Collaborative learning

ADMINISTRATION   LEARNING & TEACHING   SUPPORT
(Not relevant to this topic)        Advantages in collaboration        Resources
    Issues in collaboration    
    Designing and assessing    
    Some techniques    


Group work as an approach to learning

Collaborative learning uses learning and teaching tasks or activities where students are required to work in groups to complete a given task, and are then assessed as a group – and possibly individually as well.

Group work Agriculture
  • This can include working in small teams, larger groups or via virtual group online learning. A few examples are:
    - team-based learning,
    - problem-based learning
    - design project learning.
  • Effective group work necessitates assigning roles within the groups (this is done either by the group itself, or the teacher), and learning team co-operation etc.
  • Formal assessment of the group’s output and/or the effectiveness of the group’s process itself, are possible.

Advantages of collaborative approaches

  • Group work helps students learn how to work with each other to enhance their learning through collaborative approaches to problems and issues.
  • Collaboration can facilitate social networking amongst students.
  • Students are able to develop intellectual abilities that are particular to group situations, as well as improve communication skills, planning and leadership abilities.
  • By encouraging students to take increased responsibility for their own learning, independence and self-esteem can be fostered.
  • Students will also be developing teamwork skills, such as planning, management and co-operation, which are valued by future employers.
  • The students are able to gain an understanding of how generic Graduate Attributes and skills are developed as much through cooperation and collaboration as they are through individual approaches.
  • When well designed and organised, group work can be an efficient and cost-effective approach for teachers who are able to share the overall workload, particularly when it comes to assessment.
  • When students have diverse backgrounds, intercultural capabilities can be developed.

Issues that arise with collaborative approaches

Students who are new to group-based learning may feel frustrated by a number of issues that arise in the collaborative environment. These need to be identified and dealt with to reduce tension in the group.

  • When assessment is based on the overall group performance, hard-working students may feel their work is compromised by others’ laziness. Certain students may not pull their weight but score from others work, which can cause ire amongst others in the group. Strategies need to be put in place to ensure individual accountability, and if necessary, students need to be empowered with ways to deal with this situation amongst themselves.
  • There may be uncertainty about how individual work is recognised or credited in a group work situation, therefore it is important to clarify exactly how work is assessed. In addition you may have to help students understand how collaborative learning functions.
  • Academic honesty becomes a more complex issue in group work. Both the Faculty of Education and Social work website and the Business School website examine issues around academic integrity in collaborative learning situations. For links to these sites see the resources list below.

Designing/assessing collaborative work

In order for the students to benefit the most from their group work, it is important to:

  • ensure that the task is suitable for groupwork in that is requires a diverse range of skills, knowledge and experience
  • ensure that all students understand the purpose of group work, what they can gain from collaborative learning, the task they have to complete, and the need to involve all members of the group in the completion of the task
  • have an effective method for assessing individual contribution in team situations.

Some collaborative learning techniques

Team-based learning
For a comprehensive overview of the team-based learning technique developed by Larry Michaelson see the Team-based Learning Collaborative Website. It also includes tips on how to develop team-based learning modules, as well as books and other resources.

Utilising the cohort’s diversity in collaborative approaches to learning

  • When organising group work tasks, it can help to know how many students speak English as a second language and whether many students share the same first language. This may influence group formation – in some situations it would be helpful to team students with the same language, while in other cases mixed language groups can bring a diversity of knowledge and encourage different approaches to the task at hand.
  • Diverse groups often benefit from support structures like discussion boards and having the time to work together in-class.
  • Once you know the composition of your cohort, you can also utilise diversity in your unit of study(UoS) by designing activities where specific knowledge is an advantage. For information on getting to know the composition of your cohort see our section on Diversity in L&T.


Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT)
IF-AT is a testing system that uses multiple choice tests in interactive learning and teaching situations. Lorraine Smith in Pharmacy has used the IF-AT system in order to gather information about particular subject areas where the class may be having difficulties.
Students are given a free reading, and then in class get a quick quiz based on their understanding of key concepts in the reading. They answer this quiz individually and then as a group. The group has to agree on the answer and they then ‘scratch’ their IF-AT cards to find if their answer is correct. This can be an effective way to show where student knowledge needs to be developed, while also using competition between groups to build team work skills.
Problem areas can then be addressed in a short lecture, perhaps followed by a case study, focusing on the subjects or topics which the class have found particularly challenging.
For more information about the IF-AT system see the Epstein Educational website.


Using your UoS outline to clarify your expectations for group work activities

Collaborative learning EIT
  • Describe the learning outcomes for group work.
  • Clarify how students are assessed for group activities, which may include team self-assessment criteria negotiated within the group.
  • Provide a guide on how to work effectively in a group. This could cover the benefits of working in a team, ways to plan and manage a group, and a teamwork checklist so that students are empowered to deal with issues that may arise in the group.
  • Include team work reading resources so that students can develop their own understanding of how group work can enhance their learning experience.

As an example of how the UoS can clarify all this for students see this UoS outline from PHAR1821:Social Pharmacy. Details are on pages 14-17, 22-24, 26.

Resources for collaborative learning

  • The Faculty of Education and Social Work has an excellent Guide to Group work. This provides a range of material to support staff in effectively integrating group work into UoS outlines, learning and teaching activities, and assessment practices. It includes information on preparing, managing, monitoring and assessing group work.
  • The Business School’s Teaching with group work website includes discussion on:
    a) designing group work tasks,
    b) assessing group work,
    c) supporting group work,
    d) academic honesty in group work.
  • Creating effective group work assignments can be found in the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Program.
  • An explanation of team-based learning, ways to use team-based learning in various teaching situations, as well as a step-by-step approach, are some of the Team-Based learning resources that can be found on the Merlot Pedagogy site.
  • The Griffith University Teamwork Skills Toolkit provides teaching tips for teamwork and discusses the assessment of teamwork.
  • Information on Cooperative and Collaborative learning: using groups effectively can be found at the Teaching Resource Centre at the University of Virginia.
  • A search for “Group work” or “Collaborative Learning” at the UK based learning and teaching website Cloudworks turns up a wealth of information about these topics.
  • "Learning for Living: Using Teams for Student Centred Learning" from Synergy Issue 30 discusses an innovative approach to enhancing problem solving and communication skills through recognising and leveraging student diversity.