Cooperative learning is an active learning approach where students collaborate, working together in small groups on a structured activity. Students are individually accountable for their work while at the same time, the work of the group as a whole is also assessed. Traditionally, cooperative groups work face-to-face and learn to work as a team. In online courses, students use technology to work together from a distance.
Typically, cooperative learning activities share the following five traits:
- Students work together on learning activities that are well suited for group work.
- Students work in small groups with two to five members.
- Students cooperate together to accomplish tasks or learning activities.
- Students are interdependent, relying on the work of others in the group in a positive way.
- Students are individually accountable for their own contribution to the group project.
How to Use Cooperative Learning
The following are some of the ways this teaching approach is used to engage students:
- Think, pair, share
- Structured problem-solving
- One-minute papers
- Paired annotations
- Guided reciprocal peer questioning
The above suggestions and complete instructions for each approach along with many other approaches are available from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Walker Center for Teaching and Learning online at http://www.utc.edu/walker-center-teaching-learning/teaching-resources/cooperative-learning.php.
Impact on Learning
Cooperative learning can impact learning through:
- Increasing diversity and learning to work with all types of people.
- Improving understanding of other cultures and points of view.
- Acknowledging individual differences.
- Increasing interpersonal development.
- Learning to relate to their peers and other students as they work together on group projects.
- Improving social skills.
- Actively involving students in learning.
- Providing an opportunity for each member to contribute.
- Increasing opportunities for personal feedback.
For the most comprehensive assessment approach, students should be provided rubrics for their individual contributions as well as completed group projects. Each assessment task given to students should include clear goals and specific rubric criteria. Students should be provided the rubrics to use as guidelines at the start of their work.
Cooperative Learning in Canvas
In Canvas, instructors can incorporate cooperative learning through activities such as cooperative writing, discussion reflections, multimedia projects, and videoconferencing.
Students can participate in cooperative projects through the use of discussions. Canvas provides an integrated system for asynchronous online class discussions. Instructors and students can start and contribute to discussions. You can learn more about using Discussions in Canvas from the Canvas Community at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-3188 or from the Penn State Canvas Learning Center at https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1741795/pages/4c-create-and-manage-discussions?module_item_id=20342417.
Students can work together cooperatively to create multimedia projects in Canvas through VoiceThread, or Wiki pages.
VoiceThread: In Canvas, instructors and students can use VoiceThread to create cooperative multimedia projects and share projects with the class. VoiceThread is an online communication and presentation tool that can be used to create stories that easily share images, videos, voice comments, documents, and written comments. Penn State provides students and faculty access and support to using VoiceThread at voicethread.psu.edu.
Wiki pages: In Canvas, students can complete cooperative assignments by creating a page as a wiki and allowing it to be edited by anyone so that students can contribute to a group writing assignment. Instructions for creating a page are available from Canvas at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-1842.
Students can work cooperatively in real time through videoconferencing in Canvas by using Conferences to work together, even sharing computer screens. Conferences allows you to broadcast real-time audio and video, demo applications on your desktop, share presentation slides, or demo any online resources. You can learn more about Conferences from the Canvas Community at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-1952.
According to Johnson & Johnson (2014), the following technologies can be used for cooperative learning:
Cooperative reading: iPad, Nook, and Kindle allow sharing of reading passages, highlighting passages to note important portions of the text, and making notes that others in the group can respond to. Readings can be further shared using Twitter and Yammer.
Cooperative writing: Groups work together to produce one document authored by the whole group using online tools like Google Docs.
Reflecting on a discussion: Students in cooperative groups can communicate their reflections through a series of texting, chat, Twitter, or Yammer sessions or synchronously through videoconferencing.
Illustrating a report: Using Flickr, cooperative groups can share photos and add images to a report or presentation. Google Sheets can be used to create and share visual data through graphs and charts.
Multimedia projects and websites: Video, slide shows, music, narration, and other media can all be created and shared digitally using online tools such as Google Slides, Sites at Penn State, Google Sites, or YouTube.
Videoconferencing: Google Hangout, or Zoom can be used for synchronous group meetings. Most allow sharing computer screens.
Things to Consider
For successful implementation of cooperative learning, you should consider the following strategies:
- Inevitably there will be groups who find it difficult to work together. Provide groups with guidelines on expectations for working together up front as well as simple conflict resolution checklists for use in case issues arise.
- Encourage groups to listen to every member and keep an open mind to other people’s perspectives.
- From the beginning, define responsibilities and determine who does what. This helps to avoid having one person responsible for all the work, and one or more who contribute nothing. Students who seem to shrug responsibilities often report that they feel bossed by another group member and therefore have no autonomy to make contributions that match their skills, and that contributions are unwelcome.
- Value each person’s talents and he or she will be motivated to demonstrate his/her strengths and abilities.
- Avoid sharp criticism and negative reactions to each other’s ideas and insights that will demotivate group contributors.
- Use humor to prevent and defuse conflicts.
- Provide structured opportunity for members to reflect in order to improve group effectiveness.
“Cooperative and Collaborative Learning.” Educational Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/coopcollab/.
“Cooperative Learning” Walker Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Tennessee Chattanooga. http://www.utc.edu/walker-center-teaching-learning /teaching-resources/cooperative-learning.php.
Johnson, David W. and Johnson Roger T. “Using technology to revolutionize cooperative learning: an opinion.” Frontiers in Psychology 5, no. 1156 (2014). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4195269/.
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