Strategies for Designing a Successful Collaborative Experience for Learners

Five Questions to Ponder as Educators:

  • How often do you, as an educator, assign a group project or group work to students?
  • Have you taught your students how to collaborate? …how to learn from each other?
  • Is there an assumption that your students learned collaborative skills the year(s) prior?
  • Is collaboration vital to the learning and to the success of the project, or just a more interesting way to complete the project?
  • How do you assess individual learner growth and achievement in a  group project experience?

Five Principles of Collaborative Experiences:

  • Collaboration is designed to foster a shared experience within the learning process.
  • The focus on collaborative experiences is on what students learn and will do with others.
  • The educator must strategically and purposefully design collaborative elements  into group learning experiences.
  • The educator should always know a student’s individual progress within the learning process and for the product creation. 
  • Individualized feedback must be designed into collaborative learning experiences.

The Role of Checkpoints:

In order to assess effectiveness of collaborative design and individual achievement, there must be varied and appropriate benchmarks (checkpoints) throughout all collaborative work assigned:

  • Checkpoints must provide individualized learner feedback frequently.
  • Checkpoints must ensure progress on the process of learning (acquisition, mastery , meaning, content, knowledge, skill development, etc.) — such as peer-editing, daily formative assessments, learning conferences, group share, concept-based presentations, quizzes on learning progress, etc.
  • Checkpoints must ensure progress on the product creation/end result — such as practice performance assessments, product drafts, practice final presentations, rehearsal of knowledge acquired, pre-summative assessment, etc.

Strategies for Designing a Successful Collaborative Experience for Learners

  • Create and design interdependence within the collaborative experience for group members to depend on and draw from each other’s strengths and skills.
  • Create shared goals that can only be met through collaboration.
  • Assess with rubrics that measure acquisition and mastery, as well as measure individual and group contribution.
  • Create collaborative experiences that compel learners to share critical information and resources.
  • Support collaborative learning with assigned roles and/or social contracts.
  • Emphasize the practicality and future application of strong collaborative skills.
  • Don’t assume that learners know how to work and collaborate in groups. Devote time specifically to develop teamwork skills – such as how to explain ideas to each other, to listen to alternate ideas and perspectives, reach consensus, delegate responsibilities, and coordinate efforts.
  • Redefine group work for learners. Address prior negative experiences and misconceptions about collaborative work. Help learners start fresh.  
  • Roleplay and reinforce conflict resolution skills during the first few collaborative experiences.
  • The educator never waits until the summative assessment to evaluate progress. There are daily observations that helps identify and clarify learner progress.

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