Collaborative Learning: Shifting role of teachers

Collaborative learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students work together to explore a significant question, or create a project
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Collaborative learning has its roots in Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development; that there exists an inherent social nature of learning. Collaborative learning is usually demonstrated when groups of children work together on a project, to solve a problem, discuss a critical issue, make a presentation, organize an event or simply engage in play activities together.

The purpose of these activities is to encourage verbal/linguistic intelligence using language to present your ideas, to express your feelings or to persuade others. The Multiple Intelligences (MI) Cchart logical/mathematical intelligence  reasoning, logical thinking; handling mathematical problems Visual/spatial intelligence,  creating and interpreting visual images; thinking in three dimensions Bodily/kinesthetic intelligence feeling and expressing things physically; doing hands-on work Musical/rhythmic intelligence  creating and feeling a rhythm to express a mood; detecting and analysing musical themes Intrapersonal intelligence(within the self), understanding your own interior thoughts and feelings in a clear way, Naturalist intelligence understanding nature, seeing patterns in the way nature works; classifying thin Intrapersonal intelligence(between people) understanding the feelings needs and purposes of others.

The pupils to explore and understand the nature of the subject content by activating their existing knowledge and experience and in making links with the new knowledge they are acquiring through cognition and discussion. Collaborative learning thus redefines the traditional role of a teacher causing a paradigm shift from disseminator of information to facilitator of learning.

Collaborative learning activities provide multiple benefits to the students as they:

» Become active inquiring learners

» Use their cognitive skills to access demanding texts and concepts

» Develop thinking and language skills

» Interact constructively with their peers

» Relate their own cultural and linguistic experiences and knowledge of the world to the curriculum

» Learn to work with all types of people thus celebrating diversity

» Get individual attention as the teacher acknowledges individual differences and caters for them accordingly in her lesson plans

Learn to relate to their peers as they work together in groups thereby enhancing their interpersonal skills which can be especially helpful for students who have difficulty with social skills

The purpose of the activities is not to replace teacher-led learning by resource-based learning, nor are they intended to leave pupils entirely to their own devices. Rather, they enhance the learning process by providing pupils with the opportunity to think, discuss and present their views in small groups. Different groupings can be used according to the nature of the content and the task, although heterogeneous or mixed groups predetermined by the teacher based on abilities and strengths of students often seem to work better than self-chosen friendship groups.

Collaborative learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students work together to explore a significant question or create a project, e.g. A group of students discussing a lecture or students from different schools working together over the Internet on a shared assignment Cooperative learning is a specific kind of collaborative learning. In cooperative learning, small groups of students usually work face to face as a team on a structured activity with clearly defined objectives. Though the work of the group as a whole is assessed they are individually accountable for their work. It aims at developing interpersonal skills and students can share strengths and also develop their weaker skills

Collaborative learning activities can have many different objectives, ranging from mastery of basic skills to higher-order thinking and thus while designing the activities they can be linked with various educational principles in accordance with the specific learning objective that the teacher plans to accomplish. These may include:

Activities aligned with the theory of multiple intelligences, so that students can share their strengths and weaknesses and use the group activities to develop a variety of their intelligences.

Activities that involve the construction of new ideas based on personal and shared experiences and understandings so they naturally apply some of the principles of constructivism.

Activities wherein learners investigate significant, real-world problems through discussion and questioning thereby using an inquiry-based approach. Research suggests that cooperative and collaborative learning bring positive results such as deeper understanding of content, increased overall achievement in grades, improved self-esteem, and higher motivation to remain on task. Cooperative learning helps students become actively and constructively involved in content, to take ownership of their own learning, and to resolve group conflicts and improve teamwork skills.

Researchers disagree on the composition of a group mainly about whether to group students according to their ability, or to mix them so that stronger students can help the weaker ones learn and themselves learn from the experience of tutoring.

Some researchers, such as Mills and Durden (1992), suggest that gifted students are held back when grouped with weaker students. More researchers support diversity in small groups, however. Radencich and McKay (1995) conclude that grouping by ability does not usually benefit overall achievement and can lead to inequalities of achievement. With good arguments on both sides, most teachers make choices based on their objectives.

Sometimes they group according to the strengths or interests of students, and other times they mix it up so that students can learn to work with different types of people. An ongoing debate also ensues on the effective size of a group and the consensus varies from pairs to 4-5 members per group, however the size of the group can also be determined by the activities planned and the expected outcomes.

Critical Perspectives of Collaborative Learning

In spite of the many benefits of collaborative learning critics are often skeptical of its efficacy. Criticisms levied against collaborative learning include:

» Group learning is often indicative of vague objectives and poor expectations for accountability.

» Overuse of group work allows the teacher to escape responsibility by avoiding serious teaching to the detriment of students who benefit more from learning alone.

» Making members of the group responsible for each other’s learning can place too great a burden on some students. In mixed-ability groups, the result is often that stronger students are left to teach weaker students and do most of the work.

» Gender inequities could also be a cause for concern in mixed groupings.

» Group learning encourages only lower-level thinking ignoring the strategies necessary for the inclusion of critical or higher order thinking skills.

» In group work time management is an issue as there is only enough time to focus on the task at its most basic level.

» In group work it is difficult to assess individual contribution and learning.

» Collaboration as a pedagogical tool used in class room teaching and learning is surely going to improve the learning outcomes .

Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, a published author, and an educationist, is Consultant and Advisor, to Thinksite Services Private Limited.

He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education Management – setting up, operating and managing schools.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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