Strategies to complement these techniques

Create complex learning activities

  • Students must have a reason to collaborate. Simple assignments can be done more easily by themselves. Collaboration is necessary when a task is complex – if it is too difficult and has too many components to complete on one’s own.
  • It is challenging, entertaining, stimulating, and multilayered to engage in complex activities. Achieving the goal, completing the task, being successful, and getting a good grade require that the team collaborates and shares knowledge in order to succeed (Johnson, Johnson & Holubec, 2008).
  • Students can help their communities by developing rigorous projects that require students to identify a problem (for example, balancing population growth and protection of green space) and decide a solution together through research, discussion, debate, and time to develop their ideas.

Teach your students to be part of a group

Collaborative groupd can´t be assigned – they need to be nurtured and built. Working in groups and as part of a team is a skill that many students need to learn.

In order for students to understand collaboration, we must teach them the why, what, and how. Hera are a few ways to do it:

  • Provide students with examples of successful collaboration to help them understand the benefits of collaboration.
  • Take students through the stages of team building (forming, storming, norming, and performing).
  • In the course of the activity, provide students with opportunities to learn leadership, decision-making skills, trust-building skills, communication skills, and conflict-management skills.
  • Develop norms and expectations for teamwork.
  • You can have students develop procedures for resolving team conflict and disagreements by teaching them how to do it.
  • Students should learn how to listen actively.

Reduce opportunities for free riding

A problem students have when working in collaborative groups is free-riding, where one member does all the work while others benefit from the grade. 
A variety of measures can be taken to prevent free riders:

  • Keep groups to no more than five people. Nonparticipation is harder when there is less space to hide.
  • Make sure students are held accountable both individually and as a group (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 2008). You could, for instance, give each student a quiz based on the results of their collaborative activity at the end of the day.
  • Develop roles that are relevant to the work and the content. Especially in large classrooms, roles like timekeeper can discourage students from intellectually engaging with the content. However, more meaningful roles such as manager, monitor, and leader allow students to take ownership and give their teacher an assessment of their performance.
  • You should have students evaluate their own participation and effort as well as those of each team member.

Include many opportunities for discussion

  • The main purpose of many group projects is to divide labor and create a product in the most efficient way possible. Due to this focus on products, we often overlook the collaborative process. Collaboration relies on discussions that connect students with each other’s experiences, engage them deeply in a shared intellectual experience, and promote coming to consensus.
  • They can, for example, create a common vision or express their beliefs and principles around a solution or decision. Discussion and consensus help students develop both academic as well as social skills-they learn how to support their ideas with evidence and analytical reasoning, how to negotiate interpretation and how to argue effectively.

Building expertise

  • Creating collaborative activities that involve all students, including those who struggle, is a challenge. Students should work together not just to strengthen their existing skills but also to expand existing knowledge and expand each other’s expertise. Students who, for example, are much more proficient in a particular skill than their peers in their group are able to teach their peers, and the degree to which their peers learn can determine their grade.
  • As part of collaborative activities, we want to ensure that students do not just share physical space, but that they also share an intellectual space-learning, doing, and experiencing more together than they would individually.
  • The teachers’ role can shift from instructor to coach by encouraging individual autonomy, providing instant feedback, and helping students learn to work productively together to accomplish a common goal.