Student collaboration

What is collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning describes learning activities where two or more learners interact with each other to complete a common task. Each learner has individual and group accountability to complete the task.

Collaborative learning is often a key component in project-based learning. Collaboration is included in the general capabilities in Learning Across the Curriculum in NSW syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum.

Why should there be collaborative learning in project-based learning?

Collaborative learning has a positive impact on student learning according to evidence from over 40 years of reviews and research. However, evidence indicates that effective collaboration needs to be heavily supported and guided by teachers. The end products and processes of project-based learning are often too large and/or complex for an individual to complete by themselves.

How to enable students to be effective collaborators

Effective student collaboration needs a high level of teacher support and guidance. This can be in the form of project design, activities that teach students the skills to actively contribute in a team environment and negotiate, and creating a learning environment where students feel safe, trusted and supported amongst each other.

What skills do students need to develop to be effective collaborators?

  • Be respectful of others
  • Value diverse contributions from others
  • Be able to negotiate and compromise
  • Be able to share ideas verbally and in written form
  • Take responsibility for producing high quality work within agreed timeframes
  • Be able to react positively to constructive feedback
  • Be resilient and open-minded
  • Be adaptable and flexible
  • Actively listen to others
  • Establish common goals
  • Determine and assign roles and responsibilities
  • Give constructive feedback

Project design

The design of a project affects how students are enabled and supported in developing collaborative learning skills. Here are some questions to think about when you implement project-based learning that explicitly teaches collaboration:

  • Is the project best completed as a team? Is a team required to complete the project successfully? Are there enough components for a group of students to complete so that there is individual accountability and group accountability?
  • Is the project structured through space and time? Do students know who they will work with? How much time do they have to work on different project components as a group and as an individual? Do they know which components are to be completed as a group or as an individual?
  • is expected of the group by the teacher? Do students know when and how they should inform each other when a project component is completed? Do they receive feedback individually or as a team?
  • How will you decide the student groups? How many students in a group?
  • What digital tools can enable and support collaborative learning?

Students do not automatically know how to collaborate.

Teachers need to design and implement activities so that students can learn how to be effective team members.

Access this document outlining strategies and activities to support students in becoming collaborative learners to build your toolkit of strategies.

Read and view the video 'Structuring collaboration for student success' then complete reflection questions below, discuss with your mentor, peers or supervisor:

  1. What are your experiences of group work with your students? What have your successes been?
  2. Do you think group norms or group contracts will work with your students to teach them how to collaborate? Will you implement group norms/group contracts? Why or why not?
  3. What do your opinions on the consequences of “being fired” from a group if a student breaks the group norms/group contracts? Will you be implementing this?

These scenarios may appear when using project-based learning in your classroom.

What would you do to support the students in each scenario?

Discuss with your team how you would support the students.

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