If you have tried station rotation as a blended learning activity and felt less than impressed by your collaboration station, you are not alone.  Of over 25 K-12 teachers who were exposed to station rotation and tried it out in their classes, only 2 said the collaboration station went well.  Students didn’t know how to talk to one another; they didn’t know how to get started; they didn’t know x… they didn’t know y…they didn’t know z.

What do we do when students don’t know how to do something?  Do we force them into it and let them figure it out?  Of course not.  We give them time to learn it and practice it.  When we are confident they will be able to apply the skill with success, only then should we put students in a situation to apply the skill on their own.

What is Collaborative Learning?

According to the Global Development Research Center,  “Collaborative learning is an educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product. Collaborative learning is based on the idea that learning is a naturally social act in which the participants talk among themselves. It is through the talk that learning occurs.”

Further, “Collaborative Learning is a relationship among learners that requires positive interdependence (a sense of sink or swim together), individual accountability (each of us has to contribute and learn), interpersonal skills (communication, trust, leadership, decision making, and conflict resolution), face-to-face promotive interaction, and processing (reflecting on how well the team is functioning and how to function even better).”

According to Hari Srinivas, “Collaborative learning is not simply a synonym for students working in groups. A learning exercise only qualifies as Collaborative Learning to the extent that the listed elements (below) are present.”

  • Positive interdependence. Team members are obliged to rely on one another to achieve the goal. If any team members fail to do their part, everyone suffers consequences.
  • Individual accountability. All students in a group are held accountable for doing their share of the work and for mastery of all of the material to be learned.
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction. Although some of the group work may be parcelled out and done individually, some must be done interactively, with group members providing one another with feedback, challenging one another’s conclusions and reasoning, and perhaps most importantly, teaching and encouraging one another.
  • Appropriate use of collaborative skills. Students are encouraged and helped to develop and practice trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict management skills.
  • Group processing. Team members set group goals, periodically assess what they are doing well as a team, and identify changes they will make to function more effectively in the future.

Is a Collaboration Station Necessary?

Ted Panitz lists 44 Benefits of Collaborative Learning.

The collaboration station serves many purposes:

  1. It is more engaging to work with a partner than to work alone,
  2. Technology has dampened social skills and has encouraged people to live alone in their own worlds
  3. Collaboration is one of the top 4 skills employers are looking for.

How To Teach Collaboration

Collaboration is a desired soft skill for good reason.  It is important to real teamwork, powerful discussion, and inclusivity.  Knowing how to disagree with someone without making them feel rejected is a skill that many people don’t have innately.  Sharing new vocabulary, modeling the skill, and practicing the new skill are necessary.

Click here for Hints for Better Learning Groups from the University of Texas, Teaching Resource Center (Srinivas).

Sources:
Srinivas, Hsrinivas@gdrc.org Hari. “GDRC | The Global Development Research Center.” GDRC | The Global Development Research Center. Web. 25 May 2017.