Collaborate, we did!

Davidson et. al (2014) studied the small-group learning approaches, namely the cooperative, collaborative, problem-based, and team-based learning. They highlighted key differences and similarities between these various approaches.

I was more interested in the difference/similarity between cooperative and collaborative learning. In cooperative learning, small-group of students work, learn and support each other for achieving a common academic task, and thus has components of active, social and peer learning embedded in this approach. The focus is usually on students working together, and not necessarily on the same project. However in collaborative learning, the focus is on students working with each other on a collaborative project where they discover, understand and create new knowledge together, thus achieving the same common goal. For more details, you can also read the blogpost on Cooperative Learning by Charlotte Christoffersen, who actually pointed out this wonderful resource (Davidson et. al., 2014) to me!

In this short reflection, I will be elaborating of our own group work, how we collaborated on our projects. Our group was involved in each of the five stages of a collaborative learning process (Davidson et. al., 2014) for exploring the given topic’s open-ended questions/scenario:

  1. engagement with the scenario and background information (e.g. readings, webinars)
  2. exploration, where we brought in new resources, summarised key points for the topic, shared our own personal experiences to focus on the problem at hand;
  3. transformation, debated and discussed on the information gathered by each group member to investigate further to find answers to the problem.
  4. presentation, in which we presented our ideas and experiences to the group using a placemat consensus activity. I will elaborate on this further, as I personally enjoyed this, and was very effective. We then used the final points to create our presentation to share with the larger community.
  5. reflection, as to how we think back on how the topic and the presentation went as a group, and capturing our own learnings in blogs. This I think enhanced our understanding of the content, and more importantly helps in reflecting on the process of learning itself.

Let me elaborate on the key learning points in the projects that we worked on:

  • When we started work on our first project, we talked about some ground rules for the group thus emphasizing on the shared responsibility where each team member had a part to play in the final artefact we produced.
  • Sharing of resources, readings, summaries on the readings, personal examples and experiences. These helped us to make connections, discuss new ideas, and sometimes debate on alternative thoughts, evaluating the resources. For this we started with the FISh (Focus, Investigate, Share) model (Nerantzi & Gossman, 2015) for focusing and investigating.
  • Discussing and explaining the key points put forth by team members were key to our planning for which we used the placemat-consensus activity. Each of us spent time reading, brainstorming, and writing our own key points about the topic in our own space on the placemat. During our video-conferencing meeting (we used zoom), we went around the group, explained our points, and argued as to why we felt that was an important piece for the discussion, and if agreed upon will make it to the centre of the placemat. Other members posed questions, to engage in collaborative thinking process which proved to be very productive in finalising on the “key information” that we needed to include in our presentation. We also discovered that we had some points in common, which then easily made to the centre. I personally feel that this activity had some amount of peer review/assessment component — in terms of going around the table and stating information, questioning and clarifying the information presented, evaluating information presented by others.Take a look at our placemat-consensus dcoument for one of the topics:
    This activity clearly fostered collaboration in our group, and opportunity for us to reflect and provided us with a clear evidence of learning and the learning process. I also felt that through this activity each team member’s ideas are valued, and there is enjoyment in social interaction with the team (in the process we had opportunities to know their workplaces, and even know their pets as they were around at our zoom meetings!). More importantly, deeper learning occurs as one’s own learning is extended by listening to ideas shared by others, while we strive to accomplish the task that we are working on.
  • As a group we have explored new tools, and have been trying our hands on many of them, and it has been fun!
  • During this process, we have also produced two artefacts with creative commons license, which was a first attempt for many of us and we are proud of it!
  • Lastly but more importantly, I have been contemplating on how I can bring this to my own academic development workshops to foster a deeper learning experience for my participants.

It has been a great learning journey so far, and I look forward to the next two topics. 

Davidson, N., Major, C. H., & Michaelsen, L. K. (2014). Small-group learning in higher education—cooperative, collaborative, problem-based, and team-based learning: An introduction by the guest editors. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 1-6.
Davidson, N., & Major, C. H. (2014). Boundary crossings: Cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 7-55.
Nerantzi, C. & Gossman, P. (2015). Towards collaboration as learning: evaluation of an open CPD opportunity for HE teachers. Research in Learning Technology, [S.l.], v. 23, aug. 2015. ISSN 2156-7077. doi:

6 thoughts on “Collaborate, we did!

  1. Thank you for this post! It’s a great reflection on what collaboration can mean, but also how it can be structured. I shared it with my teacher students on Twitter who are also working collaboratively on digital presentations but mostly in a face-to-face environment.


  2. It’s lovely to see how the aims of the course are being fulfilled here. No matter how well you design and plan your course you can never be sure how the learners will react. You can design for collaboration but in the end it’s up to the learners to make it work. In this case you have definitely succeeded.


  3. That’s a nice system you came up with in your group to collaborate. Finding an effective way to collaborate online with very limited time resources is challenging. We collaborated by compiling our material on a common Google docs document and then writing comments on each others work. We didn’t have a framework through which the different parts of our individual efforts got distilled into the final group presentation. I must exploit your system. 🙂
    It’s important to maintain the fun aspect of learning.


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