Collier, 1980; Cooper and Associates, 1990; Goodsell, Maher, Tinto, and Associates, 1992; Johnson and Johnson, 1989; Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991; Kohn, 1986; McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith, 1986; Slavin, 1980, 1983; Whitman, 1988)

Various names have been given to this form of teaching, and there are some distinctions among these: cooperative learning, collaborative learning, collective learning, learning communities, peer teaching, peer learning, reciprocal learning, team learning, study circles, study groups, and work groups. But all in all, there are three general types of group work: informal learning groups, formal learning groups, and study teams (adapted from Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991).

Informal learning groups are ad hoc temporary clusterings of students within a single class session. Informal learning groups can be initiated, for example, by asking students to turn to a neighbor and spend two minutes discussing a question you have posed. You can also form groups of three to five to solve a problem or pose a question. You can organize informal groups at any time in a class of any size to check on students' understanding of the material, to give students an opportunity to apply what they are learning, or to provide a change of pace.

Formal learning groups are teams established to complete a specific task, such as perform a lab experiment, write a report, carry out a project, or prepare a position paper. These groups may complete their work in a single class session or over several weeks. Typically, students work together until the task is finished, and their project is graded.

Study teams are long-term groups (usually existing over the course of a semester) with stable membership whose primary responsibility is to provide members with support, encouragement, and assistance in completing course requirements and assignments. Study teams also inform their members about lectures and assignments when someone has missed a session. The larger the class and the more complex the subject matter, the more valuable study teams can be.

The suggestions below are designed to help you set up formal learning groups and study teams. If you have never done group work in your classes, you might want to experiment first with informal learning groups. Two other tools, "Leading a Discussion" and "Supplements and Alternatives to Lecturing: Encouraging Student Participation," describe a variety of easy ways to incorporate informal learning groups into your courses. "Helping Students Write Better in All Courses" discusses informal collaborative writing activities.

  General Strategies

Plan for each stage of group work. When you are writing your syllabus for the course, decide which topics, themes, or projects might lend themselves to formal group work. Think about how you will organize students into groups, help groups negotiate among themselves, provide feedback to the groups, and evaluate the products of group work.

Carefully explain to your class how the groups will operate and how students will be graded. As you would when making any assignment, explain the objectives of the group task and define any relevant concepts. In addition to a well-defined task, every group needs a way of getting started, a way of knowing when its task is done, and some guidance about the participation of members. Also explain how students will be graded. Keep in mind that group work is more successful when students are graded against a set standard than when they are graded against each other (on a curve). See "Grading Practices." (Source: Smith, 1986)

Give students the skills they need to succeed in groups. Many students have never worked in collaborative learning groups and may need practice in such skills as active and tolerant listening, helping one another in mastering content, giving and receiving constructive criticism, and managing disagreements. Discuss these skills with your students and model and reinforce them during class. Some faculty use various exercises that help students gain skills in working in groups (Fiechtner and Davis, 1992). See "Leading a Discussion" for examples of guidelines for participating in small groups. (Sources: Cooper, 1990; Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991)

Consider written contracts. Some faculty give students written contracts that list members' obligations to their group and deadlines for tasks (Connery, 1988).

Read More

Troovi: Student Photo sharing made Easy Screencast from Robert Freudenreich on Vimeo.

Just imagine you have been on a school excursion and have about 60 cameras to upload photos from so that you use the images to reflect upon what you have learnt.  This would normally be both a time and effort consuming task for the teacher but Troovi makes this dead simple by following these simple steps.

There's no need to register! Simply choose the photos you want to share and upload them in high quality using our comfortable state-of-the-art uploader. Afterwards your collection is accessible by a unique url which is generated automatically.

To share the photos with others all you have to do is to send them your unique link. You can also use the built-in share feature for email, facebook, and much more services.

Everybody who knows the unique URL of your collection has full access to the photos including the ability to upload new photos. So others can add their own photos to your collection.

You can download either one single photo or even all photos as a zip file in high quality. Never again downscaled photos in bad quality and low resolution!

Create an interactive Classroom Share Board with Stixy

Think of Stixy as your online bulletin board. Create as many Stixyboards as you like, one for each project. Use Stixy to easily organize and share:

  • Your classroom schedule
  • Projects at work
  • An upcoming holiday with your friends
  • Your photos from your last excursion
  • Or share a file or two with a friend

Only you set the limitations for how you want to use Stixy.

Be creative! We have no fixed grid that you need to follow. Can you see the widgets in the widget tray below? Just drag a widget out on the board and place it anywhere you want. Resize it, move it around, and select from a number of options to design your reminders, photos, notes, and files.

To share a Stixyboard with Students, friends, family, or your colleagues at work, is as easy as it gets. Sometimes it’s nice or in fact necessary to have an online space for common photos, reminders, files, and so forth. Each Stixyboard has a unique set of members. No one else can see or use your board unless you choose to open your board for public view.

Docverse - The Easiest way to collaborate on Office Docs for the Moment

Docverse is one of the most impressive applications I have seen for a while.  It seamlessly lets a group of people share any Microsoft Office document; solving the problems of uploading and downloading emails and having multiple copies of files floating around.  The video below will demonstrate how it works on both windows and Mac far better than I can in words.

This is going to get some serious competition from Google Wave but remember it is targeted at MS office users and not Google Docs.  But the real question is what is office 2010 going to bring to cloud with it's next release.  Microsoft have definitely got the capacity to bring this all its users successfully today as proven with office live and applications such as this but hey are very cautious not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg for the minute. 

I realise there is a growing glut of these out on the market but nevertheles it is highly impressive and definitely worth checking out here.  

Nota: Casual Collaboration for Students and Teachers

Nota is a unique, cutting-edge collaborative web platform that allows users to create, share and collaborate on presentations and virtually any other form of online material. Using Nota’s proprietary toolset, users can instantly integrate text, video, maps, clip art, photos from web album or on the local computer, or license-free images from Flickr, and material from an ever-expanding array of sources. Users can then instantly embed their work in Facebook or blogs, and can share and collaborate with friends.

Nota image

  • It's easy to use, even for someone with no computer experience.
  • Fast load times mean near instant co-creation.
  • Embed anywhere including your blog and social networks - and it automatically pushes changes to all of these in real time.
  • Also, it is purpose-built to work well with touch interfaces.


Nota for Education

Nota has been used for educational purpose as an online collaboration tool that allows students and educators to instantly create and share virtually any kind of document -- presentations, notebooks, reports , artwork -- anything. Nota makes every kind of document and media work together -- easily, seamlessly and instantly. Users can integrate material from an almost endless and expanding list of sources:images, YouTube clips, clip art, text -- anything. There’s no software to purchase or install, and no limit to what you can express using Nota. And because Nota’s online, collaborative and real-time, student reactions, responses and ideas can be instantly integrated into the document. There’s literally nothing else like Nota.

Use Cases

For science class

Here is a Nota of the nitrogen cycle created by a student in the U.S.. Actually creating content is much more engaging than simply viewing a concept in a book.

For science class

This Nota from the U.S. shows the lifecycle of cows in a circular diagram. Photos were obtained from Flickr and the arrows were made using the shape tool.

For field map project

Local map made in Japan. The photos student took and uploaded, and the information students found were combined on Nota.

For history class

Here a student has collected a series of photographs of President Kennedy and Fidel Castro during the Cuban missile crisis. A full presentation could include several slides with dozens of pictures, videos, maps, and more as well as detailed text points.

What Makes Nota Unique?

  • Users can create visual presentations or notebooks in literally minutes using any web browser.
  • Nota’s design and user interface are simple, intuitive, and can be mastered in minutes.
  • Because Nota is a hosted service, it’s constantly being expanded, enhanced and improved.
  • Nota work can instantly combine virtually any kind of material, from any source.
  • Materials can be shared and edited simultaneously with group members -- or anyone online.
  • Work is never lost – it’s auto-saved and immediately published.
  • It is ideal for group projects and hands-on instructions – you can incorporate student responses into your material as you develop it.
  • It’s free of charge.

What Can it Do?

  • Use the text tool to add title, messages, and comments to your creations.
  • Insert photos, videos or flash from your own files or Flickr, Youtube, etc.
  • Also insert Google Maps, Wikipedia articles, and more all within the active sidebar.
  • Drawing tools work on any object in the workspace.
  • Upload PDFs, Word files, and sounds for sharing.
  • Invite one – or a hundred -- people to your notebook to collaborate.
  • Create Private or Public notebooks.
  • Add as many pages as you want to your notebook.
  • Create documents, presentations, reports, notes – anything you want.
  • Store, print, forward and share your work.
  • Edit, annotate and update images, text, video on the fly, in seconds.