Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Best Practices in Classroom Collaboration

As part of my graduate class right now on Online Teaching and Learning, I am learning a lot about collaboration in an online classroom.  As mentioned by the authors of the many articles I read on this topic, many of these ideas can be applied to the traditional classroom, so I thought I would share.  These will be especially useful to those of you using hybrid or blended learning with a station rotation.

  1. Start with a lesson on teamwork.  Help learners understand team roles, how to be a good team member, and how to resolve conflicts.  One example of this is a lesson where students create guidelines in small groups of what teamwork looks like, then this is refined as a class into a collaboration contract, either for the whole class or for each team.   A sample “Team Agreement” could include:
  • Project Title and Due Date
  • Project objectives and purpose
  • Team members
  • Member expertise or team roles
  • Project tasks and deadlines
  • Deliverables (the new word for the finished product, to put the responsibility back on the student)
  • Conflict management procedure
All members of the class sign this and agree to abide by the parameters in it.  A smaller lesson before diving deep into a more complex project will also help build team rapport and work out any personality conflicts.

  1. Use a two-part collaboration grade - one for the group and one for the individual.  The group grade could have different criteria than the individual grade.  This will help to avoid “loafing”, or a small percentage of the group doing a large percentage of the work.  The individual grade could include a portion of peer evaluations done by group members, for example, students A, B and C give input into the grade of student D.  A sample peer evaluation could include:
    • Does this team member accept responsibility for tasks determined by the team?
    • Does this team member respect differences of opinion and backgrounds?
    • Does this team member provide positive feedback of team member accomplishments?
    • Does this team member keep in contact with team members for the purpose of maintaining team cohesion and collaboration?
    • Does this team member meet team deadlines?
If you’re looking for a good rubric resource, I recommend Cult of Pedagogy’s single-point rubric.  Lay out the expectations and then indicate when they fall above or below those expectations.

  1. Be ready with a list of teamwork problems and possible solutions.  Depending on the age of your students, you may want to mediate conflicts, but encouraging students to work out their own problems leads to a lot of personal growth.  Problems can include team members not contributing, being too bossy, using negative language, personally attacking other team members, technical difficulties, misunderstandings, students who complain, etc.  Hopefully my list doesn’t discourage you from using collaboration - the good outweighs the bad!

  1. Group students according to technical ability, learning style or common interests.  These arrangements will allow for each group to have at least one student who is capable of troubleshooting issues with technology and they will start in the group with something to discuss.  Visual learners can create a comic, kinesthetic learners could design a webpage, auditory learners can create a song, etc.  This also allows for more personalization and student-driven learning.

  1. Consider blogging for conducting class discussions.  Margaret Anderson, a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland, starts with a question the first week that everyone answers directly.  Then in the following week, students are encouraged to respond to a class member’s post.  Be careful about grading by counting posts - quality over quantity, in order to create equitable access.  Some students might work on this at home, but that is not a possibility for all of our students.  Blogging encourages reflection and connection to the real world and their lives, which makes more synaptic cell-to-cell bridges, thus increasing dendritic growth. The other advantage of blogging is that posts are timestamped, so you can see when the post was completed.  If this sounds like a possibility to you, check out or consider, since it works seamlessly with our Google accounts.  If you prefer to keep it simple, stick with Google Classroom for threaded discussion posts.

I hope you are able to use at least one of these ideas.  Please feel free to send me more ideas for a future post - I learn a lot from my colleagues.  Please also let us know if you want help with implementing any of these ideas.  We are a resource, so use us!

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