2. TLT Ideas for Supporting
Student-Student Cooperation

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Chickering and Gamson's second principle is 'encouraging cooperation among students.' "Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race," they wrote. In what ways has technology been used in your courses or at your institution that enables or encourages cooperation among students, inside or outside the classroom? Note: The ideas below are brief suggestions from faculty, for faculty; for more extensive TLT Group materials and references on fostering collaboration online and in hybrid courses, click here.)  For uses of clickers and other techniques to encourage interact during lectures, click here.

Do you have an idea that ought to be on this page, something that works for you and that at least a few other folks would like to try?  Click here to describe it; after you click finish, look down to the green area,  and you'll see other ideas recently contributed by academics around the world.

Group Projects and Assignments

  • Groups of up to four are allowed on all course projects (which are all technology related, since I teach a programming course). Groups are also encouraged to "cross-pollinate" each other. To prevent uneven learning among group members, all individuals must complete 1-on-1 oral examinations--either with me or the teaching assistants--on the 3 major programming assignments. 
  • Class assignments are worked on in small groups, but discussed openly through a discussion board. These [group assignments] are usually very challenging and require multiple students' input.
  • Some faculty have used "Jeopardy" type games using classes broken into smaller TEAMS to learn the material and make the process more fun.
  • [From an Education Department]: In the teaching of three methods courses (Mathematics, Science and Social Studies) the instructors have designed a cross disciplinary problem-based learning activity that all students must complete. This is done in cooperative teams of four and often times it is difficult for students to meet to work on the activity. We have used Blackboard to create group discussion sites that allow the students to communicate with each other in "cyber space". We are also modeling this process to allow our students to see how they could implement the strategy and use of technology with classrooms in which they may one day teach.

  • I use the Discussion section of WebCT for students to post rough drafts of work that others can critique

  • We have students work on a group project and I have set up groups in Blackboard. I got very positive comments about how this technology enabled students to work on a project more efficiently and effectively by allowing them to share files, etc.

  • Course management systems that allow students to keep drafts of work in a common space online make it easier for students to keep track of group project work because ideas and drafts can be shared more quickly than they could in person.

  • Some laboratory projects are done by groups of students. In some cases the students may be using computer interfaced hardware to collect the data. If student groups prepare a lab report, they are encouraged to email their section of the report to the other members of the team for criticism and feedback.  Editor's Note: in physics, there's a fair amount of research about how learning can be aided when students get very rapid, graphic feedback on experiments, so that the cycle between changing a parameter and getting feedback is just a few seconds.
  • My use of web quests definitely fosters collaborative learning. Moreover, we design the Internet based learning activities to collaborate with other disciplines as well. Student research, write, and develop their web based learning assignments in small groups. All of the feedback regarding the implementation of web quests has been positive. Editor's Note: A webquest is a structured assignment that helps students learn by researching a topic on the Web. Here's an example of a WebQuest about the Gilded Age and industrialization in American History.  This essay by Deanya Lattimore of Syracuse provides an explanation of Webquests and their applicability to college instruction. And this web page has a large collection of webquests for K-12 education and teacher educators.
  • I have students work together on online research projects. They compile, site and present the findings to the class. I have started to compile all sites and make reference lists.
  • Some courses require web page construction by teams of students.
  • Students start and continue discussions outside of class. I have threaded them together for team projects. I have also created teams in some courses to design Websites as research projects with people bringing to the Website design different expertise.
  • Virtual discussion sections and chat rooms have allowed my students to organize group presentations and to think about class materials
  • In our special methods for middle level education we have created multidisciplinary teams to address issues associated with middle level education. During each class session the teams are presented with a module on a given topic and are required to discuss the issue and come up with a resolution to the questions posed. The students' responses to the module are word processed and sent as an e-mail attachment to the appropriate facilitator of the module.

Breaking Large (e.g., more than 20 students) Classes into Small Group, Online Discussions

  • This 1.5 minute eClip of a faculty member at Towson University describes how he breaks a class into groups, and groups of groups, to create more manageable discussions.(requires RealPlayer)

Dealing with the Difficulties of Online Group Work

  • In all my courses, students are required to work on virtual teams. They are allowed some class time to meet with their group, but the bulk of the project must be solved online. They are encouraged to use threaded discussions, file sharing, and email. At the end of the term, when they present their projects, they are expected to share with the class how they worked out the virtual portion. Their stories are usually enlightening (and sometimes amusing). One might think that emotions are easier to handle online. My students have proven over and over this is not the case. Maria R. Garcia - garciam@fpc.edu

Peer editing of individual assignments

  • Much collaborative work may be done via email. Attaching drafts to email for the purpose of soliciting feedback can just as easily be done among students as it can among students and faculty. Though I prefer that students provide feedback to each other in a face to face format most of the time, once a community has been established, and when face to face contact is impossible, this format works pretty well.
  • Students email each other drafts of papers and provide feedback before the paper is turned in - the reviewer's comments are included when the paper is turned in to the faculty for grading. I've frequently assigned group work for distance ed courses, but students still report that it is problematic because of varying work and school schedules.
  • Instead of doing all of their peer reviews with each other, some of the peer reviews are accomplished via our students visiting composition and peer review web sites. This provides a non-threatening environment for students to exercise their peer review skills. Editor's Note: Notice that the instructor has found a way to use students at other institutions to increase the quality of learning for the local students.
  • Randomly generated homework problems provides a way for students to work together and help each other and yet each have their own problems to work. Editor's Note: each student is given a slightly different version of the assignment.  No two responses will be the same, but the structure of doing the assignment is similar for all students. If the assignment is mathematical, it's sometimes easy (with the right software) to use the computer to create those different versions of the assignment.
  • Collaborative electronic portfolios. Editor's Note: See the discussion of portfolios in Principle 4: Feedback.

Requiring Students to Comment on One Another's Contributions

  • The instructor poses a new question every week on a listserv. Students are invited to comment on the question for extra credit. In addition, they are invited to ask questions of each other and challenge their peers' responses.
  • A common technique in a writing course would be to have students keep a journal as they're working on a particular book. These journal entries can now be posted online in a discussion board. This allows the faculty member to respond in a timely and meaning fully probing way to student engagement with the material. It also allows students to respond to each other's journals, which was impractical with paper journals on the scale that is now possible. Students are asked to relate the work they are studying to their life experiences, and can actively engage with other students about this in an individual and timely fashion online.

Organized Informal Discussion

  • We are now completing a project that used Internet discussion groups of 3-6 students who had to discuss and solve problems related to their course. (e.g., how to edit a digital video they had just taken, how to stage/rehearse a play, how to give advice alcohol use among teenagers, etc). Anyone may contact me at cgraessle@olivetcollege.edu  for more info.

Discussing the Reading; Feeding into/out of Classroom Discussion

  • Often, class time runs out before students can fully participate in the discussion so vital to their integrating new knowledge. Extending (or moving altogether) the discussion activity to the course site provides an excellent opportunity for thoughtful responses to well formulated discussion questions. Since this activity is asynchronous, it can be required of all. Student responses to web-based discussion questions are often more thoughtful than they might have been in the frequently hurried atmosphere of class. Furthermore, with added time to think about responses shy students are more comfortable and willing to share their ideas. In the classroom shy students often do not participate in discussion at all. As we know, that is a loss for them and for their peers.
  • This has been more of a challenge because we are not a large institution; we do not have "smart classrooms" that are available and so forth. I have taught using Blackboard, and found that the discussion threads took a dimension that enlivened the subsequent class discussions -- I also had students post research findings and had them following up on in-class issues that perhaps remained unresolved--using the bulletin boards to keep discussion going. That proved very rich because students who are uncomfortable with public discussion were able to add their "two cents" worth.
  • Since my students live apart from each other and are working 40-50 hours per week in their employment, group projects are not an option. I use collaborative discussion groups in some assignments where the students are directed to consult each other, assign a leader and post a group consensus.
  • As noted above, the web conference works to promote discussion and sharing outside the classroom. Sometimes, students will even post their work in progress for public critique, having benefited from similar critique in class--when I've put papers or parts of papers on overheads. All of my students also give a talk during the term on research in progress. For that talk, they are encouraged to use whatever technology is appropriate, from chalk to handouts to presentation software to computer projection, and so on. Many of them use this low-stakes occasion to practice using technology that is new to them. Every student is expected to offer feedback to others via the Caucus conference, which not only provides a convenient space to consolidate feedback, but archives the comments for the presenter's use as s/he revises the written work.
  • I use discussion boards in many courses and find that students (especially those who don't like to talk in class) generally are more open about sharing their opinions online where they can think them out before "saying" them.
  • Online discussion groups are a central part of the course curriculum, with 50-200 postings per assignment, plus one or more general questions area. As the instructor, I monitor these boards at least daily.

Learning Contracts with Groups and Individuals

  • I use a system of learning that encourages social, self-directed learning and reflects adult learning philosophies. Diagnostic instruments are used for groups to find joint goals and objectives that are appealing for the class. Three Group objectives and two Individual objectives are required for course completion, although students can choose to complete all five objectives in a group format. Discussion space is created for groups as well as for the entire class encouraging students to dialogue with their fellow group members. The calendar is made available for students to "book" chat space to facilitate group decision making. Participation in the course is REQUIRED which translates that students must maintain contact by e-mail, main discussion space and group space throughout the duration of the course. Student groups also use other class groups to provide feedback on their work. Students have also been given learning styles assessments to facilitate the group learning experience. Providing insight and knowledge about how people work and why they progress in particular directions. 

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

  • I believe that technology provides unique opportunities to foster "peer-driven" learning. The first time I experienced this model of learning was during 5 years spent in the nuclear submarine force, where my acquisition of the skills associated with being a submarine officer were mainly the result of a process of examination by my shipmates--who knew that their own safety might, one day, be dependent on the skills they were testing me on. Within my courses, the online message board has always been the center of my approach. The first time I used such a board here at the University of South Florida, two students actively sought to answer other student questions--entirely on their own initiative. By the end of the semester, I'd hired them on as TAs and--subsequently--the online discussion groups (along with oral examinations) have become my preferred mechanism of identifying future TAs. Although I've been offered the opportunity to hire graduate students (with greater technical skills), I've resisted the offer in favor of choosing undergraduates who've recently passed the class. Since the word of this gets out, it encourages the best students to actively participate in the message board while they are still taking the class--making the board contents increasingly valuable to other students, thereby increasing participation, and so forth..

Using Assessment to Encourage Group Interaction

  • A strong group ethic is encouraged and the importance of engagement is stressed. Given that technology (course topic) often requires time extensive exploration, students are also encouraged to spend the necessary time to "play" with software packages, surf the Web and interact with the online content provided for the course. Final assessments include self-rating forms that are provided early in the semester so that students have a clear understanding of the participation expectations. Points are assigned for different levels of participation and students are asked to provide examples and documentation of their individual participation in the course to ensure both quantity and quality of engagement activities.
  • Some subjects provide enrolled students with access to a notice-board system for use by groups of students (and the associated staff) to work on collaborative projects. This can be used to allow individual members of each group to communicate, exchange attached files, and form a repository of previously uploaded versions of documents and data. In some cases, metrics derived from the richness and quality of the resulting archive and/or the behaviour of the individuals (e.g., in number of visits and number of postings to the conference, number of attached documents etc...) contribute towards a final grade for the individuals in the group. [Monash University, Australia]
  • "Our students are still very traditional in their approach, and want to work individually." Editor's Note:  Some faculty members ask students at the beginning of the term whether they prefer to study alone, or in groups. The "study alone" students are designated Type A, and the "study-together" students are designated Type B. Each student is asked to study in the way that he or she prefers. After each major assignment or quiz, the class as a whole is told the average grades of the students in Group A and in Group B. The three faculty members who each told me about this practice also reported that the average marks of Type B students (study together) are typically higher than for Type A (study alone). They report these results to students and may then allow students to continue to choose whether to study together or alone.

The Physical Setting

  • One of the factors which will be used in the future when designing computer facilities in the library for use by students is the provision of enough desk space around each computer to allow students to work together. [Monash University, Australia]

Other Ways of Building Discussion into Course Designs

  • Open Questions - I feel strongly that students need to be able to dialogue with one another. I use interactive videoconferencing to connect student groups together to discuss questions. In my online courses, I use learning tasks as opposed to "lecture" to convey the ideas of content. I encourage students to express themselves and work on projects that are peer reviewed (shared).
  • Course websites with discussion rooms. Each semester at least once I include a discussion room class period in which students must post and respond to a topic that might be more sensitive in class. I can do this anonymously also. Our website also offers group discussion rooms.
  • Live chat, asynchronous discussion, posting responses to each other's online reflections about readings and individual topical research. Providing space for and encouraging students to post links to additional resources.
  • Online learners are required to respond to discussion questions and to at least one other classmate.
  • One activity was to have students provide a group presentation (each group had two members) on a topic specified by the instructor. Each group member was given one key piece of information, and the presentation could not be completed without the two pieces of information together. The students were e-mailed their respective information, and were required to collaborate with their presentation partner to develop their presentation. The presentations were conducted online in a chat room, where each student provided their information. Other class members were then able to ask questions about the presentation topic. (Hope that wasn't too confusing!) Overall this activity went well, even in the groups where one student lived on campus, and the other did not. The downside was one individual experienced e-mail issues where they did not receive their topic information, and the other member of their group was unable to contact them to discuss the project. They ended up creating their presentation 'on-the-fly' while the other groups were presenting, which made for interesting 'background chatter' during the presentations.
  • Students are encouraged to form base support groups or assigned to problem-solving teams. Team members can share their schedules and resources electronically.

Transcending the Individual Course

  • Wheaton is implementing a new "Connected" curriculum this semester. Courses are "connected" across the curriculum such as "Poetry and the Computer" linking students in the Humanities with those in Computer Science. Students in both disciplines must work together in the "Connected" courses to complete projects, presentations, etc. Writing is "infused" across the entire curriculum.
  • In the Languages courses, real-time videoconferencing has been used to conduct a joint class with Wheaton students and those in Paris.


  • I encourage students to buddy up when working on new concepts.
  • Making e-mail addresses of students available to the entire class so that the "experts" in the group can scaffold the learning of others.
  • The class chat-rooms are available for each class. Students can post questions, answers, or simply tips on how to study or where to find helpful sites to increase the learning.
  • UCOMPASS used with student teachers works well for students to talk to one another no matter how far apart they may be in their teaching situations. They tend to discuss everyday concerns about their success in the classroom and are most supportive of one another--sort of the famous misery loves company concept.
  • Our students share PowerPoints over email and on Blackboard in order to work outside the classroom.

Do you have an idea that ought to be on this page, something that works for you and that at least a few other folks would like to try?  Click here to describe it; after you click finish, look down to the green area,  and you'll see other ideas recently contributed by academics around the world.

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